Controversial Loan German President Denies Misleading State Parliament
German President Christian Wulff has denied a newspaper report alleging that he misled the regional parliament of Lower Saxony last year. He had stated in 2010 that he had no business ties with an entrepreneur friend. But the wife of the man had in fact temporarily lent 500,000 euros to the politician.
German President Christian Wulff denied a newspaper report on Tuesday alleging he had misled a regional parliament last year about his business relationship with an entrepreneur friend.
The mass-circulation Bild newspaper alleged that Wulff had not given the whole truth in a response to a parliamentary question put to him in 2010, when he was still governor of the northern state of Lower Saxony, about whether he had business ties with the businessman Egon Geerkens.
The report said Wulff's office had declared at the time that there were no business links with Geerkens. The question had been submitted by two regional members of parliament with the opposition Green Party.
According to Bild, however, Wulff and his wife Bettina had received a loan of 500,000 ($660,000) from Geerkens' wife Edith in order to buy a home.
On Tuesday, Wulffs' spokesman Olaf Glaeseker said Wulff had "correctly answered" the question. "Such business links didn't and don't exist. There was an agreement with Mrs. Edith Geerkens for a loan from her private assets. So the unambiguous question was truthfully answered in the negative."
Glaeseker was speaking in Kuwait during the current six-day visit by Wulff to several Gulf states.
Christmas Vacation in Florida
Wulff had spent his 2009 Christmas vacation in a villa in Florida owned by Egon Geerkens, which had prompted members of Lower Saxony state parliament with the Greens to ask whether there were business ties between then-governor Wulff and Geerkens.
Wulff had been criticized at the time because he and his wife had accepted a free upgrade from economy to business class for the flight.
In response to the parliamentary question, Wulff issued the following statement on Feb. 18, 2010, four months before he was elected president:"There have been no business ties between Governor Wulff and the persons and companies cited in the question in the last 10 years."
Bild reported on Tuesday that Edith Geerkens had granted a loan for a half-million euros in October 2008, at an interest rate of four percent, which the Wulffs used to buy a house on Oct. 1, 2008 for 415,000.
Bild also reported that the Wulffs replaced the private loan with a bank credit from BW Bank in Stuttgart in February 2010 -- a few days before the question was put in the regional parliament -- even though the private loan arrangement was due to run until November 2013.
'A Totally Clean Deal'
Contacted by SPIEGEL ONLINE on Tuesday, entrepreneur Egon Geerkens dismissed any allegations of wrongdoing with the loan, saying that the beginning of 2008 was a difficult time for investing money. "The banking crisis had begun and people didn't know who you could still lend money to," the 67-year-old said, adding that he and his wife were looking for an investment opportunity at the time. Wulff, who was still governor of Lower Saxony, had just left his wife and was planning a new start with his girlfriend Bettina, who he would marry a short time later. "Christian had to restructure his life, and everyone knows that divorces are expensive," he added. Instead of borrowing the money from a bank, the new couple borrowed the money from Edith Geerkens.
Husband Egon said there had been no conditions imposed in exchange for the loan, which had to be paid back within five years. The Wulffs also had the option of paying it back early if they found more favorable financing terms elsewhere. "That was a concession to Wulff," he said.
Geerkens added, "It was a totally clean deal. It helped him and us." Responding to the suggestion he may have had a business relationship with the former governor, he said: "There was no and there is no a business relationship between him and me. For one, the money came from my wife. For another, it has nothing to do with our business. I am not a professional lender."
Geerkens and Wulff got to know each other during the current German president's time in Osnabrück, where he launched his political career. Geerkens operated a jewelry store and a shopping center in the city.
The businessman said he had never obtained any government money for his projects. He said he had participated in three foreign trips undertaken by the then-governor but that he had paid for that travel out of his own pockets. He said continued to maintain regular contact with Wulff after he became federal president, but that he has not accompanied the head of state on any of his trips.
With reporting by Michael Fröhlingsdorf