German opposition lawmakers stepped up pressure on President Christian Wulff to resign after prosecutors signaled their readiness to start a formal investigation into allegations he accepted illicit favors.
Prosecutors in the German state of Lower Saxony, which Wulff governed from 2003 to 2010, have submitted a request to the lower house of parliament to have the president’s immunity lifted. They want to open an official probe after finding “initial evidence to suppose” the acceptance of benefits, the prosecutor’s office in the state capital of Hanover said in a statement on its website today.
“Christian Wulff cannot carry on in office,” Andrea Nahles, general secretary of the main opposition Social Democratic Party, said in an interview with N-TV today. “It’s no longer tenable,” she said. “There’s an honorable way to resolve this situation and Christian Wulff has it in his own hands to do so.”
Wulff will give a statement at 11 a.m. today in Berlin, his office said in an e-mail. Chancellor Angela Merkel, who picked Wulff to replace Horst Koehler in May 2010, canceled a planned trip to Rome for talks with Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti and will make a statement at 11:30 a.m. Berlin time.
Allegations have buffeted Wulff, a former deputy leader of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party, for more than two months now, threatening to distract the chancellor as she battles the euro-area debt crisis.
Germany’s best-selling Bild newspaper on Dec. 13 first reported allegations relating to a private home loan during Wulff’s time as state prime minister. Within days, he was facing growing scrutiny of his financial affairs, including vacations at the homes of business people.
Wulff’s lawyer Gernot Lehr declined to comment when contacted by telephone today.
Prosecutors have been looking into whether they need to question Wulff over payments by businessman David Gronewold in connection with a vacation on the German island of Sylt in 2007.
German financial regulator Bafin is meanwhile reviewing whether Wulff violated capital market rules in the wake of Porsche SE’s failed bid to take over Volkswagen AG (VOW), Der Spiegel reported today. Wulff may have learned in February 2008 that Porsche was planning the bid and Bafin is reviewing whether he may have had to disclose that fact to the markets, the magazine reported, without saying where it got the information. As the prime minister of Volkswagen’s home state of Lower Saxony, he was a member of the carmaker’s supervisory board at the time.
Bafin’s press office didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.
Last month, an office in the president’s Berlin residence was searched by prosecutors as part of a separate investigation of his former spokesman, Olaf Glaeseker. The workplace was raided because Glaeseker had left private material there that the president’s office couldn’t hand over.
Under German law, prosecutors must open a criminal investigation if they have evidence supporting a suspicion that criminal laws have been violated. If the suspect is a member of parliament or the president, they cannot open the probe unless parliament has lifted their immunity.