Germany’s face mask scandal

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Two senior lawmakers from German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative alliance have resigned after accusations they profited from the coronavirus pandemic through alleged kickbacks for state purchases of face masks.

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Who are the key parties involved?

Georg Nüßlein, an MP for the CSU, the Bavarian sister party of Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), and Nikolas Löbel, another lawmaker, this time for the CDU. 

How did it all start? 

Last month, Nüßlein was placed under investigation for bribery following accusations that he accepted money in exchange for lobbying for a mask supplier during the first wave of the pandemic.

His lobbying is said to have resulted in a large order for the company, for which the MP allegedly billed the supplier €600,000 for his role as intermediary.

Bild newspaper reported that the funds were transferred to a company of which Nüßlein was the managing director. But no tax declaration was made on the revenues.

What does the investigation involve?

Thirteen properties in Germany and in Liechtenstein were to be searched as part of the investigation, a spokesperson for the Munich prosecution told AFP.

Is anyone else being investigated?

Another person is also under investigation, but the suspect’s identity has not been disclosed.

Did he do it?

We don’t know. Nüßlein has denied the charges, saying he hasn’t done anything wrong.

What about Löbel?

His company acted as an intermediary in sales contracts for FFP2 masks between a supplier in his state of Baden-Württemberg and two private companies in Mannheim and Heidelberg. 

Did he do it?

It seems so. Last Friday Löbel confirmed his company took a €250,000 commission for brokering mask contracts. He said he’d made a “mistake” in how he handled the commissions.

Have both the politicians resigned?

Löbel stepped down from his position as a member of the ruling CDU party’s parliamentary group with immediate effect “to avert further damage” to the party. 

He said: “I take responsibility for my actions and draw the necessary political consequences.”

On Sunday, he said he would be bowing out of politics completely, adding he would give up his parliamentary mandate with immediate effect.

Nüßlein, who denies the charges against him, has also resigned from his post as one of the deputy leaders in the parliamentary group. He has confirmed he won’t run for reelection in the lower house (Bundestag) federal elections.

However, despite growing calls for him to resign immediately – including from CDU parliamentary group leader Ralph Brinkhaus and CDU chief Armin Laschet – he has said he will keep his Bundestag seat until August, the end of the legislative period.

What have other politicians said?

CDU lead candidate in the Baden-Württemberg election Susanne Eisenmann told Spiegel: “It is unacceptable if a parliamentarian is enriching themselves with mask procurement during this serious crisis”.

Germany’s health minister Jens Spahn told newspaper Rheinpfalz: “To accept a commission payment and to make money from mediating in an emergency situation is an absolute no-go. It destroys trust in our democracy.”

Have any other MPs been at it?

It looks like it. Spiegel reported that almost a dozen MPs may have profited from state purchases of face masks. However, with the exception of Löbel, they’re all denying having received any money or other trade-offs.

Meanwhile, CDU parliamentary group leader Ralph Brinkhaus has not ruled out the possibility that there may be more MPs in the conservative parties’ ranks embroiled in mask deals. 

Speaking on broadcaster ARD, he said the parties would be holding discussions and demanding relevant information over the next few days to “clarify any uncertain cases”, Süddeutsche Zeitung reported.

And Christian Lindner, head of Germany’s liberal FDP party, called for an independent special investigator to look into the procurement process, the paper said, citing broadcaster RTL/n-tv.

Why is the timing of this scandal particularly bad?

Regional elections take place in the states of Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-Württemberg next week (14th March) and support for the CDU/CSU bloc is already at a one-year low.

Support for the conservatives stood at just 32% on Sunday, down from 40% last spring, according to a survey carried out by the Kantar institute for Bild newspaper. 

It’s also general election year – the country goes to the polls on 26th September – and a particularly important one at that for the conservatives. This will be the first in over 15 years not to feature outgoing chancellor Angela Merkel

-The local

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