The scandal swirling around German President Christian Wulff is several weeks old by now. But it still shows no signs of abating. Indeed, this weekend yet more details emerged pointing to Wulff's less-than-impeccable personal finances.
According to a document seen by SPIEGEL, Berlin film financier David Groenewold paid the cost of an upgrade for a Sept. 2008 luxury hotel stay for Wulff and his wife Bettina during a visit Oktoberfest in Munich. At the time, Wulff was still governor of Lower Saxony.
Groenewold also took on the costs of child care for the couple's infant son during the trip to the annual beer festival, but Wulff repaid him later in cash. Wulff's lawyer responded to the allegations, saying merely that his client had received a bill for his hotel stay. Because Wulff had also been in Munich on official business, he submitted the bill to the Lower Saxony state chancellery and the state Christian Democrats (CDU).
The SPIEGEL report is the latest to emerge in the ongoing debate over the propriety of Wulff's past business dealings, including the acceptance of a €500,000 personal loan from a friend, numerous vacation stays in the luxury homes of friends, and the refinancing of the first loan with a bank for rates much more favorable than those given to the general public.
But Wulff's biggest problem has become his failure to adequately clarify these questions as promised, along with news that he angrily threatened both the editor and publisher of tabloid Bild to prevent -- or delay by one day, as Wulff has claimed -- the publication of the initial story about the personal loan which set the scandal in motion.
Merkel Maintains Support
This isn't the first time that film financier Groenewold's name has come up in connection with Wulff. SPIEGEL ONLINE recently reported on a book deal with which he was involved, paying the author of a May 2006 book on Wulff several thousand euros in royalty fees. There have been differing claims as to what exactly the payments were for, but their very occurrence has raised eyebrows, as Wulff was engaged in promoting the interests of the film industry in which Groenewold was active at the time.
The latest details have fuelled increasingly pointed criticism from members of the governing coalition. Chancellor Angela Merkel re-emphasized her support for Wulff at a party event over the weekend. But she also took a commanding tone, outlining her expectation that Wulff clearly address questions over his conduct.
"Both go together -- the esteem for his work and answering the questions," Merkel said during the meeting of senior CDU officials on Saturday. "If new questions emerge, the president will answer them," she said. "Where there is still a need for clarification, it must now follow."
As for the question of whether Wulff could continue performing his -- largely ceremonial -- duties after more than a month of heated debate over his suitability, Merkel seemed cautiously optimistic. "I think he can do it, and now we'll see how the year progresses."
State Election Worries
Despite the Chancellor's support, prominent members of her CDU have continued their attacks on the president. Saarland governor Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer told radio broadcaster SWR 2 on Monday that the loan affair had damaged the country's highest public office, saying that "things must be clearly and really transparently laid out on the table."
Members of both the CDU and FDP also expressed fears that the scandal could damage their chances in upcoming state elections in Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony, where Wulff formerly served as governor.
"If it keeps up like this, then it will cost the CDU and FDP a victory in the state parliamentary election," state parliamentary leader for the FDP in Schleswig-Holstein, Wolfgang Kubicki, told daily Rheinische Post. "Regardless of where we talk to citizens, it's about decency, propriety and morality." Kubicki also called on Wulff to provide thorough answers to questions remaining over his conduct. "My patience is wearing thin," he said.
In Lower Saxony, Wulff's successor David McAllister distanced himself from the president. "Should false information have been given by the state government to state parliament, we will set it right," McAllister told the Sunday edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Still, he added, some questions only Wulff can answer.
In 2010, Wulff claimed in a state parliamentary testimony that he had no business relations with his friend Egon Geerkens, who through his wife funded a €500,000 home loan to the Wulff.
This week the Lower Saxony state parliament opposition is set to review whether Wulff's decision not to mention the loan violated conduct laws for state officials.