By Jens Hack
MUNICH (Reuters) - A senior figure in Chancellor Angela Merkel's sister party quit on Thursday over criticism he paid his wife a hefty salary for working for him, a distraction for Germany's Christian Social Union five months before two elections.
The CSU, Bavaria's version of Merkel's Christian Democrats, has already come under pressure over allegations that the state premier Horst Seehofer had known for months that soccer club Bayern Munich's president had dodged taxes.
With five months to go before elections in Bavaria and in Germany, the CSU leader in the state assembly, Georg Schmid, said he had done nothing wrong in legal and political terms but that the uproar was preventing him from doing his job.
"At such an important time ... at the end of the legislative period, my parliamentary group needs a leader who can fully commit to the job," Schmid said in a written statement.
Known as "Shaking George" for his fondness for shaking hands with people, Schmid came under fire from the opposition for paying his wife up to 5,500 euros ($7,100) a month via the state assembly for support work.
Other local CSU lawmakers had work arrangements with close family members. No other parties have used the arrangement. New legislation passed this week outlaws all such contracts.
Schmid, 60, had been parliamentary group leader since 2007.
The CSU has ruled the rich southern state of Bavaria since 1957 and looks set to win again on September 15, with opinion polls putting them at 49 percent.
A resounding conservative victory in Bavaria could give Merkel's already strong bid for a third term a boost at the federal election which takes place one week later.
The CSU is being drawn into a tax scandal surrounding Uli Hoeness, the Bayern Munich president who is close to many top German politicians. The disclosure that he had turned himself in to tax authorities for evasion has become an election issue.
German media have reported that Seehofer knew as long ago as in January that prosecutors were investigating Hoeness, a figure both revered and reviled for his soccer success and blunt style. Seehofer has yet to comment on the allegation.
Merkel's spokesman said this week the chancellor was disappointed in Hoeness. The center-left Social Democrats, who are struggling to make inroads into Merkel's lead in opinion polls, view tax dodging as a potentially vote-winning issue.
(Writing by Annika Breidthardt; Editing by Stephen Brown and Alison Williams)