“Bitburg: Tip of the Iceberg.” So reads the headline over Joe Conason’s article in the May 7 Village Voice on White House links to the Right wing’s outer fringe. A close look at the politics behind Ronald Reagan and Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s visit to the Bitburg cemetery uncovers deeper layers of this iceberg – starting with the massive payoffs to members of the Kohl administration from the industrial empire founded by war criminal Friedrich Flick.
To understand Reagan’s decision to pay homage to German war dead, one must look beyond the President’s 1933-1945 blackout to present-day politics. The staunchly conservative Kohl has been the most vocal European supporter of Reagan’s escalation of the Cold War. He has welcomed Pershing missiles to German soil is is now a confirmed “Star Wars” advocate.
In return, Reagan, through appearances with the Chancellor, has been boosting Kohl’s Christian Democratic Party (CDU) in a period of important local elections. This is particularly vital in light of the magazine Der Spiegel’s relentless exposure of payoffs to assorted officials in the Bonn coalition.
The heads began to roll last June. Finance Minister Count Otto Lambsdorff resigned just prior to his official indictment for corruption. His predecessor, Hans Friderichs, who awaits trial for bribery and income tax evasion, resigned in February from the presidency of Germany’s second largest bank. The pockets of the two former finance ministers, according to Der Spiegel, were lined by Flick in return for a huge tax concession following the conglomerate’s sale of a 29 percent interest in Daimler-Benz, manufacturer of Mercedes cars.
In 1975, the Flick Group, which controls an empire whose holdings range from steel and explosives to armored tanks, sold the Daimler-Benz shares to Deutsche Bank, Germany’s largest, for $800 million. For a $175,000 payoff to Friderichs, Flick won a $175 million tax waiver. As Der Spiegel has documented, the payoff was just one part of an on-going corruption scheme that secured Flick a grip on the fiscal policies of the West German government.
While Flick’s beneficiaries have included politicians of every stripe but the left-of-center, ecology-minded Greens, the most scandalous exposés, naturally, have touched those in power. The biggest star to fall so far has