German Social Democrat leaders knew for months that one of their leading politicians allegedly possessed inappropriate images of children, it emerged on Thursday.
Sebastian Edathy, who led a parliamentary inquiry into a string of neo-Nazi murders, issued a furious denial this week after his flat and office were searched by police.
It then emerged on Thursday that the SPD’s leading lights, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is Germany’s Foreign Minister, Thomas Oppermann, SPD parliamentary leader, and Sigmar Gabriel, economics and energy minister, knew in October about the allegations.
Oppermann said in a written statement on Thursday: “The SPD chairman Sigmar Gabriel was approached in October 2013 by Interior Minister Peter Friedrich [and heard] that Sebastian Edathy’s name had turned up in investigations abroad.”
He said that Gabriel had told him and Steinmeier about the allegations, but they had not passed the information on to Edathy.
The case is being investigated by prosecutors in Hannover. Edathy denies any wrongdoing.
"The public allegation that I was in the possession of child pornographic magazines, or had bought them, is untrue," said the Social Democrat (SPD) politician in a statement on his Facebook page earlier this week.
"I take it the assumption of innocence also applies to me. There is no criminal behaviour to answer," added the 44-year-old domestic policy expert.
Edathy unexpectedly resigned from his seat on Friday, citing health considerations as the reason. He has been written off sick since the start of the year.
The politician came to national prominence last year when he chaired the parliamentary investigative committee into the failures of the authorities when investigating the series of murders later attributed to the NSU neo-Nazi terror group.
His report recommended security services employ more people from ethnic minorities and he said: "We have concluded that we are dealing with massive institutional failures that resulted from a dramatic underestimation of the danger of the violent far-right in Germany."
Edathy's flat in Rehburg am Steinhuder Meer near Hannover, and offices in nearby Nienburg and Stadthagen were searched by police on Monday.