Casino affair (Bavaria)
The casino affair refers to the political events in Bavaria between 1955 and 1962 following the granting of casino licences to private individuals.
Period of government of the Hoegner cabinet (SPD)
From 1954 to 1957 Wilhelm Hoegner was Bavarian Minister-President for a second time and relied on a parliamentary majority within the framework of a four-party coalition, which also included the Bavarian Party (BP). The fifth party represented in the Bavarian state parliament was the Christian Social Union in Bavaria (CSU). Although it was the strongest parliamentary group, it was in opposition.
On April 21, 1955, at the instigation of BP, the state parliament approved the awarding of licenses to private individuals to operate casinos. As a result, casinos opened in Bad Kissingen, Bad Reichenhall and Garmisch-Partenkirchen, and in 1957 the casino in Bad Wiessee was added. Soon thereafter, rumors arose that the licensing process had not been above board and that money had been funneled from casino owners to politicians
According to an article in the Munich Abendzeitung, an investigative committee was to clarify bribery allegations in connection with the concession to Simon Gembicki for the Bad Kissingen casino
Alois Hundhammer (CSU) served as chairman of the 1955/56 committee of inquiry to clarify the events involving senior members of the four-party coalition government, such as Interior Minister August Geislhöringer (BP) and Deputy Prime Minister Joseph Baumgartner (BP). The committee of inquiry did not find anything. The state government emphasized the finding that the politically responsible minister had not been guilty of anything and successfully filed criminal charges for defamation.
Months later, it became apparent how momentous Baumgartner’s and Geislhöringer’s statements in the interrogations were. Rudolf Hanauer (CSU) knew that Baumgartner had social and family contacts with the concessionaire Karl Freisehner (1903-1967), a trained butcher from Gmünd in Austria, long before the casino issue. The chairman of the committee, Hundhammer, was in the know about the person of the candidate Gembicki through information given to Geislhöringer by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. Both BP politicians denied pointed questions in the committee of inquiry and swore their statements.
The CSU subsequently succeeded in using intrigues to remove the Bavarian Party from the four-party coalition. Because of the awarding of licenses, the Bavarian Party was accused of bribery, and the scandal surrounding the Bavarian casinos brought the coalition into moral disrepute.
On October 8, 1957, Prime Minister Hoegner and his cabinet resigned, and eight days later Hanns Seidel (CSU) succeeded him at the head of a coalition government of CSU, FDP and GB/BHE. The SPD and the Bavarian Party went into opposition.
Period of government of the cabinet Seidel (CSU)
Under changed political circumstances, the approved concessions now became an issue again. The state elections of 23 November 1958 had given the CSU a clear increase in votes and the smaller parties losses.
In 1959, Karl Freisehner, in secret agreement with the CSU, filed a self-denunciation for bribery. In retrospect, unusual circumstances came to light. Freisehner, a merchant, butcher, taxi driver and roulette partner, offered the then CSU Secretary General Friedrich Zimmermann evidence of bribes paid to Bavarian Party ministers. In return for his concession, he hoped for further gambling concessions. Freisehner’s written self-disclosure was kept by CSU co-founder Josef Müller for several months. After a merger of the casino companies of Bad Wiessee and Garmisch-Partenkirchen was ordered, the group of interested parties around Freisehner was compensated for their shares in the company. When Freisehner had received his last instalment, the self-disclosure turned up at the public prosecutor’s office. The receipts submitted for the alleged bribe were judged by handwriting experts to be “most likely forged”, but were later found by the court to be genuine.
The 1959 court case
Joseph Baumgartner and August Geislhöringer, respected and leading figureheads of the Bavarian Party among the electorate, were implicated in the proceedings before the Munich I Regional Court. The sworn statements made before the investigating committee in 1955/56 came up again.
It turned out that DM 2,900 had been paid to Baumgartner between 11 July 1953 and 2 November 1954 and that he had been friends with Freisehner until 1955. Geislhöringer had testified that he had not known any unfavorable information about Gembicki; however, he was aware that Gembicki, a Jew, had been convicted for fleeing Germany in 1938. Max Klotz, former deputy leader of the Bavarian Party in the Landtag, was accused on the basis of Freisehner’s receipts of having received a total of DM 24,000 from Freisehner. The statement of the former CSU member of the state parliament Franz Michel that he had not exchanged letters with concession candidate Gustavus could be refuted by presenting the letters.
On August 8, 1959, the court convicted several defendants of perjury. The sentence for the former head of the Bavarian Party, Joseph Baumgartner, was two years in prison, the sentence for Max Klotz was two years and nine months. Former Minister of the Interior Geislhöringer was sentenced to 15 months in prison for perjury before the Landtag committee; he was acquitted of the charge of bribery. Franz Michel received two years in prison. Karl Freisehner received 22 months in prison for perjury. On August 10, 1959, the Süddeutsche Zeitung ran the headline: “Draconian punishments in casino trial”. Even the former CSU Minister President and CSU Justice Minister Hans Ehard later called this judgement “a barbaric sentence”. Because: “One let the two politicians in the investigation committee swear at it in trivialities. Comparatively speaking, it doesn’t matter whether one of them wore yellow boots or red ones.”
Friedrich Zimmermann, the CSU secretary-general who was also charged in the casino affair, was sentenced in a subsequent trial in 1960 for negligent misconduct to a comparatively mild four-month prison term – compared to the sentences against the Bavarian Party officials. He had denied having had contacts with any other concessionaire apart from Freisehner, which was refuted. Another court later annulled his sentence on the basis of a medical certificate, but in its overall assessment it expressly stated: “There can be no question of the defendant’s innocence being proven.” According to the certificate, on the day of his implausible testimony he had a blood hypoglycemia affecting him and was mentally diminished as a result of an overactive thyroid gland. Regarding the expert, Zimmermann himself remarked, according to Spiegel: “He was appointed by my defense, I saw him for the first time in the courtroom.” Zimmermann therefore received the nickname “Old Schwurhand”, which haunted him throughout his life.
After half a year, the Federal Supreme Court overturned the sentences of perjury against the members of the government and demanded a new trial. The sentence against Karl Freisehner remained legally binding.
Even today, the background of the casino affair is not considered fully clarified and doubts remained. Due to Geislhöringer’s death, a retrial could not be concluded. Political observers saw in the arranged scandal a power struggle between the CSU and the Bavarian party
On August 11, 1960, the Bavarian Council of Ministers decided not to allow any more casinos in Bavaria and not to renew the licenses previously granted, which expired in 1965. In February 1961, the Bavarian parliament, with a CSU majority, decided to close the casinos again. This decision was never carried out, however, and four years later the Free State nationalized the casinos. The private concessionaires and shareholders had been paid off in 1961.
- Heinrich Senfft: Glück ist machbar. The Bavarian casino trial, the CSU and the unstoppable rise of Doctor Friedrich Zimmermann. A political didactic play. Kiepenheuer und Witsch, Cologne 1988, ISBN 3-462-01940-6; Droemer Knaur, Munich 1991, ISBN 3-426-04050-6
- Meeting at the Café Annast. In: Der Spiegel. No. 42, 1955 (online – October 12, 1955).
- The donation roulette. In: Der Spiegel. No. 22, 1959 (online – 27 May 1959).
- White cuffs. In: Der Spiegel. No. 6, 1960 (online – 3 February 1960).
- The perjury trap. In: Der Spiegel. No. 10, 1960 (online – 2 March 1960).
- So-called white vest. In: Der Spiegel. No. 37, 1970 (online – September 7, 1970).
- Fools eaten. In: Der Spiegel. No. 39, 1970 (online – September 21, 1970).
- Tremendous power. In: Der Spiegel. No. 30, 1971 (online – 19 July 1971).
- Three little notes. In: Der Spiegel. No. 17, 1974 (online – 22 April 1974).
- Traded like the Sicilian Mafia. In: Der Spiegel. No. 33, 1988 (online – August 15, 1988).