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Young German legislator in trouble for lobby work

June 16, 2020

Philipp Amthor, a rising star in Chancellor Angela Merkel's party, has faced flak for his lobbying work for a US firm. The politician says it was a "mistake," and the opposition renews calls for a register of lobbyists.

Young German legislator in trouble for lobby work
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/K. Nietfeld

Amthor's lobbying for US IT firm Augustus Intelligence was "not exactly wise and clever," Eckhardt Rehberg, interim Christian Democrat (CDU) chairman in the region of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania (MW) told media outlet Bild on Monday.  

Rehberg's declaration that he too wondered who paid the travel bills came after Germany's news magazine Der Spiegel last Friday alleged that Amthor wrote in 2018 to Economy Minister Peter Altmaier seeking "political support" for the startup US firm specializing in what it calls "secure artificial intelligence solutions."

Amthor, in public smartly dressed, conservatively eloquent in German talk shows and reportedly the sole candidate for CDU chairmanship in Merkel's Baltic Sea home coastal region, had made three trips in 2019, reported Zeit on Monday. The administration of Germany's Bundestag was now examining whether those trips — two to New York and a third to Corsica and St. Moritz — had breached the federal parliament's code of conduct, it added.

On Friday, as Spiegel's disclosure emerged, Amthor wrote on his Facebook page: "It was a mistake," conceding that his lobbying had left him "politically assailable."

"I'm not for sale," insisted Amthor in response to Spiegel's further allegations that he had received at least 2,817 share options and a directorship, insisting he had since handed them back and ended his side-line activity for Augustus Intelligence.

'Usual procedure'

An Economy Ministry spokeswoman on Monday quoted a fellow CDU member Christian Hirte, formerly parliamentary secretary with the ministry, as defending a meeting held at the ministry with Augustus Intelligence. It was the "usual procedure," she said.

Opposition Greens co-leader Robert Habeck on Monday demanded that Amthor quit his Bundestag position in West Pomerania's coastal Greifswald area and be withdrawn by Merkel's conservatives from two parliamentary committees of inquiry.

Amthor's role in the Bundestag's probe into the December 2016 terror attack on Berlin's Breitscheid Plaza (Breitscheidplatz) was problematic, asserted Habeck, because it had yet to question former BfV domestic intelligence agency chief Hans-Georg Maassen.

Lobby register overdue?

Habeck, referring to Der Spiegel's inclusion of a photograph of Amthor with among others Maassen, demanded that Chancellor Merkel's conservatives drop their "veto" against a German lobby register, also wanted by other parties.

The opposition post-communist Left party's co-leader Katja Kipping also demanded that Amthor relinquish his parliamentary seat.

"Why did the share options he received not appear in the reports on supplementary income?" asked Kipping, referring to a procedure required of parliamentarians.

Katja Mast, deputy parliamentary group chairperson for Social Democrats (SPD), currently in Merkel's coalition cabinet, also urged her conservative colleagues to accept a lobby register. 

"If our coalition partner is being serious, then this week is also a moment for political movement, structurally and not sporadically," said Mast.

Scheuer defends encounters

Also defending contact with Augustus Intelligence Monday was Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer of Merkel's allied Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU).

Such meetings were "not unusual," Scheuer told the Berlin portal "Hauptstadt."

"It was a meeting where science and business were involved in a major discussion. It was about artificial intelligence," Scheuer said. 

"It's not unusual," he said, adding politicians were tasked to be open for new ideas.

ipj/sri (dpa, AFP)

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