German politicians already launched an effort last week aimed at banning the right-wing extremist National Democratic Party (NPD), but on Wednesday the far-right group faced a whole different set of legal troubles. The Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig fined the NPD some 1.27 million ($1.66 million) for dodgy accounting, a penalty that puts a serious crimp in the party's finances.
The case centered on federal assistance made available to small parties based on the number of votes they receive and the amount of donations they solicit. For the NPD, that assistance is crucial -- in 2011 it amounted to 42 percent of the party's budget of around 3 million, a level that has remained largely consistent over the last seven years.
In 2009, however, the German parliament in Berlin found that the party had cooked its books in order to receive more from the federal government than it was entitled to. Parliamentary President Norbert Lammert alleged that the right-wingers had received 1.25 million too much. Combined with sanctions for misreporting, he said the party owed the federal government 2.5 million.
Expensive Legal Battle
The federal court in Leipzig on Wednesday halved the total amount Lammert had asked for. It ruled that while there were indeed "inaccuracies" in the NPD's bookkeeping, the party had clarified some of the issues in the meantime. Nevertheless, the heavily indebted NPD plans to appeal the ruling.
While the party's treasurer declared in Leipzig that the ruling did not amount to "destroying the existence of the NPD," it comes at a time when the party is likely preparing for an expensive legal battle against the effort to have it banned for being unconstitutional. Last week, governors from Germany's 16 federal states unanimously agreed to support a new legal attempt to implement a ban. The Bundesrat, Germany's upper legislative chamber that represents the states, is expected to vote on Dec. 14 on whether to proceed with the attempt.
The success of such an effort remains in doubt, though. A similar effort in 2003 failed because of the number of government informants in the top echelons of the NPD. German authorities, however, have recently severed ties to informants within the party in order to pave the way for a renewed attempt. Both Chancellor Angela Merkel and members of her cabinet are said to be skeptical that the court challenge will work.
kla -- with wire reports
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