BERLIN, Germany — President Christian Wulff resigned Friday, bowing to pressure to quit over allegations that he accepted financial favors from wealthy businessmen.
Wulff, who continues to deny any wrongdoing, announced the decision this morning from the presidential residence in Berlin, Bellevue Castle.
He said that Germany needed a president who had the trust not only of a political majority but a majority of the public, too. After the flood of recent allegations, however, that trust was "permanently damaged."
"For this reason it is no longer possible for me to exercise the office of president at home and abroad as required," he said.
The allegations date back to late December, when Germany’s biggest-selling newspaper, Bild, reported that Wulff received a private loan worth 500,000 euros ($650,000) at an extremely favorable rate from the wife of a wealthy friend in 2008, which he used to buy a house. Wulff, who was premier of the state of Lower Saxony at the time, denied having any business relations with the man in question when lawmakers asked him about it in the regional parliament.
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The scandal escalated when it emerged that the president had called Bild's editor-in-chief and tried to stop the paper running the story by leaving a threatening message on his voice mail. The initial allegations were followed by a string of others, including that Wulff's wife, Bettina, had benefited from a special VIP price on her car, and that the couple accepted free holidays from various wealthy people.
Prosecutors in Lower Saxony have asked parliament to lift Wulff's immunity so that they can start proceedings against him, though that does not necessarily mean that he will be charged. The move, announced last night, is unprecedented in Germany, according to the Spiegel Online.
Wulff today admitted making "mistakes," but stated that he was confident any investigation would clear his name.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, one of Wulff's main political allies and fellow member of the Christian Democrat (CDU) party, cancelled a planned trip to Italy and spoke immediately after Wulff.
She said she accepted his resignation with "with respect and regret," and paid tribute to the former president for his commitment to Germany's best interests.
Wulff will be replaced by Horst Seehofer of the Christian Social Union (CSU) party – the Bavarian sister party to the CDU – until all parties can agree on a new candidate.
The position of president is largely symbolic in Germany. The affair is nonetheless likely to be a source of embarrassment to Merkel, noted the Spiegel, since Wulff is the second president to step down during Merkel's term. The chancellor personally selected Wulff after the previous incumbent, Horst Köhler resigned suddenly in 2010.