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Germany

Edathy: no expulsion in child porn case

Former parliamentarian Sebastian Edathy, who was accused of owning child pornography, will be suspended from the SPD for five years. The decision ends a long saga that led to tougher laws and dragged down the SPD.

Sebastian Edathy used to be a well-respected politician. From January 2012 to August 2013, the Social Democrat was the head of the parliamentary inquiry investigating the right-wing terrorist National Socialist Underground (NSU). Journalists and politicians praised his work there, and in June 2013 he was awarded the Genc Award for Peaceful Togetherness.

Leading the inquiry with "cold brilliance and sustained passion" was his political "masterpiece," journalist Mariam Lau wrote about Edathy in the weekly "Die Zeit."

But that was before the bombshell was dropped. The well-respected politician Edathy ceased to exist when it was revealed in February 2014 that he had child pornography on his work computer.

On Friday, Edathy returned to Berlin for a hearing in front of an arbitration commission that would decide his future in the SPD. In June 2015, his regional SPD branch in Hanover suspended him from the party for three years. Now, Edathy and his party have reached a different compromise. He will be suspended for five years instead of three, and in return, the SPD leadership won't go on with their attempt to expel the disgraced politician for criminal actions.

Technicalities of child pornography

The hearing in Berlin is - likely - the last act in a political drama that has enveloped Germany on and off again for two years. In February 2014, Edathy stepped down as a member of the Bundestag and resigned from all his posts, citing "health reasons." A few days later, investigators searched his house and offices for child pornography.

Edathy's trial started in November 2014. In court, the politician stressed that what he owned could not legally be called pornography.

Edathy had ordered pictures of naked boys from a Canadian website, but images of naked children didn't necessarily qualify as pornography. The prosecutor in Edathy's case classified the material as "border-line," since no sexual acts were visible.

Getting off with a fine

Edathy did admit to owning the images in question, among them an illustrated book named "Boys in their free time." After the Edathy case, the Bundestag tightened child pornography legislation.

"I realize that I have made a mistake," it says in a statement that Edathy's lawyer presented in court. "I regret what I did."

After that, proceedings were closed in March 2015. Edathy also had to pay a fine of 5,000 euros. Originally, the money was going to go to the German Child Protection Association, but the organization did not accept the money.

"We were hoping the trial would continue," Christian Zainhofer, the association's vice president, said in March 2015. "The way this ended signals that you can buy your way out of these accusations, which we think is fatal."

Bad timing

The question of whether Edathy had actually committed a crime was officially settled. His image in shambles, he still walked away without a conviction. His standing in the SPD, however, was a whole other issue. The Edathy scandal had dragged down the entire SPD, at a time when it wasn't doing well anyway.

Hans-peter Friedrich. (Photo: Tim Brakemeier/dpa)

The Edathy affair spelled the end of former Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich's career

In the nationwide 2013 elections, the SPD fared slightly better than four years before, but they still managed to garner only around 25 percent of the vote, compared to the conservative CDU's 41 percent. The two large parties formed a coalition government, which returned the SPD to power. A mere two months after the Social Democrats presented their government ministers, a party member was embroiled in a child pornography scandal. Talk about bad timing.

The scandal quickly spread to include other politicians as well. Germany's former interior minister had to step down, because it came out that he had shared confidential information about the accusations against Edathy with the head of the SPD, Sigmar Gabriel.

'Not in line with our core values'

Edathy himself implicated several of his party comrades by listing names of those who had allegedly warned him before his house was searched. All this on top of the actual porn accusations led to a party leadership determined to have Edathy shut out of the SPD completely.

Yasmin Fahimi, then general secretary of the SPD, said in summer 2015 that Edathy and his actions "could not be aligned with the core values of Social Democracy."

With the attempt to expel Edathy shot down again by the arbitration commission on Friday, maybe the saga now will finally come to an end.