German president 'regrets' keeping quiet on private loan

15th December 2011, Comments 0 comments

German President Christian Wulff, under pressure over a private loan he received from the wife of a tycoon friend, admitted Thursday he should have come clean earlier about the deal.

In a fresh political headache for Chancellor Angela Merkel, Wulff, who as head of state serves as a kind of moral arbiter in German public life, said he regretted not being more forthcoming about the 500,000-euro ($651,000) loan he accepted in October 2008.

The daily Bild reported Tuesday that he was suspected of concealing from 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 was premier of Lower Saxony 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 from Geerkens' wife Edith to buy a home. He made no mention of that arrangement.

The couple are longtime friends of Wulff and extended the loan to him at four-percent interest -- one point lower than the usual bank mortgage rate.

"I recognise that a false impression could be created here. I regret that," Wulff said in a statement Thursday.

"It would have been better if I had mentioned the private contract with Mrs Geerkens beyond the specific questions of the Lower Saxony deputies, as I had and have nothing to hide."

The president, who had on Tuesday issued a statement denying any wrongdoing, said he would now make all the documents related to the loan available to reporters.

Wulff belongs to Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats. Her spokesman said Wednesday that he enjoyed the chancellor's "complete trust".

However the affair comes during a turbulent political week for Merkel, after a leading ally in her fractious centre-right coalition abruptly resigned Wednesday.

Christian Lindner walked out as general secretary of the Free Democrats (FDP), junior partners in Merkel's government and a party that has been in a tailspin for several months amid leadership crises and a rash of poll defeats.

Lindner was vague about his reasons for departing but speculation centred around criticism of his handling of an internal FDP referendum on the eurozone's permanent bailout fund, which was initiated by eurosceptics.

Meanwhile on Thursday, prosecutors said that Lindner's designated successor, Patrick Doering, was under investigation for a suspected hit-and-run incident involving a damaged car last month near his home in the northern city of Hanover.

Merkel has also faced tough questions over a deal hammered out at an EU summit last week to save the euro from a crippling debt crisis, as growing doubts about the outcome weighed on financial markets.

© 2011 AFP

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