Schröder on defensive over job with Russian gas company

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The former German chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, attempted to defuse a growing row over his controversial new job with the Russian gas company Gazprom yesterday by dismissing as "nonsense" claims that his appointment had been motivated by sleaze.

Mr Schröder, who stepped down as Chancellor last month, took a seat on the board of the state-run energy giant on Friday, the same day work began on the company's widely publicised gas pipeline linking Germany with Russia under the Baltic sea.

His appointment has met with criticism in Germany, where politicians from all parties including his own Social Democrats say that the ex-chancellor used his friendship with the Russian President, Vladmir Putin, to feather his own nest. Depicting Mr Schröder in a Russian bearskin hat, Germany's mass circulation Bild newspaper said there was "Massive anger about Gas-comrade Schröder". The paper added in an editorial: "Gerhard Schröder is ruining his political life work by becoming an overseer in a company which he helped to set up during office."

Senior members of Mr Schröder's Social Democratic Party claimed that he had "lost his political instinct" by taking the Gazprom job. One conservative Christian Democrat even alleged that he had been awarded the post as "hush money for the genocide in Chechnya and the systematic strangulation of basic freedoms in Russia".

Mr Schröder hit back yesterday, dismissing allegations that he had been offered €1m (£675,000) to take the post as "a complete invention". He said: "It is an honour for me to be involved in the pipeline project. Apart from that, I did not want to get under my wife's feet at home."

In Russia, Mr Schröder's appointment to the Gazprom board was widely applauded in the media where he was feted as a true friend of Russia.

But his role is unlikely to be approved in Poland or the Baltic states where the pipeline has been criticised as a deal stitched up between Moscow and Berlin to bypass their European neighbours.