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German minister quits in tip-off scandal

February 14, 2014

BERLIN (AP) — A German Cabinet minister resigned Friday after it emerged that he tipped off another politician about an investigation involving a prominent lawmaker that turned out to involve underage photos.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said she accepted Agriculture Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich’s resignation “with great respect and great regret.” The swift move, however, should prevent the matter from turning into a festering problem for her conservative bloc.

The scandal that prompted Friedrich’s departure unfolded after center-left Social Democrat lawmaker Sebastian Edathy resigned last week, citing health reasons. Days later, police searched his home and offices.

The head of the Hannover prosecutors’ office, Joerg Froehlich, said the case — which began with an investigation in Canada — centers on alleged ordering of pictures of underage boys, though it’s unclear whether they legally constitute child porn.

Edathy denies ordering or possessing child porn.

On Thursday, it emerged that Friedrich — back in October when he was Germany’s interior minister — told the leader of the Social Democrats, Sigmar Gabriel, that Edathy’s name had come up in an investigation.

At the time, Friedrich’s conservatives were in negotiations with the Social Democrats on forming a new coalition government. Gabriel is now vice chancellor.

Opposition parties said Friedrich improperly passed on confidential information and should go.

Hannover prosecutors say they were surprised by the revelations and were discussing “possible consequences.”

Friedrich said Friday he would only quit if prosecutors opened an investigation against him. Hours later, however, he said the pressure on him had mounted so that he could no longer do his job.

“I am still convinced that I acted correctly in October, politically and legally,” he said in a resignation statement.

Merkel praised Friedrich for “taking political responsibility, independently of legal evaluations.”

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