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Tip-off storm in Germany

Berlin, Feb. 15: A scandal linked to an Indian-origin politician has plunged the Angela Merkel government in Germany in turmoil, forcing the agriculture minister to resign and throwing up a question whether a tip-off helped destroy damaging evidence.

German agriculture minister Hans-Peter Friedrich resigned yesterday after it was revealed that four months ago when he was interior minister, he had tipped off another senior politician to the criminal investigation of Sebastian Edathy.

The investigation involves allegations that Edathy of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), possessed videos and pictures of under-age boys, although it is not clear whether they would be considered child pornography. Born in Hanover, Edathy is the son of immigrants from Kerala. The SDP is a coalition partner in the Merkel government.

German news agency DPA yesterday said prosecutors in the city of Hanover suspected that Edathy ordered the pictures from 2005 to 2010, seven times by mail and twice online.

The 44-year-old Edathy, well known in Germany for leading a 2012-13 inquiry into neo-Nazi killings, resigned from Parliament last week, citing health reasons.

Three days later, police officers searched his home and offices. Edathy then issued a statement denying he possessed any child pornography, and saying the search violated legal standards.

He also threatened to sue the newspaper that first reported about the child porn suspicions earlier this week.

Hanover prosecutor Joerg Froehlich yesterday said Edathy appears to have been given advance warning of the investigation. As a result, German media have reported, relevant information on Edathy’s computers may have been destroyed.

It is still unclear who tipped off Edathy. If it emerged that he was alerted by a senior SPD member, it could cause even greater upheaval in Merkel’s coalition.

On Thursday, news had emerged that Friedrich, who was interior minister then, privately informed SDP leader Sigmar Gabriel in October that Edathy’s name had turned up in an investigation. Gabriel is vice-chancellor in the coalition government of Chancellor Angela Merkel, leader of the Christian Democratic Union.

“The pressure on me has grown so much in the last couple of hours that I no longer think I can do the job in the agriculture ministry with the required concentration, calm and political support,” Friedrich yesterday told a hastily called news conference.

 
 
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