More German Politicians Resign over Face Masks Bribery Scandal

Another German politician joined the list of suspects in a corruption scandal involving the procurement of COVID-19 face masks that has rocked the country’s conservatives and prompted the Bundestag to introduce a lobby register.

maskFace Mask (By Tim Dennell CC BY-NC 2.0)Niels Korte withdrew his candidacy for the Bundestag on Monday due to the media coverage of the mask affair which has implicated him in the bribery scheme. He denied the accusations, saying that they had “left him stunned.”

Korte is the latest member of the Christian Social Union party, CSU, who has stepped down from a post because of the scandal that erupted at the end of February.

Last week Bavarian authorities arrested a person suspected of having bribed CSU members, including lawmakers, to broker face mask procurement deals. The statement by the Prosecution Office did not reveal the suspect’s name, but German magazine Der Spiegel said the arrested person was Thomas Limberger, 53, an entrepreneur affiliated with the party.

Limberger reportedly used his companies to arrange the mask deals with the German government and pay commissions to the MPs who facilitated the contracts. The Sueddeutsche Zeitung cited reports claiming that between five and six million euros in commissions were supposed to be paid.

Among the suspects who have allegedly profited from the procurement deals are Georg Nüßlein, who resigned from his post at the CSU earlier this month but kept his seat in the Bundestag. He reportedly received a commission of 660,000 euros (US$800,000). 

Another member of the CSU, Alfred Sauter, is believed to have received about 1.2 million euros ($1.4 million) in bribes. Both men have vehemently denied the allegations. 

Additionally, the company of former lawmaker Nikolas Löbel also allegedly pocketed 250,000 euros ($295,000) in commissions as part of the mask affair. Löbel left the party and the Bundestag.

The German press has reported that the mask affair investigation originated from an alert from a bank in Liechtenstein, which found Limberger's transactions suspicious and blocked them. 

In the light of the recent events, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its sister party CSU drafted a series of ethical rules that their members are obliged to follow, which states, among several guidelines, that politicians are prohibited from accepting financial contributions. 

The Bundestag, meanwhile, approved the introduction of a transparency register that will require lawmakers to declare any interests they represent in a public directory. The MPs will also have to reveal details about their lobbying work. 

“With the introduction of a lobby register, we are finally creating an effective instrument for more transparency in legislation,” said Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht from the Social Democratic Party, SPD.