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

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
football
News
Hillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Sport
wimbledonScot will face Ivo Karlovic next
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test