Merkel faces coalition crisis over child porn allegations

Crisis meeting over leak of police investigation

German chancellor Angela Merkel with former  agriculture minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, whom she fired  last Friday after he admitted telling the Social Democratic Party – but not her – last year that one of its MPs had been named in a swoop on a Canadian child pornography ring. Photograph: Reuters/Thomas Peter

German chancellor Angela Merkel with former agriculture minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, whom she fired last Friday after he admitted telling the Social Democratic Party – but not her – last year that one of its MPs had been named in a swoop on a Canadian child pornography ring. Photograph: Reuters/Thomas Peter

Mon, Feb 17, 2014, 01:00


German chancellor Angela Merkel is facing the first crisis of her third term with her junior coalition partners at war over child pornography allegations against a former MP.

Dr Merkel fired her agriculture minister Hans-Peter Friedrich on Friday after he admitted telling the Social Democratic Party (SPD) – but not her – last year that one of its MPs had been named in a swoop on a Canadian child pornography ring.

Mr Friedrich, interior minister at the time, told SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel during coalition negotiations last October that a list of German suspects included one of his MPs, Sebastian Edathy. Their conversation was made public last week by the SPD’s Bundestag floor leader Thomas Opperman.

Now Mr Friedrich’s allies in Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU) are demanding Mr Opperman’s head, accusing him of breaking the law by calling criminal investigators to learn more about the Edathy case. Neither Mr Opperman nor Mr Gabriel see any reason for resignations in their ranks.

Attempt to defuse crisis
After a weekend of frantic phone calls, Dr Merkel meets her coalition leaders tomorrow in an attempt to defuse the affair.

The scandal dates back to last October when German investigators received a list of German citizens found to be customers of a company specialising in child pornography. According to a German prosecutor, nine online purchases of videos and photo sets of naked boys and teenagers were made from a computer used by Mr Edathy between 2005 and 2010.

A month later, Canadian authorities went public with the information that they had cracked a worldwide pornography ring which included Germans among its customers.

By that stage, rumours about Mr Edathy were circulating among SPD and CDU politicians. Now the hunt is on to find out who knew what and when.

Suspected tip off
Mr Friedrich faces disciplinary proceedings for passing on official secrets, while SPD politicians are under suspicion for tipping off Mr Edathy. Police searched his home and offices a week ago. The search turned up no additional evidence, according to reports, but many indications of missing or destroyed computer equipment.

Mr Edathy denies ever possessing child pornographic material and said his reputation had been ruined without any concrete accusations.

“Principles like the presumption of innocence are being trampled on,” he told German television.

Police have confirmed Mr Edathy faces no charges at present; the images he allegedly bought are of a “naturalistic” rather than pornographic nature. However, police said such investigations in the past often turned up illegal child pornography.

The revelations have shaken Berlin and ruined the political career of Mr Edathy (44), considered a leading light among the SPD’s younger generation. He was widely praised for chairing a parliamentary inquiry into an underground neo-Nazi terrorist cell. His final report was a scathing attack on failings of German police and criminal investigators, many now involved in the case against him.

Citing poor health, last week he handed back his parliamentary mandate and, with it, his immunity from prosecution.