German ex-president goes on trial


BERLIN – Former German President Christian Wulff is going on trial accused of receiving and granting favours in office.

He is alleged to have accepted the payment of hotel bills by a film producer in return for lobbying while he was premier of Lower Saxony in 2008.

Mr Wulff – who stepped down in February 2012 after less than two years in the post – is Germany's first former head of state to answer charges in court.

The 54-year-old rejects the allegations and has vowed to clear his name.

Film producer David Groenewold also faces similar charges.
Offer rejected

Arriving in court in the northern city of Hannover, Mr Wulff said: "This is not an easy day for me."

But he said he was certain he would dispel the allegations against him "because I always behaved correctly in office".

Mr Wulff is alleged to have allowed film producer David Groenewold to pay hotel bills in Munich during the Oktoberfest beer festival in 2008 and on the northern island of Sylt in 2007.

In return, Mr Wulff is accused of having lobbied German companies to support Mr Groenewold's work.

Prosecutors had sought to put the former president on trial for corruption, but the court only approved the less serious charges.

If convicted, he faces up to three years in jail or a fine.

Mr Wulff and Mr Groenewold had rejected an offer from the prosecutor in March to settle the case with a fine – a procedure allowed for cases not considered especially serious.

The former president of the Bundestag (the lower house of parliament) Wolfgang Thierse, from the rival Social Democrats, told German radio that the prosecution of Mr Wulff was "somewhat out of proportion".

"He's already been punished enough by the whole affair and his resignation," he said.

Nevertheless Mr Thierse was very critical of his behaviour in office, saying "he gave the impression he wanted to make use of every advantage he had".

Mr Wulff, Chancellor Angela Merkel's choice for president, resigned amid a welter of unfavourable coverage in the German media dealing with his links to businessmen.

The pressure on him increased at the end of December 2011 with allegations, published in the mass circulation Bild newspaper, about a low interest home loan received from the wife of a wealthy businessman in 2008.

He was accused of giving misleading statements about the loan and later apologised to the editor of Bild, Kai Diekmann, for leaving an angry message on his voicemail threatening him if the story was published.

Mrs Merkel had pushed strongly to get Mr Wulff, from her centre-right CDU party, appointed to the largely ceremonial post in 2010.

At the time of his resignation, she said she accepted it "with respect but also with regret" and that she was convinced he had "acted legally".

Mr Wulff was succeeded by the Lutheran pastor and former East German anti-communist campaigner, Joachim Gauck.

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