Pressure builds on German President for trying to suppress loan scandal article


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The Independent Online

The increasingly tarnished reputation of Germany's President, Christian Wulff suffered a new setback yesterday with disclosures that the 52-year-old head of state threatened to sue a leading tabloid newspaper to prevent publication of a damaging article about a questionable six-figure private loan.

Mr Wulff, a conservative who was personally chosen by the Chancellor, Angela Merkel, for the largely titular job of president in 2010, has come under increasing pressure in recent weeks over a €500,000 (£417,000) loan made to him by the wife of a private investor to finance a family home.

But the intensity of the row rose dramatically yesterday after it emerged that, while on an official visit to Kuwait last month, Mr Wulff made an explosive and threatening telephone call to the editor of the Bild newspaper, Kai Diekmann.

Süddeutsche Zeitung was one of two newspapers to report that after failing to reach Mr Diekmann in person, Mr Wulff had left an angry message on his voicemail threatening legal action and a "final break" with Bild and its publisher, Springer Verlag, unless the paper dropped plans to publish an article about the loan.

The president was also said to have used the term "wage war" in his message and stressed that as far as he and his wife were concerned, the Bild article "crossed the Rubicon". Bild, however, went ahead and published the article the following day, 13 December.

Contacted yesterday, Mr Wulff's office refused to respond to the reports and insisted: "The federal president refuses on principle to provide any information about telephone calls or personal conversations."

Der Spiegel magazine reported yesterday that Mr Wulff had also telephoned Matthias Döpfner, Springer's chief executive, and asked him to intervene. Mr Döpfner was said to have told the president that he could not interfere in editorial judgements.

The Bild article provoked a deluge of criticism after it revealed that Mr Wulf had received a loan from the wife of Egon Geerkens, a wealthy investor friend, in order to finance his house.

Bild alleged that the loan indicated that Mr Wulff, previously the prime minister of the state of Lower Saxony, had not told the whole truth when asked by the state parliament in 2010 whether he had business links with Mr Geerkens. It later emerged that he and his wife took part in the loan negotiations.