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Widening political scandal in Germany puts ex-interior minister in spotlight

Prosecutors in Germany are considering taking action against former interior minister Hans-Peter Friedrich. This follows allegations that he may have leaked information on an investigation into lawmaker Sebastian Edathy.

In the latest twist to the story former interior minister Hans-Peter Friedrich (pictured above) has announced he would resign should prosecutors decide to take action against him.

Police raided the home of 40-year-old Sebastian Edathy,

a prominent member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), on Tuesday searching for child pornography material. They were following a tip-off from Canadian investigators who had apparently come across Edathy's name in a child porn investigation last year.

Edathy himself has in online statements denied any criminal action.

"The public claim that I own or acquired child pornographic material is false," Edathy wrote on his Facebook page. "The presumption of innocence should apply to me, too. There has been no illegal behavior," he added.

On Friday he stepped down from his role in Germany's parliament, the Bundestag, citing health reasons.

Advance knowledge?

And now the discussion is heating up on whether Edathy had been informed in advance of the police investigation.

Sebastian Edathy / SPD

Sebastian Edathy is the target of a police investigation

SPD leaders confirmed on Thursday that they had been informed of the investigation back in October. They claimed that former interior minister Hans-Peter Friedrich of Bavaria's Christian Social Union (CSU), who is now agriculture minister in the new cabinet, had told SPD party leader Sigmar Gabriel that Edathy's name had come up in the international investigation.

This betrayal of secrets would constitute a breach of German law.

The information subsequently spread to other SPD leaders, as confirmed on Thursday by Thomas Oppermann, a friend of Edathy's and parliamentary leader of the Social Democrats.

'Possible consequences'

Hanover prosecutors' spokeswoman Kathrin Söfker said investigators were "surprised and shocked" by Oppermann's comments and are discussing "possible consequences."

It is unclear whether Edathy himself was informed of the impending police action. This would have enabled him to take action that could hamper an investigation. Investigators have reportedly found that the data had been deleted from drives of the computers they secured in Edathy's home and office on Tuesday.

Opposition parties have called for clarity about who knew what, when, and whether Edathy was given advance warning of the police raid. Calls are mounting for the former interior minister to step down.

Sebastian Edathy is well-known in Germany since he led a parliamentary panel last year investigating why police and intelligence services failed to stop a neo-Nazi murder spree.

Political observers were then surprised when Edathy was not tipped for a top office in the new grand coalition government following the September 2013 general election.

rg/dr (dpa, AP)

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