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German President Under Scrutiny as Newspaper Phone Call Revealed

German President Christian Wulff came under increased scrutiny after reports that he telephoned a newspaper editor in an effort to block a story revealing a private home loan he received in 2008.

Bild, Germany’s most-read newspaper, said the president called its editor, Kai Diekmann, on Dec. 12 and left a voice-mail message expressing anger at the forthcoming story and threatening legal action. Wulff called Diekmann back two days later and apologized for the tone and substance of the previous call, Bild said in an e-mailed statement today.

The president’s office in Berlin didn’t respond to three phone calls seeking comment. Wulff declined to comment on individual discussions or telephone conversations, saying that media freedom is a “great value,” Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported.

Bild reported Dec. 13 that Wulff negotiated a 500,000 euro ($646,000) loan from the wife of a businessman friend to pay for a new home when he was Lower Saxony state premier. Wulff apologized for not revealing the loan last month in a bid to calm criticism that risks becoming a distraction to Chancellor Angela Merkel. Both Merkel and Wulff are from the Christian Democratic Union party.

Wulff was elected to the largely ceremonial office in 2010 with the backing of Merkel’s coalition after his predecessor, Horst Koehler, unexpectedly quit. The leader of the opposition Social Democrats, Sigmar Gabriel, said last week that two presidential resignations in as many years would lead to a “state crisis.”

‘Critical Reporting’

“Christian Wulff needs to clarify things as quickly as possible without raising new questions again and again,” Hubertus Heil, the SPD’s deputy chairman, said in a statement today. He also said Wulff shouldn’t try to block critical reporting.

Bild said the phone call to its editor occurred after Wulff had prepared a statement regarding the credit for Bild to publish, only to retract it before the newspaper’s deadline. The newspaper said it decided not to report on the call after a “broad newsroom debate.”

Lower Saxony Green Party legislators in 2008 questioned Wulff’s ties to the lender’s husband, Egon Geerkens, and a company in which he had a stake. Wulff initially said he had answered properly in saying that he had no business deal with Geerkens. In a Dec. 22 press conference in Berlin, Wulff said that while his response to the inquiry adhered to the law, “not everything that is legally correct is right.”

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