German president probed for campaign irregularities

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Embattled Chancellor Angela Merkel was dealt a fresh blow Thursday as the German parliament said it was investigating President Christian Wulff over alleged irregularities before taking office.

"We are looking into this state of affairs," a spokeswoman for the Bundestag lower house told AFP.

The inquiry came after a newspaper reported that while campaigning for re-election as premier of Lower Saxony state, Wulff had used over several years the services of a spokesman on the payroll of a public utilities company.

The Leipziger Volkszeitung local daily also said that official cars, mobile phones and computers were used improperly and that prosecutors in Lower Saxony had also opened a probe.

The public utility company, Stadtwerke Wolfsburg, "will have lost 400,000 euros (520,000 dollars) through this moonlighting," Thomas Oppermann, a senior member of the opposition Social Democrats, told the paper.

The president's office declined to comment.

If the affair deepens, it could come back to hurt Merkel, who had Wulff installed as president earlier this year as a safe pair of hands after his predecessor Horst Koehler quit over remarks about Afghanistan.

Merkel's opinion poll ratings have fallen sharply since winning a second term in office last September amid squabbling in the ruling coalition of her Christian Democrats and the Free Democrats.

© 2010 AFP

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