President 'used threats to try to stop scandal story'
Embattled German President Christian Wulff has been accused of trying to block the first reports of his financial affairs by threatening criminal charges against journalists working on the story – leaving a furious rant on an answering machine.
When he realised that the country’s biggest-selling newspaper Bild was about to publish details of a €500,000 loan he got from the wife of a businessman friend but had not declared, Wulff called the paper’s editor and left a furious message on the answering machine. The story and a host of follow-up revelations have put him under enormous pressure.
The Süddeutsche Zeitung paper reported on Monday that Wulff called Bild editor Kai Diekmann from a state visit to Kuwait on December 12, and urged him not to publish the story, saying he was prepared to talk about a “war” with the paper and threatening criminal charges against the journalists involved. What charges those might have been are totally unclear.
Wulff said that he would break off all relations with the paper’s publishing house Springer if what he called the “unbelievable” story was published, the Süddeutsche reported.
Spiegel magazine reported on its website on Monday that Wulff had even called the CEO of Springer Mathias Döpfner, asking him to push Diekmann into pulling the story. Döpfner told him in no uncertain terms to stop trying to interfere, the magazine said. Bild confirmed the reports of both phone calls on Monday, and said that Wulff called again a few days later to apologise.
When Bild published the story as scheduled, it put Wulff’s financial affairs while state premier of Lower Saxony and his public statements about them under the media spotlight. He has since made comments about the value of a free media.
Wulff did not comment on the revelations about his calls to Bild on Monday, despite a number of newspaper websites publishing scathing commentaries on his conduct.
He has apologised for not being completely straight forward when asked about the 2008 loan in the state parliament, denying he had taken money from the businessman but not mentioning the load from his wife.
It has also emerged that another prominent Lower Saxony businessman paid for the promotion of Wulff’s book in the run-up to a state election, while Wulff has also been accused of inappropriately helping an event planner friend get work organising a series of government conferences.
Wulff replaced the initial private loan with a loan from BW-Bank, which gave him preferential interest rates. Der Spiegel magazine suggested indicated a conflict of interest because Wulff had played a major role in sorting out financial issues between car-makers BMW and Porsche, in which the bank had a financial interest.
There has also been great interest in the timing of the BW-Bank loan – which it emerged was signed only shortly before Christmas, when the pressure was already on Wulff.
So far Wulff has not entertained the possibility of resigning, despite increasingly withering heavy pressure. He has continued to receive report from political heavy hitters, including Chancellor Angela Merkel.