Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Confirmed: It Was Cocaine Found on German Jewish Leader

June 16, 2003
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

German authorities have confirmed that cocaine was found in the possession of Michel Friedman, vice president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

Officials in Frankfurt had found a white powdery substance after searching Friedman’s home and law office on June 11. A day later, they confirmed that the substance was cocaine.

The search was prompted by the emergence of Friedman’s name during an ongoing investigation of a Ukrainian crime ring involving slavery, prostitution, and the smuggling of drugs and weapons into Germany. Prosecutors stressed that Friedman, also the president of the European Jewish Congress, is not suspected of involvement in this ring.

According to a June 14 report in Focus Magazine, authorities are also looking into whether Friedman encouraged prostitutes to use the drug. Penalty for possession of illegal narcotics in Germany ranges from a fine to up to five years in prison.

German media quickly picked up and highlighted the story, which involves one of the best-known and most controversial Jewish public figures in Germany. Some media outlets used old photos of Friedman smiling broadly and receiving Germany’s highest medal of honor to illustrate the seamy news. A well-known personality and TV talk-show host in Germany, Friedman is known as an effective speaker against racism and anti-Semitism, and as an outspoken supporter of Israel. He has not commented on the investigation.

After news of the probe for possible narcotics possession broke on June 11, Friedman suspended production of his TV talk shows, “Friedman” and “Watch Out! Friedman.” His attorney told reporters it is too early for a statement.

During the search, samples of Friedman’s hair also were taken in for testing; results may not be available for several days. Friedman reportedly cooperated with investigators. As news of the inquiry unfolded last Friday, Paul Spiegel, president of the Central Council, defended Friedman and insisted that he not be judged outside a court of law. Spiegel told the Berliner Tagesspiegel he saw no reason for Friedman to step down from his post on the council. Salomon Korn, head of the Jewish community in Frankfurt, said before the substance was confirmed as cocaine that it is absolutely out of Friedman’s character to be involved with drugs. He told the Internet news agency Netzeitung that Friedman does not smoke or drink alcohol. He suggested that “an envious person was using the opportunity to even an old score.” According to news reports, investigators are seeking to learn whether Friedman ordered both cocaine and prostitutes by phone. Two Ukrainian prostitutes reportedly independently told investigators they had seen Friedman use the drug.

Two years ago, a cocaine dealer in Frankfurt reportedly named Friedman as a customer during a police interrogation, but an inquiry was dropped due to lack of evidence. According to the Bild Zeitung newspaper, that case now may be reopened. The late German politician Jurgen Mollemann said in 2002 that Friedman’s manner and message were responsible for a rise in anti-Semitism in Germany. The comment drew angry reaction from across the mainstream political spectrum but resonated among many in the general public.

Mollemann recently died in a parachuting accident Whatever its outcome, the current investigation is likely to fuel negative public opinion of Jews in Germany. As one Jewish leader said privately, “This is not good for the Jews.” The far-right National Democratic Party of Germany featured news of the scandal on its Web site under the headline, “This news can not be emphasized enough.”

“Media reports in general have been full of schadenfreude,” said Michael Wolffsohn, an expert on German Jewish history and politics at the German Armed Forces University.

“There will definitely be a spillover to the collective level, which is a familiar pattern,” Wolffsohn said. “The tendency must be combated, because whatever he has done or not done, this was his personal, individual decision and way of life. And it does not concern the Jewish collective.”

Recommended from JTA