German in Elf Scandal Posts 1 Million Dollar Bail

A German businessman under investigation for illegally receiving funds in a scandal surrounding former Chancellor Helmut Kohl was released from French police custody after posting bail of more than $1 million, judicial officials said Friday.

Dieter Holzer, a former lobbyist for French oil company Elf Aquitaine, was placed under investigation - one step short of being charged - on Thursday for misusing company funds in connection with Elf's 1992 purchase of the Leuna oil refinery in the former East Germany, the officials said, speaking on customary condition of anonymity.

Holzer turned himself in to French authorities on Thursday and posted bail, set at $1.3 million, before he was released, officials said. France had issued an international arrest warrant for him.

Magistrates suspect Holzer of receiving $21.6 million in kickbacks in connection with the Leuna sale. The sale was part of Kohl's high-profile effort to revive the economy of former East Germany after German reunification in 1990.

Much of the cash was allegedly paid out in bribes to Kohl's political party, the Christian Democrats. Holzer denies donating money to any German party, and Kohl has said the allegations are slanderous.

On Dec. 19, German federal prosecutors said they found no evidence German politicians had been bribed in the Leuna deal after reviewing evidence gathered by Swiss prosecutors, who investigated money flows from Elf-Aquitaine to its lobbyists.

Judicial officials said Holzer is to be questioned by magistrates in early January. They hope to conclude the investigation into Elf's dealings by the end of next month.

Since 1994, French officials have been looking into Elf's international activities, suspected to involve widespread attempts to buy influence. The tangled scandal surrounding the former state oil giant has entrapped senior French business executives and politicians.

Elf is now part of the French-Belgian group TotalFinaElf.