Partisan Conflict Political Fallout Over Sex Scandal

The Bundestag has appointed an investigation committee to unravel who knew what, and when, about accusations that then-legislator Sebastian Edathy downloaded child pornography from the Internet.
Sebastian Edathy says he has nothing to lose - but the others?

Sebastian Edathy knows better than anyone that he is the big loser in this ugly affair. Ever since investigations involving allegations that he possessed child pornography became public 10 months ago, the life of the former member of the German legislature’s lower house, the Bundestag, has been turned upside down.

"The politician Edathy no longer exists; I now live my life in exceptional circumstances,” he said in an interview in Berlin last Thursday in the Social Democrat’s first public appearance since the scandal broke.

His case is currently with the Verden criminal court in the state of Lower Saxony.

The affair, as it became clear in the course of his statement, has no winners, only losers.

From a political point of view, it is all about who knew what about the suspicions against Mr. Edathy and when, about who spoke about it with whom and when, and about who possibly lied about it publicly.

The Bundestag has appointed its own investigation committee in a move to reconstruct the flow of information.

Suspicion exists that Mr. Edathy was warned by someone in his center-left party, the Social Democrats, before the investigations began. That would be critical, not least because Mr. Edathy is suspected of having removed evidence before the investigations began in February. The SPD is the minority partner in Germany’s right-left federal coalition government

The Bundestag has appointed its own investigation committee in a move to reconstruct the flow of information.

On Thursday, Mr. Edathy and SPD politician Michael Hartmann gave evidence before the committee. Their appearance did not provide answers to many open questions.

New accusations, however, are to be addressed following Mr. Edathy’s testimony. And new losers have emerged, too, even if the consequences are unclear.

For example, Thomas Oppermann, the chairman of the SPD parliamentary group, did not fare well in Mr. Edathy’s testimony. Not that Mr. Oppermann, or anyone else in the party leadership, had informed the former expert for interior policy about the investigations – Mr. Edathy made a point of denying it. But Mr. Edathy accused him of having lied in other matters. Mr. Edathy said Mr. Oppermann had known that the Social Democrats’ Mr. Hartmann was in the picture. Mr. Hartmann denies that.

Another accusation is particularly odious: When Mr. Edathy failed to arrive on time for the roll call of the SPD parliamentary group in mid-December last year, prior to Chancellor Angela Merkel being re-elected, Mr. Oppermann is supposed to have asked Mr. Hartmann how the party should position itself vis-à-vis the media should Mr. Edathy kill himself.

Quelle: dpa
Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is also being indirectly linked to the affair.
(Source: dpa)


Mr. Edathy said he would certainly not put it past Mr. Oppermann to ask such a question, unlike his predecessors, Franz Müntefering or Peter Struck.

In connection with this statement and many others, Mr. Edathy referred to his former confidant, Mr. Hartmann. To back up some of them, Mr. Edathy submitted text messages to the investigation committee from the period between November 2013 and February 2014.

Mr. Edathy claimed Mr. Hartmann informed him about the investigations as early as November 2013 at the SPD party conference in Leipzig. Mr. Hartmann disputes accusation, claiming he didn’t inform Mr. Edathy on that evening. On the contrary, it was Mr. Edathy who revealed to him that he had been a customer of the Canadian company at the center of the investigations.

In many cases, it is one person’s word against another’s.

Jörg Ziercke, the recently retired president of the federal criminal police, was also the subject of new accusations. According to Mr. Edathy, it was he who kept Mr. Hartmann informed, "repeatedly and of his own accord,” about the status of the investigations.

Mr. Edathy said Mr. Ziercke, a member of the Social Democrats, had wanted to avert damage from the party. Mr. Ziercke denies the accusations, which would have been tantamount to disclosure of state secrets.

In many cases, it is one person’s word against another’s - all the more reason why the plausibility and credibility of the persons involved are crucial. And this is exactly where the Social Democrats called Mr. Edathy into question:

"Is he a credible witness?" asked Eva Högl, the chairperson of the committee. Mr. Edathy asserted: "I have nothing more to lose and therefore no reason to lie."

Earlier this year, the affair sparked a heated dispute within the federal coalition government. At that time, interior minister Hans-Peter Friedrich of the Bavarian Christian Social Union, the sister party of Ms. Merkel’s center-right leaning Christian Democratic Union, had to resign. He quit following revelations from Mr. Oppermann that Mr. Friedrich had informed SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel about the investigations at an early stage.

So far, the CSU has refrained from making new attacks on Mr. Oppermann, the chairman of the SPD parliamentary group.

But the CSU still bears a grudge. Hans Reichhart, a CSU board member, said: "If Mr. Oppermann had a trace of honor left, he wouldn’t wait until he was forced to resign, he would draw his own conclusions."


Till Hoppe covers politics for Handelsblatt in Berlin. To contact the author: [email protected]