Pressure mounts on German president over loan

AP News
Posted: Dec 14, 2011 9:32 AM
Pressure mounts on German president over loan

Pressure mounted Wednesday on Germany's president to explain a euro500,000 ($659,000) private loan that he received at below-market rates from the wife of a wealthy businessman before he took the nation's top office.

The primary role of Germany's largely ceremonial president is to serve as a moral authority. But recent media reports about Christian Wulff's acceptance of the loan in 2008, while serving as governor of Lower Saxony state, have called his integrity into question.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said Wednesday she "has full confidence in Christian Wulff." Merkel believes Wulff "carries out the duties of his office with great responsibility and with a sensitivity for what moves people in our country," Seibert said.

Wulff, a 53-year-old former member of Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats _ he quit the party upon his election _ returned late Tuesday from a weeklong visit to the Middle East. He has yet to comment on the scandal.

The mass circulation Bild daily said Wulff borrowed the money from Edith Geerkens, wife of businessman Egon Geerkens, who had long been a close family friend.

When questioned last year by regional lawmakers of the opposition Greens whether he had had business dealings with Geerkens during the preceding 10 years, Wulff denied having "any business relations" with his friend. But in that reply, months before he was elected president, he didn't mention the loan.

Presidential spokesman Olaf Glaeseker said Tuesday that Wulff had "answered lawmakers questions correctly." Glaeseker said that Wulff had used the money to purchase a new home and that the loan had been repaid according to the terms agreed.

But the reports have rankled many who view the loan and Wulff's response to the questioning as compromising the standards of transparency expected of an elected official.

Wulff now faces demands from opposition lawmakers, media and others to explain himself.

"It cannot be that an elected official uses his office for personal gain," wrote Heribert Prantl in a commentary for the left-leaning Sueddeutsche Zeitung that reflected debate among Germans on radio talk shows and Twitter.

Merkel tapped Wulff as her candidate for the presidency last year. His predecessor, Horst Koehler, quit abruptly after complaining of unduly harsh media criticism over comments he made about the German military's role in the world.