Helmut Kohl won a court ruling Wednesday blocking the release of his conversations that were secretly recorded by East German spies, a victory in the former chancellor's attempts to defend his legacy as the leader who reunited Germany.
After a one-day hearing, the Berlin administrative court agreed with Kohl's lawyers, who argued that he could claim protection under provisions shielding the victims of surveillance by the East's pervasive communist-era secret police, the Stasi.
The ruling was a defeat for lawmakers who hoped Stasi files on Kohl might help their investigation into a slush fund scandal tainting the former chancellor.
The official heading the Stasi archive, Marianne Birthler, had asked the court to give journalists and researchers the same access to Kohl's records as to those of other Germans.
The access does not extend to information about an individual's private life.
Kohl, whose 16 years in power included the reunification of Germany in 1990, succeeded in his latest effort to avoid clouding that achievement by linking his name with scandal.
In March, he avoided criminal charges by agreeing to pay a $138,000 fine related to his alleged acceptance of illegal campaign donations.
The Stasi not only spied on East Germans but also systematically recorded the conversations of Kohl and other West German politicians until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
A law passed by Kohl's government after reunification gave journalists and academics access to the files. But the court said the law bars the release of records on people targeted by the Stasi, including "figures in contemporary history . . . and therefore also the plaintiff."
Birthler said she would appeal, prolonging a battle that Kohl has pledged to take all the way to the highest court.