Golden Age A Billionaire Backer and the Murky Finances of the AfD

All eyes are on the AfD's finances following reports of large donations from Switzerland and Holland. Now, reporting has revealed that the right-wing party has enjoyed big-money support from the very beginning.
AfD leader Alexander Gauland and co-floor leader Alice Weidel

AfD leader Alexander Gauland and co-floor leader Alice Weidel

Foto: Michele Tantussi/ Getty Images

The mission to save the German nation got its start on May 1, 2017, at a restaurant on the outskirts of Munich called the Wirtshaus zu Marienburg. That Wednesday, businessman Ernst Knut Stahl, 74, met two people for lunch: a journalist from a Bavarian state broadcaster who had organized the meeting for Stahl and a publisher who had traveled to Munich for the meeting.

Discretion is important to Stahl. There are few photos of him in public circulation, and the same holds true for his boss, the 88-year-old billionaire August von Finck, Jr. Stahl is Finck's asset manager, making him something like the baron's right-hand man.

The publisher, who is known for his anti-Merkel positions, had no idea what to expect from the lunch. Once the three had taken their seats, Stahl kicked off the discussion by holding forth about the political situation in the country. "There's danger ahead," Stahl said, according to a statement made under oath by the publisher and to which DER SPIEGEL has access. (The following account of the May 1, 2017, meeting all comes from that affidavit.) "There is a street in New York with lots of investment bankers, lawyers and so forth," Stahl continued. "Coincidentally, they are all Jews, but that's not relevant here. They want to push Germany into ruin. They control everything. Merkel and also Ralf Stegner from the SPD," a reference to a senior member of the center-left Social Democrats.

The publisher could hardly believe his ears. Was Stahl pulling his leg? But he apparently meant it seriously. Germany, Stahl said, needs a new media outlet, one that writes the truth. As such, he said, plans had been developed for a new newspaper. Even the name had already been chosen: Deutschland Kurier.

Stahl then said a renowned journalist had been enlisted for the plan: Peter Bartels, a former editor-in-chief of Bild, the country's largest tabloid, had committed to writing for the paper. Now, the question was whether the publisher also wanted to be involved in the project.

When contacted by DER SPIEGEL last week, Ernst Knut Stahl declined to comment. The journalist from the Bavarian public broadcaster BR who was also present at the Wirtshaus zu Marienburg confirmed that the meeting had taken place but said plans for a project called the Deutschland Kurier were not discussed.

But just a few months after the Munich lunch, a newspaper of that name began appearing in mailboxes across Germany. And one of the writers was Peter Bartels. Several hundred thousand copies of the paper were distributed in the lead up to the German federal election held in September 2017. It agitated against foreigners ("Migrant Crime Is Exploding") and against the chancellor ("Is Merkel Crazier than Trump?"). Of particular note was its open support of the right-wing populist party Alternative for Germany (AfD). In the newspaper's political party report cards, the AfD consistently emerged at the top of the list while all of the other parties failed.

Officially, the Deutschland Kurier is published by a group called the "Association for the Preservation of the Rule of Law and Citizen Freedoms." And for almost three years, the AfD has been receiving campaign assistance from this political action committee (which is not unsimilar to an American SuperPAC) in the form of posters and free newspapers. The campaign has helped the party raise its profile and, according to the group LobbyControl, which investigates links between the business community and politics, it has cost at least 10 million euros. It has also played a role in the fact that the AfD is now represented in all 16 state parliaments in Germany, in addition to the federal parliament, the Bundestag, in Berlin.

It remains unclear where the money for the advertising has come from, but since the lunch meeting in Munich and the statement from the publisher, there is now a new trail. And it leads to the billionaire August von Finck and his representative Ernst Knut Stahl.

According to reporting conducted jointly by the Swiss weekly newspaper WOZ and DER SPIEGEL, the AfD has had good ties with people in August von Finck's orbit from the very beginning. More than that, Finck's representative Ernst Knut Stahl apparently offered the party financial support for its fight against the euro even as the AfD was being formed.

The Old Man and the AfD

Several party events were apparently financed indirectly with Finck's money. As internal documents show, his company Degussa was also involved in a lucrative gold trade that helped prop up the AfD's rather shaky finances early on. The publication of the Deutschland Kurier would thus represent the third element in this apparent program to help the AfD.

The old man and the AfD: As early as 2013, the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, a foundation linked tightly with the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, speculated in a report that the billionaire businessman was supporting the AfD. Finck did not comment on the conjectures at that time, content as ever to avoid the public spotlight. His representative Stahl left a detailed list of questions sent by DER SPIEGEL unanswered last week.

The new trail to Finck comes at a difficult time for the right-wing party, which is led by Jörg Meuthen and Alexander Gauland. Angela Merkel, the AfD's favorite target and the party's "life insurance," as Gauland has formulated it, is on her way out. And her refugee policy - a political "gift" to the AfD (again, Gauland) - is increasingly losing its impact.

Now the AfD is in danger of losing its last important pillar: Its credibility as an anti-establishment party.

Since the founding of the AfD, its members have presented themselves as independent fighters against an allegedly corrupt political system. In its 2016 platform, the party called for a "restrictive revision of donation rules to avoid corruption" and even a ban on "accepting corporate donations." The AfD also tirelessly attacks the alleged dependence of the "old parties" on big money. "You can't just buy politics," Gauland announced in 2016. "You lose your credibility." In 2017, the party's floor leader in the Bundestag, Alice Weidel, said the AfD was "the only party in Germany" that "engages in politics free from clientele and lobby groups."

But now, this party that claims to be so squeaky-clean finds itself neck deep in a debate about its corruptibility. The beginning of that debate came two weeks ago, with revelations from the reporting network made up of the two public broadcasters NDR and WDR along with the influential German daily S üddeutsche Zeitung. The media outlets reported on a large donor in Switzerland who had sent significant amounts of money to the local AfD chapter in Alice Weidel's electoral district on Lake Constance in southwestern Germany. Additional reports soon followed about support for Weidel from a dubious foundation in the Netherlands. Prosecutors in Konstanz have since launched an investigation into Weidel and three other AfD members to determine if party finance laws were broken. More recently, there have been new revelations that a confidante of Weidel's was in close touch with David Bendels, head of the pro-AfD group Association for the Preservation of the Rule of Law and Citizen Freedoms.

'No Suitcases Full of Money'

The reporting by WOZ and DER SPIEGEL now make it clear that Weidel's apparent network is not an exception in the party. There are plenty of indicators that the party has been dependent on the beneficence of wealthy donors from the very beginning.

The AfD is aware of how dangerous the revelations are for the party, and nerves are raw. That was on full display in the most recent general debate in the German parliament, with floor leader Alice Weidel stepping up to the microphone to hold a fiery speech. But it wasn't an invective against government policy. Instead, she held a monologue about the donation affairs that other parties have fallen victim to over the years. The AfD, Weidel insisted, had "not tried to cover anything up," adding that careful records had been kept about all AfD bank accounts. "No suitcases full of money were carried back and forth about whose whereabouts nobody can, or wants to, remember," she said, a reference to the party donation scandal that shook the CDU at the end of Chancellor Helmut Kohl's tenure and about which he remained silent until the end of his life. At the conclusion of her speech, Weidel said: "We don't need any moral expostulations from you!"

Really?

Fotostrecke

Photo Gallery: The Swiss Connection

Foto: Chr. Rudnik / babiradpicture

August von Finck's political offensive began long before the founding of the AfD. The aging billionaire has been financing conservative and libertarian parties, initiatives and associations for at least two decades. In the 1990s, Finck financed the first anti-euro party, known as the Bund Freier Bürger, or association of free citizens, to the tune of 4.3 million euros. Later, he was responsible for the lion's share of a 6-million-euro donation to a political group lobbying for a reduction of the role of the state. Current senior AfD politician Beatrix von Storch was a member of that group.

In 2009, one of Finck's companies sent more than a million euros in several tranches to the Free Democrats (FDP), the business-friendly party that occasionally leans libertarian. At the time, the FDP was urging that the tax rate on hotel stays be cut, a position that Finck, who had a stake in the Mövenpick hotel chain, was in favor of.

Finck's family owns blocks of shares valued in the billions of euros in addition to castles, rural estates and half of the Munich city center, as is frequently reported. In 1999, he moved to Switzerland, where taxes are lower and bank secrecy more valued. Since then, he has lived in Weinfelden Castle, on the Swiss side of Lake Constance, but he never lost his interest in German politics. After all, a chunk of his far-reaching business empire is still in the country, as is the castle belonging to his wife Francine on Lake Starnberg, just south of Munich.

Finck's role is similar to that of an angel investor in the start-up scene. He patiently props up those who share his political views with millions in donations and doesn't get discouraged if the initiatives don't always pan out. And it took a long time before one of his investments in the political marketplace, the AfD, actually bore fruit.

Ideologically, Finck fits well with the party. Many years ago, a banker who knows Finck well told DER SPIEGEL that "only Ghengis Khan can be found to the right of Gustl," using Finck's nickname. Finck's father August, Sr., was a Hitler admirer and provided financial backing to the Nazis.

August, Jr., though, has focused his attentions on parties in the postwar German democracy, with his people developing creative financing models. His financing of the anti-state group that Beatrix von Storch belonged to followed a pattern that was apparently later used to support the AfD. Instead of wiring the millions directly to the recipient, it was sent to a marketing agency which then used the money for an expensive advertising campaign.

The Billionaire's Puppet

The arrangement was advantageous for both sides. Finck was not easily identifiable as a behind-the-scenes supporter and the organization was able to avoid a reputation for being the billionaire's puppet.

His support of the AfD may have looked similar. When the first rumors of Finck's financial support for the nascent right-wing party began circulating in 2013, AfD founder Bernd Lucke, who is no longer with the party, could truthfully claim: "We have not received any donations from Mr. Finck." And it seems that the wealthy businessman never has provided direct support to the AfD.

But it does look as though the party did receive clandestine start-up assistance. DER SPIEGEL and WOZ are in possession of a variety of witness statements and documents indicating such covert financial support. At the heart of that support is the Munich-based communications agency Wordstatt, owned by Dagmar Metzger, an AfD spokeswoman and a member of the party's board in the early days. She helped manage the AfD's donations as it was getting started -- and may have acted as a straw-woman for covert patrons.

Foto: DER SPIEGEL

The article you are reading originally appeared in German in issue 48/2018 (November 24th, 2018) of DER SPIEGEL.

Early 2012 was a difficult time for those who were critical of the common European currency. The FDP, which was part of Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition at the time, voted to support her efforts to save the euro, thus warding off a collapse of her government and it looked as though Berlin's pro-euro course could no longer be stopped. Business leaders and the wealthy like Finck were concerned about their fortunes, but they couldn't find a party to promote their anti-euro message in German parliament.

So they needed to create one.

Initially, the euro opponents, who were linked together through a number of smaller initiatives, set their sights on Bavaria's Free Voters, a voting bloc in the state. At the time, the anti-euro alliance was still small and far away from being a member of the Bavarian government coalition as it is today. And it lacked recognizable names -- and money.

With the help of Dagmar Metzger's PR machine, Hubert Aiwanger of the Free Voters and Bernd Lücke, who headed up the "Election Alternative 2013," forged an alliance ahead of state elections in Lower Saxony. The face of the campaign was Stephan Werhahn, the grandson of Konrad Adenauer. Several media appearances managed to call attention to the movement.

Even in this early phase in 2012, Aiwanger says today, Metzger made clear to him that she could secure the requisite financing, a message Aiwanger says he also received from Bernd Lucke. "Lucke said that there were supporters who were prepared to support his Election Alternative 2013 and perhaps also the Free Voters," says Aiwanger. But only on the condition that the Free Voters tailor their message to the desires of the donor, Aiwanger says Lucke told him. "Lucke wanted us to take an even clearer anti-euro position, which I rejected," Aiwanger says.

'A Powerful Sponsor'

Lucke denies ever having sought to influence the political message of the Free Voters. He also says he never spoke of potential financial backers.

A meeting that Metzger arranged in her own home made it clear where the money for the party was to come from. "She introduced me to Mr. Stahl," Aiwanger says, "the representative of the businessman Finck." Aiwanger says the encounter was little more than a meet-and-greet, but during the meeting, Aiwanger says, Metzger intimated that money was available. Aiwanger, who is now finance minister in the new Bavarian government, says he was wary of accepting the support. "The whole thing seemed a bit dodgy to me because I had the impression that it was an attempt to influence us. I didn't want to make the Free Voters dependent on or under the influence of anyone."

The alliance with Lucke didn't last long, and Aiwanger also lost the support of Metzger's agency and its "powerful sponsor," as the daily Die Welt wrote in 2013.

Metzger declined to comment about her meeting with Aiwanger, telling DER SPIEGEL that she refuses to talk about "confidential discussions."

Metzger can look back on a long partnership with August von Finck's business empire. The 55-year-old from southeastern Germany has close contacts with Ernst Knut Stahl and she takes care of the PR needs of Finck's stainless-steel company Degussa. Even today, she continues to send out press releases for the Ludwig von Mises Institute, which promotes a free-market philosophy and is linked to Finck.

Metzger's ally Stahl, meanwhile, is on the advisory boards or in senior management of several of Finck's companies. He is part of the small group of ultra-conservative advisers closest to Finck.

Hans-Olaf Henkel, the erstwhile president of the Federation of German Industries (BDI) and a former AfD functionary, is one of the few who has personal access to Finck. In a statement issued to DER SPIEGEL, he said that at some point he received a message "that Baron Finck wanted to meet me." Henkel says that "according to my recollection, it was an invitation to lunch in Munich" and that they discussed Henkel's aversion to the euro.

Fotostrecke

Photo Gallery: A Right-Wing Association

Foto: dpa Picture-Alliance / Daniel Maurer/ picture alliance / dpa

Like Aiwanger, Lucke also admits to having met with Stahl, though he can no longer remember when that meeting took place, but he says it was likely after he had left the AfD. He claims that the discussion "was not about money, but about politics." Still, in the early days of the AfD, it was an open secret that Metzger had a direct link to Ernst Knut Stahl and that there was a deep funding pot that could be accessed.

What the AfD start-up funding may have looked like can be seen in an invoice from the state of Saxony-Anhalt dated Sept. 16, 2013. Shortly before the general election that year, the party held an event in a restaurant in Magdeburg, which charged the AfD's state chapter 1,995.15 euros. Shortly thereafter, though, the invoice had to be reissued with a new address: Dagmar Metzger's PR agency Wordstatt GmbH, which then paid the bill, according to a bank statement.

There were a number of similar invoices in the early days of the AfD, whether for the party's founding convention or other, smaller gatherings. At the first convention in April 2013, the new leadership announced a party budget of 300,000 euros, yet just the event alone, which was held at the Intercontinental Hotel in Berlin, cost around 100,000 euros, according to Bernd Lucke's recollections. That would have meant that the party had spent a third of its budget before even really getting started.

'Extremely Generous'

But instead of carefully hording its funds, the AfD spent 200,000 euros in summer 2013 on a television ad. Other campaign materials came on top of that, including flyers, brochures and CDs with an AfD song. Not to mention the campaign posters, the costs for security and technical support at the many campaign events, rental costs, buffets and the colorful wall decorations. And all the while, AfD politicians were accumulating travel costs.

But there was always enough money. And it seems unlikely that all of those expenditures were covered by membership dues and the grassroots donations that then-treasurer Norbert Stenzel managed.

Stenzel recently confirmed for the first time Metzger's key role in party financing: "Dagmar Metzger was extremely generous in 2013." He says she frequently paid invoices on behalf of the party: "They didn't come to me in my role as treasurer," says Stenzel, who has since left the party. He estimates that the payments "added up to around 100,000 to 120,000 euros." In its statement of accounts, the party admitted that there were unexplained financing questions pertaining to Metzger, but the report only mentions an amount of around 35,000 euros. If Stenzel's recollections are accurate, then the AfD would be guilty of publishing a false statement of accounts, an infraction that carries a stiff penalty.

As the party's national treasurer, Stenzel says he was happy that he didn't have to rely completely on the AfD's own bank account. "We didn't have a huge amount of money," he says. When he voiced concerns that the party's finances could collapse completely, he says that Lucke was there to reassure him, saying things like: "You don't need to worry about it. Ms. Metzger will take care of the invoice."

Lucke disputes this portrayal. Metzger, meanwhile, confirms that she financed "some events in the early days of the AfD," but she insists that the total spent was only "around 35,000 euros," the amount listed in the AfD's statement of accounts.

According to information obtained by DER SPIEGEL, she didn't pay the invoices herself, or at least not all of them. Multiple insiders have told DER SPIEGEL that money also came from Finck via his middleman Stahl. Neither Metzger nor Stahl responded to specific questions about this claim.

Ulrich Müller from the organization LobbyControl says a complete reexamination of the events is needed. "The Bundestag administration must now investigate how Ms. Metzger financed AfD events in the early years," Müller says. "If the money came from a third party like Mr. von Finck, it would be a clear violation of campaign laws."

Finck's involvement with the AfD continued beyond the party's launch phase. After the party barely fell short of the 5-percent hurdle for Bundestag representation in the 2013 election, it found itself in urgent need of cash. In contrast to other parties, leading AfD officials weren't drawing salaries as Bundestag representatives. But suddenly, a project emerged that revealed unexpected synergies between the party and its billionaire patron: the AfD gold shop.

A Proliferation of Cassandras

In 2010, right in the heart of the euro crisis, August von Finck became involved in the gold trade. But before he could really get going, he needed a name for the new company that would have the desired impact on potential customers. By way of his holding company, Finck spent 2 million euros for the historically charged name German Gold and Silver Works, known in German under the acronym Degussa, and not long later, the new precious-metals trader opened a store in the center of Munich, with other shops in expensive city-center locations soon to follow.

In the first year after the company's founding, the price of gold climbed to ever-new heights. The collapse of Lehman Brothers a couple of years before combined with the horrifying reports about exploding sovereign debt loads being carried by some euro zone member states and the vastly expensive bail out packages that would be needed to save them had unsettled investors. Many small savers withdrew their money from the bank and bought precious metals.

A proliferation of Cassandras cropped up across the country predicting the imminent collapse of the euro and urging Germans to invest their money in precious metals. One of them, Peter Boehringer, is an AfD parliamentarian and chair of the Budget Committee in the Bundestag. And the Finck empire also joined in the scaremongering. Degussa's "chief economist" Thorsten Polleit, an honorary professor at the University of Bayreuth, continuously issued warnings of hyperinflation, currency collapse and other abominations in interviews and at investor conferences.

The AfD, too, cleverly took advantage of the widespread fear for its own purposes. "A part of savers' assets is essentially being expropriated," then-AfD leader Lucke warned in 2014.

In October, the party opened up its own gold shop on the internet. The offering, Lucke said, was a "message to everyone who has doubts about the durability and stability of the euro." The shop had something for every budget, from a one-gram ingot for 40 euros up to a South African Krugerrand for more than 1,000 euros. A gold deutsche mark coin proved to be a big hit, apparently a must-have for those wishing to turn back the clock.

The products were delivered by a small shop in Munich -and by Finck's company Degussa. DER SPIEGEL and WOZ are in possession of a bill of delivery ("Degussa Orders") that documents the cooperation. AfD workers carefully noted the name, address and order number of the buyers. Once payment had been received, the gold would be sent off to the AfD fans in "new and original packaging," some of them with the notice: "Country of origin: Switzerland."

Lucke today insists that the choice to do business with Finck's company Degussa was made on the strength of "the affordable prices and the excellent online ordering procedures." The economics professor says: "I didn't know who owned Degussa."

Prices in the AfD gold shop were higher than those of established suppliers, even if party head Lucke made the opposite claim at the time, saying: "Our prices are lower than those charged by the banks." Internally, the AfD hoped that their followers would not just see the gold as an investment, but also as a way of supporting the party. "Personally, I have always seen the gold shop as a way of 'generating donations,'" wrote an AfD member in November 2015 to fellow party supporters. The "ideal value" of the gold, he wrote, is higher because the buyers know that profits "will be used for the needs of the party."

Path to State Funding

The AfD says it generated sales of around 2 million euro in 2014 and again in 2015. The profit margins were likely low, but the shop was nevertheless successful: The brisk gold trade allowed the AfD to receive state money earmarked for financing political parties. Such financing is conditional, with parties only allowed to access it if they have additional sources of funding such as membership fees, donations or "income from business activity." Otherwise, state subsidies would be withheld.

Because the AfD at the time did not generate much in the way of membership fees, nor did it have many donors to speak of, the gold business proved to be its path to state funding.

The lucrative business survived the downfall of Bernd Lucke at the party convention in July 2015, with the new AfD leaders, Jörg Meuthen and Frauke Petry, maintaining the cooperation with Degussa. In October 2015, they urged their "dear party friends" in an email to buy their Christmas gifts from the party's shop and "special offers" were set up to encourage AfD members to buy gold. The email sounded not unlike a Christmas season donation request from a charity. "Give your loved ones a 1 deutsche mark coin or set aside a Krugerrand. Purchase your gold in the AfD gold shop."

At the end of the email, Meuthen and Petry made it clear what they were really after. "Three important state election campaigns are coming up early next year," they wrote. "If just one in 10 AfD members were to buy a half-ounce Krugerrand coin, party financing would be on solid ground."

The other parties were suspicious of the AfD's trade in precious metals and the Bundestag administration examined the right-wing party's business model but was unable to unearth any violations. So they turned to a different strategy: that of changing the rules. On Dec. 17, 2015, German parliament, where the AfD was still unrepresented, passed an amendment to the law governing German political parties such that the AfD's gold trade would no longer be sufficient to guarantee state subsidies for the party. And the AfD suddenly found itself facing a financing shortfall. Deputy head Beatrix von Storch complained that the legal amendment was an "attack on the AfD's very existence."

A New Form of Campaign Assistance

What happened next is rather interesting. Just a few weeks after the gold business ground to a halt, a new form of campaign assistance for the AfD appeared. In February 2016, thousands of posters urging support for the party ("Vote AfD Now!") went up as part of the state election campaigns in Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate. The posters, though, had not been paid for by the AfD but by an organization called the Coalition for the Preservation of the Rule of Law and Citizen Freedoms.

In addition, around 2 million households in the two states received a free newspaper called the Extrablatt. On the eve of the election, the paper served up inflammatory articles targeting refugees and a call to vote for the "new, courageous" AfD. The papers were published by the aforementioned coalition.

A few months later, DER SPIEGEL revealed that the multimillion-euro campaign had been orchestrated by the Swiss advertising agency Goal AG belonging to the political advertising specialist Alexander Segert. Inquiries submitted to Segert, asking whether Finck was behind the project, went unanswered.

The support continued in the next state election campaign. On Sept. 21, 2016, the Coalition for the Preservation of the Rule of Law and Citizen Freedoms was formalized as the Association for the Preservation of the Rule of Law and Citizen Freedoms and David Bendels was elected leader of the new association.

Bendels and Segert made no secret of the fact that Goal AG continued to work on subsequent association campaigns. Bendels repeatedly traveled to Switzerland and posted photos from his trips. And the AfD continued to profit from the association's funding of free newspapers and posters during state election campaigns. Top party officials also made appearances with Bendels at party events, such as Alice Weidel's appearance with him at an event in Sindelfingen on March 1, 2017. Nevertheless, the AfD continued to deny any such cooperation. It was an attempt to eliminate any possible suspicions of covert, illegal campaign funding. The party was essentially saying: We can't help it if someone wants to spend a bunch of money on our behalf.

Doubts, though, were growing about the party's version of events. Slowly but surely, close ties between Segert's Goal AG and top AfD politicians were made public. The PR agency, for example, oversaw the website of AfD co-leader Meuthen and it helped finance an event in Düsseldorf held by Marcus Pretzell, who was head of the AfD's state chapter in North Rhine-Westphalia at the time. Segert also apparently met with Pretzell and Frauke Petry in Strasbourg in summer 2016 to present them with a strategy paper. And according to emails recently reported on by the two German broadcasters NDR and WDR together with the S üddeutsche Zeitung, a representative of Weidel's was apparently in contact with the pro-AfD association.

Searching for the Truth

That is the association that came up with the idea of the Deutschland Kurier newspaper in spring 2017, if not earlier. If one can believe what the publisher said about the lunch in the Munich restaurant, Ernst Knut Stahl was involved.

Association head Bendels, who used to be a member of the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU, refused to say who was financing the project. He left concrete questions about Finck unanswered.

According to the publisher's sworn affidavit, Stahl spoke of an analysis that had been commissioned from a media scholar with the goal of finding out which newspapers in Germany write the truth. The analysis found that the Preussische Allgemeine Zeitung (PAZ) came the closest. The paper is published by the Landmannschaft Ostpreussen, a group representing the interests of those who were expelled from areas in Eastern Europe following World War II.

Stahl apparently considered forming a cooperation with PAZ for his project, though the paper's leading editors and executives deny that such a cooperation ever came to fruition and they also say they were unaware of any such plans. Nevertheless, PAZ Editor-in-Chief Jan Heitmann published an article in the paper in August 2017 in which he referred to the Deutschland Kurier as a "market partner" and as a "complementary publication" to the PAZ.

By that time, the publisher had long since bowed out. One day after the lunch in Munich, he informed Stahl that he was not interested in participating in the project. According to his sworn affidavit, Stahl also spoke of ideas for circulating the Deutschland Kurier and said he wanted it to be distributed in large cities, "initially free of charge."

And that is what ended up happening. The first issue had a print run of 300,000 copies and was distributed in Berlin. Later, it focused on topics of regional interest. Issue number 6, headlined "Crime Scene Germany," was distributed to households in Duisburg and Bochum while issue 9, an alleged report card giving the government an "F," went to homes in Cologne.

An Entirely New Situation

Glancing through the issues of the newspaper, one finds many well-known politicians from one specific political party. And the list of contributors to the Deutschland Kurier can sometimes read like the AfD membership rolls. One finds the names of a trio of freshly chosen European Parliament candidates, for example, along with a number of AfD deputies in German parliament.

And the editors of the Deutschland Kurier also made an entire page available to AfD floor leader Alice Weidel. Peter Boehringer, the AfD finance expert, likewise got plenty of space. His article, headlined "The Euro Bailout Will Again Cost Germany Billions," will likely have been well received by August von Finck.

Dubious or outright illegal funding has been the starting point for most political scandals in Germany's postwar history - from Konrad Adenauer's secret organization "Staatsbürgerliche Vereinigung" (or "Citizen's Association") to the Flick affair to the slush funds maintained by the CDU in the Kohl era. Rarely have the protagonists emerged with their credibility intact, and many of them lost their jobs.

But a mess like the one involving the AfD, in which a political party was only able to get started and take its place in state parliaments around the country because of dubious funding sources: That is an entirely new situation.

In the past, Finck has shown that even legal political donations can be toxic. Ever since his large donation to the FDP, the party has been known as the "Mövenpick Party," after the Swiss hotel chain in which Finck held a stake. Even the AfD has shown a fondness for using the line of attack when going after the FDP. Now, though, it looks as though the right-wing populists have also benefitted from the billionaire's largesse.

A request for comment sent by DER SPIEGEL to AfD party heads Alexander Gauland and Jörg Meuthen in addition to the party's current treasurer, Klaus Fohrmann, went unanswered. A party spokesman merely said that they were unaware of the facts in the case and did not feel a need to comment.

With that, the AfD appears to be continuing with the strategy it already deployed in the controversy surrounding Weidel's finances and in its handling of the dubious association from which it receives support: cover up, keep quiet and sugarcoat. The Alternative for Germany has demonstrated that it is lacking exactly what it consistently demands from other parties: the courage to uphold the truth, which also happens to be its election slogan.

Die Wiedergabe wurde unterbrochen.