Coronavirus: German MPs quit over mask kickback allegations

Coronavirus: German MPs quit over mask kickback allegations
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Two German lawmakers have resigned from posts in chancellor Angela Merkel's parliamentary group in a scandal over alleged kickback payments for state purchases of respiratory masks, in a blow to her party ahead of two regional elections.

Nikolas Loebel, a member of Germany's lower house said on Sunday he would resign as member of Merkel's parliamentary group with immediate effect and no longer seek a new term in the lower house in federal elections scheduled for September.

He said he would quit politics "to avert further damage" to the conservative CDU party and parliamentary group following allegations he received 250,000 euros ($300,000) in payments as part of a state mask purchase.

The resignation comes one week before regional elections in the western states of Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-Wuerttemberg.

The scandal risks stirring more voter disgruntlement after Germany's ruling coalition of Merkel's CDU and the centre-left SPD came under fire for a slow COVID-19 vaccination campaign.

Another conservative member of parliament, Georg Nuesslein, on Friday resigned from his post as one of the deputy leaders of Merkel's parliamentary group, saying he would also not run to keep his seat in parliament in the September elections.

Nuesslein, a member of the CDU's Bavarian sister party CSU, has been accused of taking more than 600,000 euros via a consultancy firm for mediating a mask order by the state.

Prosecutors in Munich have said they were investigating initial allegations of bribery. Nuesslein has rejected the accusations.

Federal health minister Jens Spahn, also of the CDU, who has faced accusations of failing to ramp up the nation's immunisation campaign, was at pains to distance himself from Loebel.

"To accept a commission payment and to make money from mediating in an emergency situation is an absolute no-go," Spahn said in an interview with newspaper Rheinpfalz.

"It destroys trust in our democracy," he added.