, Germany, Aug 3 – A wanted arms dealer landed in Germany from Canada on Monday to face charges over his alleged involvement in a scandal that helped pave Chancellor Angela Merkel’s path to power, authorities said.
Karlheinz Schreiber, 75, touched down in Munich at around 09:30am local time (0730 GMT) after losing a decade-long battle to avoid extradition from Canada.
He was immediately taken into custody and placed behind bars to await trial but it was not clear whether the politically-sensitive case would be heard before elections on September 27, a spokesman for the local court said.
"That would be a case of reading tea-leaves. One can only speculate," Karl-Heinz Haeusler from the court in Augsburg told AFP.
Schreiber is accused of playing a key role in a sprawling slush-fund scandal that rocked the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party in the 1990s and tarnished the legacy of former chancellor Helmut Kohl.
He is believed to have made an undeclared one-million-mark (500,000-euro, 712,000-dollar) donation to the CDU, prompting a political scandal that claimed the scalp of then head of the party, Wolfgang Schaeuble, now interior minister.
Kohl acknowledged that the CDU had received illegal donations under his leadership but refused to disclose who had made them.
During the affair, Merkel wrote an editorial in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily in 1999 calling for Kohl to come clean over the funding scandal and for the party to break with the murky past.
Merkel’s willingness to put her head over the parapet and challenge Kohl — a legend within the party — marked her out as a future leader and she was elected head of the CDU the next year.
Schreiber also stands accused of evading taxes on millions of euros (dollars) in income from arms deals as well as offering bribes to ensure government approval for the sale of armoured cars to Saudi Arabia.
A Canadian court on Sunday rejected his final appeal to avoid extradition to Germany and he was flown out from Toronto later that night.
"Over a 10-year period, Mr. Schreiber was given every reasonable opportunity to challenge his extradition," said Canadian Justice Minister Rob Nicholson.
"His surrender to Germany was in full accord with the law and consistent with the spirit and purpose of extradition."
Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Schreiber, who holds dual Canadian and German nationality, said there was a political dimension to his extradition, with a general election less than two months away.
"The Social Democrats won three elections with my case in the past," he said, referring to the junior partner in Merkel’s coalition government.
"If I come now that would be the greatest thing, it would start a huge investigation and … they would think they could win the next election."
The Social Democrats are currently trailing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc by as much as 15 points in the polls.
However, one of Merkel’s key allies dismissed the notion that Schreiber’s return would have an impact on the forthcoming election.
"It has no political relevance," said Horst Seehofer, head of Merkel’s Bavarian sister party, the CSU.