A Bavarian lawmaker has quit his party offices amid a probe into allegations he took bribes to arrange procurement contracts for face masks. He is the fourth politician connected to Chancellor Angela Merkel to resign this month.
Alfred Sauter is a three-decade veteran of the Christian Social Union (CSU), a sister party of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) based in the southern German state of Bavaria. He served two stints as the state’s minister for justice in the 1990s, and until Sunday afternoon sat on the CSU’s board, chaired its financial committee and held the district chairmanship of the CSU in his hometown of Guenzburg.
Sauter relinquished all of these offices on Sunday and paused his membership of the party’s parliamentary group, days before the CSU was due to hold a vote on expelling him.
His resignation came as prosecutors in Munich investigated reports that he took bribes from a supplier of protective equipment to land them a lucrative contract with the state as the coronavirus
pandemic hit Bavaria last year. Sauter rejected the allegations of bribery, and claimed that any money he was given personally in relation to the deal was donated to charity.
In a letter to party bosses seen by the Augsburger Allgemeine on Sunday, Sauter said that he was stepping down to deflect bad publicity away from his party, but insisted that he was innocent.
“I am doing this even though I am convinced that I have in no way violated my parliamentary duties or the law,” he said. He went on to blast the CSU for even considering a vote on expelling him, writing that “to exclude a member of parliament on suspicion – in my case after a 31-year membership – before clarifying the facts… is incompatible with the constitutional rights of the MP.”
A corruption scandal involving a regional political figure wouldn’t usually make international headlines, but Sauter is at least the third elected official this month to resign in the face of similar accusations, all of them members of the CSU and CDU.
The multiple scandals came immediately before voters went to the polls in the states of Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate. The CDU suffered heavy losses in both states, a dark omen given their previous support for the party, especially in the run-up to a general election in September.