Court clears ex-president of ‘favours’ charges

UPDATE: Former German President Christian Wulff was on Thursday cleared of charges he received financial favours during his time in office as state premiere of Lower Saxony.

Court clears ex-president of 'favours' charges
Wulff leaves court on Thursday. Photo: DPA

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The Hannover district court let the 54-year-old go on Thursday morning, two years after he resigned in disgrace from his role as German President – a largely ceremonial position.

"The accused Wulff has been found not guilty," presiding judge Frank Rosenow told the court, adding that Wulff was entitled to compensation for police searches in the investigation.

Wulff stood accused of having allowed a film producer friend to pay some of his travel expenses during a 2008 Munich visit while he was state premier of Lower Saxony, in return for helping him promote a movie project.

Prosecutors charged that the film industry financier, David Groenewold, paid part of Wulff's hotel room bill, babysitting costs and a restaurant meal, totalling just over €700 euros.

If he were to have been found guilty, he would have faced up to three years in jail or a fine.

The verdict marked the end of a legal and political drama around the one-time conservative rising star who fell from power and grace amid claims he took favours from rich friends and tried to bully the media into silence.

Wulff, who had been Germany's youngest-ever president, had insisted on his innocence and last year rejected an offer to settle the case with a €20,000 fine, vowing instead to clear his name and honour.
Compared to political scandals that make headlines elsewhere, the charges seemed trifling to many, as prosecutors built a case around payments that amounted to just over €700.
The sum is made up of hotel room and babysitting costs and a restaurant meal that film producer David Groenewold, 40, allegedly paid for the Wulff family during a joint visit to Munich for the 2008 Oktoberfest.
Wulff was accused of influence-peddling because he later lobbied the then CEO of industrial conglomerate Siemens, Peter Loescher, for support for a Groenewold movie project, the 2009 wartime drama "John Rabe".

'Personal damage'

The ex-president told the court he promoted the film because he believed in the story – the true tale of a Siemens manager who saved more than 200,000 Chinese when Japanese forces committed the Nanjing massacre in 1937-38.
At the start of his trial in November, Wulff voiced indignation at the claims against him, demanded "justice" and said that "the personal damage that I and my family have suffered will stay, probably a lifetime".
Since his exit from the presidential office in February 2012, he has lived in relative seclusion, again drawing heavy media attention when he separated from the glamorous former first lady Bettina Wulff.
Prosecutors have been accused in the media of running an over-zealous and petty investigation, aiming for a guilty verdict that would justify in hindsight the launch of the criminal probe that sparked Wulff's downfall.
Other commentators have said the trial, which involved dozens of witnesses and tens of thousands of pages of evidence, served to signal that no German public official stands above the law, not even the president.
The Wulff political scandal started with revelations he had failed to declare a cheap 2008 home loan from the wife of a tycoon friend, followed by a
cascade of reports about other favours, including luxury holidays.
The behaviour, widely caricatured as that of a "bargain-hunter", came under fire as unworthy for a head of state who, ensconced in Berlin's sumptuous Bellevue Palace, serves as a kind of moral arbiter for the nation.
Wulff compounded the damage by initially denying claims against him, and appearing to try to intimidate journalists into silence with a voice mail message he left for the powerful editor of Germany's biggest selling daily Bild.

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