German president Christian Wulff quits over scandal

 

German President Christian Wulff has announced his resignation in a scandal over favours he allegedly received before becoming head of state.

Christian Wulff, who was Merkel's candidate for the presidency when elected less than two years ago, quit after two months of allegations he received favours such as a favorable loan and hotel stays from friends when he was governor of Lower Saxony state.

Pressure mounted after prosecutors in the state capital, Hannover, asked Parliament on Thursday to lift his immunity so they could start a formal investigation of allegations related to a film producer friend.

Merkel, who called off a trip to Rome on Friday, voiced "deep regret" at his resignation. She moved quickly to limit the fallout and try to ensure a smooth succession, saying she would seek an agreement with the main opposition parties on the next president.

Wulff, 52, was a deputy leader of Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union before becoming president in a messy 2010 election in which the opposition's candidate, well-regarded former East German human rights activist Joachim Gauck, drew votes from Merkel's center-right coalition.

Prosecutors said there was an "initial suspicion" that Wulff improperly accepted or granted benefits in his relationship with David Groenewold, a German film producer whom they also plan to investigate. Those benefits allegedly included Groenewold paying for a luxury hotel stay in 2007.

Wulff said he was stepping down because Germany needs "a president who is supported by the confidence not just of a majority of citizens, but a wide majority."

"The developments of recent days and months have shown that this confidence, and therefore my ability to act, have been lastingly impaired," a somber Wulff said in a brief statement at the president's Bellevue palace, with his wife, Bettina, at his side.

The speaker of Parliament's upper house, conservative Bavarian governor Horst Seehofer, will take over the presidential duties on an interim basis, mostly signing legislation into law.

A special parliamentary assembly made up of lower-house lawmakers and representatives of Germany's 16 states must elect a successor within 30 days.

Merkel's center-right coalition, which is prone to infighting, has only a wafer-thin majority in that assembly.

Just half an hour after Wulff resigned, the chancellor said the governing parties would quickly approach the opposition Social Democrats and Greens regarding a successor.

Andrea Nahles, the Social Democrats' general secretary, said she was relieved by Wulff's resignation, which she described as "necessary and overdue," and also welcomed Merkel's overture.

The Wulff scandal hasn't yet had any impact on Merkel's popularity, which is running high amid her hard-nosed leadership of the eurozone debt crisis.

Oskar Niedermayer, a political science professor at Berlin's Free University, said he didn't expect any long-term damage to Merkel, and added that the chancellor "reacted absolutely right" to Wulff's resignation.

It wasn't immediately obvious what candidate might draw cross-party support. Speculation has centered on figures such as Merkel Cabinet ministers Thomas de Maiziere and Ursula von der Leyen, Parliament speaker Norbert Lammert, former U.N. Environment Program leader and ex-minister Klaus Toepfer, and Gauck.

But Niedermayer was skeptical as to whether any of them had a chance, and argued that Gauck would be too divisive after the 2010 election.

He said he didn't expect the issue to have any impact on the eurozone debt crisis beyond the fact that it would add an extra demand on Merkel's time.

The primary role of Germany's president is to serve as a moral authority, and Wulff's authority already had been eroded before prosecutors dropped their bombshell on Thursday.

Calling for Parliament to lift Wulff's immunity was an unprecedented move against a German president.

The Groenewold allegations were the latest in a steady drip of accusations that have besieged the president, casting doubt on his judgment and integrity.

The affair kicked off in mid-December, when it emerged that Wulff had received a large private loan from a wealthy businessman friend's wife when he was governor and hadn't mentioned it to the state legislature.

That was followed in January by intense criticism over a furious call he made to the editor of Germany's biggest-selling newspaper before it reported on the loan. Wulff then said the call was a mistake, but sparred publicly with the paper over whether he had tried to block its story.

Neither of those things, however, resulted in an investigation.

Wulff said in his resignation statement he was convinced he would be fully cleared of any wrongdoing.

"I have always behaved legally correctly in the offices I held," he said. "I have made mistakes, but I was always honest."

Wulff follows his predecessor, also nominated by Merkel, in resigning early.

In mid-2010, Horst Koehler quit abruptly a year into his second five-year term, citing criticism over comments he made about the German military.

AP

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star