Germany denied Friday intentionally letting former East German leader Erich Honecker flee to the Soviet Union but acknowledged not taking immediate action to try to stop him.

Dieter Vogel, spokesman for Chancellor Helmut Kohl, rejected speculation that Kohl agreed to let Honecker leave as part of a deal to ensure the Soviets don't renege on their promise to withdraw Red Army troops from former East Germany."There was never any arrangement - any discussions - that led to this. That is clearly not the case," said Vogel.

Vogel said Kohl first found out about plans to fly Honecker to the Soviet Union about an hour and a half before he left Wednesday. The Soviet ambassador in Bonn told the government that Honecker would be leaving a Red Army hospital near Berlin for medical treatment in the Soviet Union.

"It was not possible within this time to decide on a measure" to try to stop Honecker, Vogel said.

Earlier Friday, Germany's justice minister demanded that Moscow immediately hand over Honecker. He is wanted on charges related to the deaths of East Germans who were shot while trying to flee Honecker's Communist regime.

But a newspaper quoted Honecker's lawyer as saying the former leader plans to spend the rest of his days in the Soviet Union.

The Cologne-Bonn Express newspaper also quoted the lawyer, Friedrich Wolff, as saying he believes the German investigation of the 78-year-old Honecker will be dropped.

"I am nearly convinced that the proceedings against Mr. Honecker will soon be discontinued - for a lack of substance," the lawyer reportedly said.