Elegant Homes Hide Plunder in East Germany

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Massive iron gates seal off the luxurious quarters here where senior officials of the East German government and Communist Party have made their homes for years.

Behind the gates and a concrete wall, amid stands of birch, pine and spruce, are the elegant homes of the now-discredited leaders, including deposed President Erich Honecker, who on Tuesday was placed under house arrest.

Throughout the country, the old leaders are being angrily condemned for living in a grand manner while much of the populace scraped by. And they are accused of much worse: of plundering public accounts and socking away their illicit fortunes in foreign banks, of engaging in profitable but illegal export schemes, of building lavish retreats with public money.

Since the party's grip on East Germany began to unravel in October, previously unimagined luxury has been disclosed. New reports of scandalous activity surface almost daily, and they have had a powerful impact on ordinary East Germans. For, under state socialism, everyone was supposed to have lived more or less on the same scale.

It is the flagrant style of living that has enraged East Germans. Some examples:

-- Officials living in the Wandlitz compound, just north of Berlin, were provided with large houses equipped with cable television and access to stores filled with Western goods priced at about a seventh of what they would cost on the open market. Among these officials are Honecker and former economics chief Guenter Mittag. Until recently, Honecker's successor, Egon Krenz, lived there, as did Guenter Schabowski, a senior member of the Politburo.

-- Sumptuous hunting lodges were maintained at state expense near Neubrandenburg for Honecker and Mittag.

-- Former Prime Minister Willi Stoph had weekend retreats at Mecklenburg and--more upsetting to many--in the forest preserve at Schorfheide, where hundreds of square miles were set aside for the hunting of deer, boar and birds. Millions of marks were said to have been allocated for the upkeep of these retreats.

-- Elaborate houses reportedly were built with state funds at Oranienburg for relatives of Politburo members, including Mittag's daughters. Building materials included Canadian hardwoods, and luxury features included inlaid baths.

In the forest, an area was set aside for the private use of Harry Tisch, the former state labor boss, with a "hunting castle" and a staff of 35 rangers.

On Vilm, an island in the Baltic Sea, the party maintained 11 residences with marble baths, convection heating, saunas and tennis courts. The island was declared a military zone in order to ensure privacy, while not far away, the fishing harbor of Lauterbach was decaying due to neglect.

In addition, Alexander Schalck-Golodkowski, former head of the department that regulates foreign currency holdings, had various state-owned residences including a showy home in Leipzig that was used only during the semiannual trade fair. And Guenther Kleiber, a former first deputy prime minister, has been accused of building a "supply facility" for a government ministry that turned out to be a house with a sauna for his son.

One report in Berlin said residents of the Wandlitz compound have been selling their stocks of luxury goods for hard currency, presumably to build a nest egg against the possibility of having to flee the country.

According to reports that have just come to light, Honecker and Mittag were on the payroll of a building society, as honorary members, and each received 20,000 marks a year--almost $10,000 at the official exchange rate. Honecker was ousted from his top post Oct. 18 and also has been expelled from the Communist Party.

The East German news agency ADN said that all former members of the Politburo "who after Oct. 19 were no longer members of the Politburo and who are still in Wandlitz" were under house arrest. Deputy chief prosecutor Harri Haarland called the house arrests an act of "national self-defense" resulting from "the will of the people."

The chief prosecutor, Guenter Wendland, and one of his top deputies resigned under fire after severe criticism of their failure to investigate widespread corruption among current and former Communist officials.

Their resignations were followed by those of the entire leadership of the despised security police, known as Stasi, who quit because of their own inability to act against corruption, the official ADN news agency said late Tuesday.

Michael Goebel, assistant director of the Art and Antiques Museum in East Berlin, told authorities that a firm controlled by Schalck-Golodkowski has been forcing the museum to give up art objects for export in exchange for hard currency.

Goebel said the company gave the museum works that could not be exported because they are part of the national heritage in exchange for similar objects that had not yet been so designated by official art historians.

He said agents representing the Schalck-Golodkowski firm put pressure on private citizens to sell artworks at far below the market price. The owners, he said, were told that they had not paid a required tax on their possessions and would either have to surrender them or go to prison for tax evasion.

Schalck-Golodkowski was also said to have been involved with IMES, an arms firm, which had a depot near the Baltic port of Rostock filled with weapons and ammunition for export. People of the area were not notified that dangerous materials were stored virtually on their doorstep.

Schalck-Golodkowski has left the country within the past few days. Some believe he was helped by other officials in order to prevent him from implicating them in his operations.

His lawyer, Wolfgang Vogel, was detained on suspicion of "criminal extortion." Vogel, a confidant of Honecker, has been involved in a number of spectacular East-West prisoner swaps.

According to investigating officials, Schalck-Golodkowski appears to have had a hand in foreign trading operations worth billions of marks, most of which has not been properly accounted for.

Even sports has not been spared. The Berlin soccer team Dynamo has been accused of winning its many championships in the East German league by means of fixed contests.

Dynamo's president, Erich Mielke, was until recently a member of the Politburo in charge of state security. His team won the national championship in 10 of the last 12 years but failed regularly to do well against foreign competition.

Wolfgang Spitner, head of the East German Soccer Assn., has pointed out that Dynamo's domestic victories often came in overtime, after questionable penalties had been assessed against the opposing team.

A recent search of the sports association offices turned up 291,000 marks (almost $150,000) in currency in various desks. There was no accounting for the cash.

Corruption also reached into the rural areas. In the village of Rottleberode, in the Harz Mountains, former Mayor Edeltraut Tielo was brought before an ad hoc court, stripped of her title and charged with personal enrichment at public expense. She is now taunted and threatened in the streets.

Such situations are said to be commonplace in much of the country.

The reaction has been fierce. The daily Berliner Zeitung, which formerly supported the regime, said in an editorial: "We--and that means all honest Communist Party members and the entire people--say, 'This swamp must finally be drained, no matter how much mud has to be dredged out.' "

The newspaper of the National Democratic Party commented that "millions of people in this country feel that they have been seduced and victimized in a way that reminds them of 1945 (the year World War II ended)."

A journalist said privately: "These reports of corruption have moved us to the edge of the abyss."

The average East German is also shocked. A university graduate student complained: "The question of corruption means the dissolution of the Communist Party. It's the blue-collar workers and people like nurses who are very, very upset about stories of corruption. We are seeing reality as it is."

A worker at a building site in East Berlin said: "It's disgusting the way (the party leaders) live--and meanwhile they were preaching to us to work harder for socialism."

A low-level government official: "I have to wait up to 15 years for a car or an apartment, and now I see what they had. Nobody is going to vote for a party with people like that in it."

Museum director Goebel's wife told a reporter: "My husband has been in the party for nearly 30 years, and I for 20 years. Things are coming out that nobody dreamed of. We are very disillusioned people."

In the town of Wandlitz, adjacent to the elite housing compound, Mayor Reinhard Haennerling takes pains to let visitors know that the town "has nothing to do with the 'settlement.' "

"Everyone," he told a visitor, "is angry about the way they lived here. I condemn it."

Haennerling, who displayed a party pin in his lapel, slapped his desk and declared:

"I'm getting calls every day from around the country telling me to do something about the situation. But this Communist bosses' settlement is not even in my city limits.

"These settlement people never even came to our town--just drove through. This is a very bad thing for the party. Many people here are leaving it. I still wear my party pin, but many other members no longer do. This corruption has left me personally very disappointed.

"We in the party have to come absolutely clean. Everything must now be made public. The citizens don't believe in us any more. In an election now, we wouldn't win."

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