Former German chancellor Helmut Kohl awarded €1m damages over biography

Philip Oltermann in Berlin
Former German chancellor Helmut Kohl is to receive the ‘highest sum ever awarded by a German court in a right to privacy case’. Photograph: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

Helmut Kohl has been awarded a €1m (£842,875) in damages over an unauthorised biography that a judge said had “deeply violated” the former German chancellor’s personal rights.

Judges in the western city of Cologne ordered the book’s two authors and their publisher to pay the damages to Kohl, 87, for breaching his trust and sullying his reputation.

“This is the highest sum ever awarded by a German court in a right to privacy case,” the city’s district court said in a statement.

The bestselling book, Legacy: the Kohl Protocols, is based on more than 630 hours worth of recorded conversations between Kohl and his former ghostwriter Heribert Schwan, recorded between 2001 and 2002.

The interviews were originally intended to feed into a multi-volume memoir project, which was scrapped partway through, when the politician and his ghostwriter fell out after Schwan published another work in which he seemed to partially blame the ex-chancellor for the suicide of his wife, Hannelore.

Schwan went ahead with the project anyway, quoting a number of embarrassing comments and putdowns. Kohl – who during his 16 years in power steered the country through the final years of the cold war and the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall – belittled Mikhail Gorbachev’s political achievements and dismissed other party colleagues as “babies” and “traitors”.

The book, co-written with Tilman Jens, also contained a passage in which Kohl commented on the current German chancellor, a former protege of his, in less than flattering terms: “Ms Merkel couldn’t even hold her fork and knife properly. She loitered at state dinners so that I had to repeatedly tell her to pull herself together.”

The Kohl Protocols was published in 2014, but Kohl had already managed to block its sale, and the reprinting of 116 passages based on confidential conversations – a ruling upheld by the Cologne court on Thursday.

Schwan argued that he had given Kohl the option of switching off the tape recorder when discussing matters he did not want published.

Lawyers for Schwan and Jens as well as the Heyne publishing company, a unit of Random House, said they would appeal against the ruling.

Kohl, described as the father of German reunification, left active politics in 2002. Since a fall in 2008, he has suffered from impaired speech and uses a wheelchair.