Helmut Kohl, the son of a tax official, was born in Germany in 1930. After studying law at the University of Frankfurt he began a career in the chemical industry.
Kohl joined the Christian Democrats (CDU) and in 1969 became president of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate. In 1976 he was elected to the parliament of the Federal Republic of Germany. Kohl became leader of the party and following the elections in 1983 he formed a coalition government made up of three main political parties, the Christian Democrats, Free Democrats and the Christian Social Union.
In 1984 Kohl was implicated in a scandal concerned with the illegal business funding of political parties. He was cleared of all charges in 1986 and the following year was elected once again as Chancellor of Germany. While in power he cut government spending and gave strong support to NATO.
With the collapse of communism in 1989 Kohl became a leading advocate of the integration of German Democratic Republic into the Federal Republic of Germany. This policy was very popular and in December 1990 Kohl and his governing CDU-led coalition won a 134-seat majority in the Bundestag. He therefore became the first chancellor of a unified Germany since 1945.
Kohl joined Francois Mitterrand of France to promote the Maastricht Treaty (1993) and the move toward European Monetary Union.
The absorption of the East German economy proved more expensive than predicted and Kohl was forced to increase taxes to finance unification. Cuts in government spending also led to high levels of unemployment and his popularity slumped. Kohl was expected to step down but if he achieved another victory in 1998 he would have surpassed Otto von Bismarck as Germany's longest-serving chancellor. This was not to be and he was defeated by the Social Democrats.
In 1999 it was disclosed that Kohl had been fully aware of large illegal cash gifts to the Christian Democrats from financiers. Kohl admitted he took money in the run-up to the 1990 election but criminal proceedings were dropped against him for corruption in exchange for the payment of a fine of £100,000.
Rumours about secret bank accounts and corrupt government decisions continued to circulate about Kohl. His reputation was further hurt by the suicide of his wife Hannelore Kohl and the suspicious death of Diethelm Honer, Kohl's financial adviser. Honer was found dead in his villa in Cannes on 17th January, 2001. He had apparently fallen down the stairs but the medical report claimed that the position of the body was not compatible with a fall.
When he (Helmut Kohl) came to power in 1982, hardly anybody expected him to survive for long. His thick Rhineland accent and the bumbling delivery of his speeches led most of his political enemies and even many of his friends to believe that he was a provincial light-weight - despite his imposing stature.
They were wrong. The apparent lack of intellect betrayed the fact that Mr. Kohl was a masterful political operator, who knew how to pull the levers in Bonn and across West Germany.
Moreover after the intellectual coolness, some called it arrogance, of his predecessor Helmut Schmidt, the new chancellor's image of an ordinary person won him the hearts of many Germans.
Helmut Kohl has buried many bodies in his time, and now he has buried his wife Hannelore. Earlier this month, while Mr. Kohl was in Berlin, she committed suicide by taking an overdose of painkillers and sleeping tablets at their home in Ludwigshafen, on the Rhine. The way he disposed of her body was characteristic, combining elements of mendacity, effrontery and the ability to dominate those around him. He assembled the entire German establishment for a requiem mass in a Roman Catholic cathedral for a Protestant who had committed suicide. The German media had already, almost without exception, swallowed Mar Kohls explanation for her death, which was that she was suffering from such an agonising allergy to light that for the last 15 months she had only been able to leave the house under cover of darkness. Doctors have been unable, from the scant details given, to identify her illness, and she was buried without post mortem. Some people have reported that she seemed well able to withstand daylight within the last few months. A friend of mine recently saw her going for a walk in the Grünewald forest on the edge of Berlin, and Mr. Kohl himself alluded, on the day before she died, to their forthcoming summer holiday in Austria. Only Stern magazine ventured to point out that the official account did not hang together. It also remarked that a few weeks ago, when the Kohls son Peter married a Turkish woman, Elif Sözen, in Istanbul, Mr. Kohl attended the wedding not with Mrs. Kohl, but with his personal assistant, Juliane Weber, who started working for him in Mainz in 1964 and has long been his right-hand aide. What Mrs. Kohl thought of this we may never know.
Following the suicide of his wife, Helmut Kohl is now indirectly linked to a suspicious death in France. Diethelm Höner, a German millionaire friend of Helmut and Hannelore Kohl, was found dead in his villa in Cannes on 17th January. He had been the Kohls informal financial adviser, running the affairs of Hannelore Kohls charitable foundations. The 60 year-old financier had apparently fallen downstairs but French prosecutors are now investigating the death. Höner was connected with the Elf scandal, in which bribes were allegedly paid by the French oil company to Helmut Kohls Christian Democratic party. Höner, whose fortune ran to some £ 1 million, had told friends that he felt threatened for several years. He lived in Cannes in a state of permanent fear and was obsessed by security. According to a document leaked to a French paper, he knew about the diversion of large sums of money via the German intelligence services; he alleged in this document that most of the aid given by Germany to Russia had been stolen and that the Russians were using the stolen money to finance industrial espionage in computer and bio-technology. Höner also knew Dieter Holzer, a German businessmen living in Monte Carlo, who is now on the run following the revelation that he took money from the bribes paid by Elf for the purchase of the Leuna oil refinery. The French authorities are treating the death as suspicious because, according to a preliminary medical report, the position of the body was not compatible with a fall. And the security cameras which otherwise filmed everything in his villa were mysteriously not functioning on the night of his death.