Embattled German president says 'sorry' on TV

22nd December 2011, Comments 0 comments

Embattled German President Christian Wulff admitted Thursday he should have come clean over a private home loan from the wife of a tycoon friend earlier but insisted he would stay in the job.

Under intense pressure, Wulff gave a hastily called four-minute television statement to address criticism swirling around the 500,000-euro ($651,000) loan he accepted before becoming president.

As a member of Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic party, the controversy has caused political turbulence for the chancellor who has defended him as she has grimly raced to shore up the euro.

"It's become clear to me what a disconcerting effect the private financing of our house has had on the public. I could and should have avoided that," Wulff said from the presidential palace in Berlin.

It follows reports last week that he concealed from Lower Saxony state deputies in February 2010, four months before he became president, the loan from the wife of wealthy businessman Egon Geerkens.

Wulff had responded to an official question put forward by the opposition Greens while he headed the northern state as to whether he had "business ties" with Geerkens or a firm with which Geerkens had dealings.

He had denied such a relationship despite having accepted the loan at an advantageous interest rate from Geerkens' wife Edith to buy a home. He made no mention of that arrangement.

His solicitor admitted Wednesday that Geerkens had taken part in negotiations for the loan although it came from his wife.

"I should also have disclosed the personal loan to the Lower Saxony parliament at the time. I was not candid and I am sorry," Wulff said in the TV address, after which he did not take reporters' questions.

"But I also clearly say, at no time have I, in one of my public offices, granted somebody an unwarranted advantage," he said, adding that "personal friendships" were important to him.

"But they have not influenced how I carry out my duties."

The 52-year-old said he planned to "conscientiously" continue in his role as president -- largely a ceremonial position which acts as a kind of moral compass in public life -- asking for the people's trust.

Shortly before the statement, the president's office announced that Wulff's longstanding spokesman had been released from his duties. Wulff voiced his regret and thanked him.

© 2011 AFP

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