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Merkel Demands Answers on Ex-Lawmaker Probe Amid Coalition Rift

Feb. 17 (Bloomberg) -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants “all questions” answered about a criminal probe of a former lawmaker that prompted the resignation of a minister, her spokesman said.

After Agriculture Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich quit on Feb. 14 over his handling of confidential information regarding the case, Merkel allies are turning to Social Democrat leaders for answers on who knew what about the SPD lawmaker suspected of downloading images of naked boys. SPD Chairman Sigmar Gabriel said his party’s leadership had done the right thing.

Merkel plans to meet Gabriel and Horst Seehofer, head of the Bavaria-based Christian Social Union, tomorrow in Berlin to discuss the affair, officials of both parties said. Merkel, Gabriel and other ministers plan to travel to Paris for a joint German-French cabinet meeting the next day.

“This is a stressful situation for the coalition,” Gabriel, who is Merkel’s vice chancellor and economy minister, told reporters in Berlin today. The two-month-old coalition “showed in its first weeks that we can be very durable and work together -- and it should remain that way.”

The sniping has upended the start of Merkel’s third term, which pairs her Christian Democratic bloc with the SPD as junior partner. The SPD said last week that Friedrich, a member of Merkel’s bloc who was then interior minister, told Gabriel that the lawmaker’s name had emerged in a global child-pornography probe. Prosecutors responded that they may open an investigation into breach of confidentiality.

Seeking Blame

“It’s clear somebody did something wrong,” Steffen Seibert, Merkel’s chief spokesman, told reporters, without identifying who is most responsible for coming forward. “Every person in government” is responsible for maintaining the rule of law and “all questions must be answered convincingly.”

The lawmaker, Sebastian Edathy, resigned on Feb. 7 citing health reasons, and denies possessing child pornography. Edathy, 44, is suspected of downloading images of nude boys, though it isn’t clear whether the pictures constitute child pornography, Hanover prosecutor Joerg Froehlich said Feb. 14.

Tipped off by Friedrich in October during talks on forming Merkel’s government, Gabriel informed Thomas Oppermann, the SPD’s current caucus leader, and then-caucus chief Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is now foreign minister, Oppermann said on Feb. 13. Nobody warned Edathy about a probe, Gabriel said today.

The SPD was in the midst of re-shaping its parliamentary team and Friedrich’s action was “both respectable as a human being and politically defensible,” Gabriel said.

Seehofer, an ally of CSU member Friedrich, accused the SPD over the weekend of having “loose tongues” and said somebody in the party must face consequences. Officials from Merkel’s faction and opposition figures have focused their criticism on Oppermann, who was the SPD’s parliamentary whip at the time.

Christian Schmidt, a deputy minister of development and economic cooperation, will take over as agriculture minister, the CSU said in an e-mailed statement today.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Donahue in Berlin at pdonahue1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net

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