German President Wulff quits over corruption claims

German President Christian Wulff: "I have acted without fault and always been honest"

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German President Christian Wulff has announced his resignation, after prosecutors called for his immunity to be lifted.

An ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, Mr Wulff, 52, stepped down over corruption claims involving a dubious home loan. He denies any wrongdoing.

Mrs Merkel cancelled a visit to Italy on Friday to deal with the crisis, and said she regretted that he had quit.

German media say the crisis is unprecedented in post-war Germany.

Mrs Merkel had fought to get Mr Wulff, from her centre-right Christian Democrat party (CDU), appointed as president. He had been in the job for less than two years.

She said she accepted his resignation "with respect but also with regret".

"He dedicated himself to the interests of Germany," she said in a brief statement at 10:30 GMT, shortly after his announcement on Friday.

Analysis

The presidential post may be largely ceremonial but this is an embarrassing and awkward distraction for Angela Merkel.

Christian Wulff was her personal choice, and now she will have to invest political capital to find an acceptable replacement.

At a time when her opinion poll ratings are high, this will be a blot on her reputation for reliability and good judgement.

The focus on finding a new president will take Mrs Merkel away from her task of trying to lead the eurozone through its crisis.

She has already had to postpone a visit to Italy to see Mario Monti, at a time when critical decisions have to be made about Greece and other issues.

She said Mr Wulff was convinced he had "acted legally correctly" but was "stepping back from the office, from service to our people".

Germany's political parties will now seek to agree on a new candidate for president, she said.

In the interim, Horst Seehofer of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party of the CDU, will be acting president.

The president's role is largely ceremonial, to serve as a moral authority for the nation.

The BBC's Berlin correspondent Stephen Evans says the affair is just a headache for Mrs Merkel, whose approval rating is high among the German people.

However, she does not need any new problems as Germany wrestles with the eurozone debt crisis, our correspondent adds.

"The developments of the past few days and weeks have shown that [the German people's] trust and thus my effectiveness have been seriously damaged," Mr Wulff said in a brief statement.

"For this reason it is no longer possible for me to exercise the office of president at home and abroad as required."

Controversial loan

Christian Wulff

  • Born in Osnabruck, in then West Germany, in 1959
  • Studies at the University of Osnabruck, where he meets his future wife, Christiane
  • Becomes active in the Christian Democrat Union at the age of 20
  • Challenges Gerhard Schroeder, who would later become chancellor, for the premiership of Lower Saxony in 1990, but loses
  • Wins control of the state in 2003 polls
  • Becomes one of four deputy leaders of the CDU in 1998
  • Picked as president in 2010 by Chancellor Angela Merkel, becoming the country's youngest president at 51

The scandal surrounding Mr Wulff escalated in December.

At the centre of the row is the story - first published by the Bild newspaper - that Mr Wulff received a low interest 500,000 euro loan (£417,000; $649,000) from the wife of a wealthy businessman in October 2008.

Mr Wulff, who previously was premier of Lower Saxony, was later asked in the state's parliament if he had had business relations with the businessman, Egon Geerkens, and said he had not, making no mention of his dealings with Mr Geerkens's wife.

The president was also heavily criticised for trying to force Bild not to break the story in the first place.

It has emerged that he left an angry message on Bild chief editor Kai Diekmann's phone, saying the story must not be published.

Chancellor Angela Merkel: "I have accepted the announcement... with regret"

Mr Wulff has since apologised to Mr Diekmann.

There were also corruption allegations against Mr Wulff, involving receiving political favours and free holidays from business executives.

Prosecutors' suspicions

On Thursday, prosecutors in Hanover, capital of Lower Saxony, said there were "enough actual indications" that the president had acted improperly.

"Therefore they have asked the president of the German Bundestag [the lower house] to lift the president's immunity."

The move is formally required to start proceedings against Mr Wulff, although this does not mean necessarily that he will be charged.

The Bundestag's committee on parliamentary immunity is expected to consider the prosecutors' request at a session starting on 27 February.

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