Controversy surrounds former president′s farewell ceremony | News | DW | 08.03.2012
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Controversy surrounds former president's farewell ceremony

Germany's former president has been unable to escape controversy even after he stepped down over a scandal three weeks ago. His four living predecessors are set to stay away from his official farewell ceremony.

Controversy continued to surround former German President Christian Wulff on Thursday in the hours leading up to a torch-lit military parade to officially bid him farewell from office.

His four living predecessors in the post - Walter Scheel, Richard von Weizsäcker, Roman Herzog and Horst Köhler - have all declined to attend the ceremony, as has his designated successor, Joachim Gauck. Leading members of the opposition Social Democrats and the Green Party have also said they will not attend.

The military parade Wulff is to receive at the presidential residence, Berlin's Bellevue Palace, is regarded as a special honor and is reserved for outgoing German presidents, chancellors and defense ministers.

However the circumstances of Wulff's resignation three weeks ago has led many to question whether he is worthy of the ceremony.

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Wulff's sendoff ceremony - controversy

Wulff stepped down on February 17, just hours after public prosecutors in Hanover announced their intention to seek to get his immunity from prosecution lifted so they could investigate allegations that he had wrongly given or received favors while he was premier of the state of Lower Saxony.

The former president had first come under pressure late last year, after the mass-circulation Bild newspaper reported that Wulff had accepted a 500,000-euro ($659,000) mortgage at favorable conditions from the wife of a wealthy businessman. When asked by the Lower Saxony assembly whether he had any ties to the businessman in question, Wulff said he did not.

The controversy grew when it emerged weeks later that Wulff had left an angry message on the voice mail of the newspaper's editor-in-chief to demand Bild not publish the story.

The decision by prosecutors to seek to have his immunity lifted came after they found evidence to warrant an "initial suspicion" that he had improperly accepted benefits from or granted them to a film-producer friend. Wulff denied allegations that this friend had paid for a stay at a luxury hotel in 2007.

There has also been controversy about the fact that the 52-year-old Wulff is to receive an annual stipend of 199,000 euros ($262,000), despite the circumstances of his resignation and the fact that he was in office for less than two years.

pfd/acb (dpa, Reuters)

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