This week, a German court absolved former president Christian Wulff of corruption charges for allegedly accepting approximately seven hundred euros in expenses at a beer festival when he was a state official. Judge Frank Rosenow noted there was insufficient evidence to prove that Wulff had accepted illegal payments.
The charges relate to a visit made in 2008 to the Oktoberfest beer festival in Munich. At the time, Christian Wulff was premier of the state of Lower Saxony and a key figure in Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU).
During the case, prosecutors argued that Mr. Wulff allowed David Groenewold, a film producer, to cover some of the costs of his hotel stay and meals, amounting to 719 euros. In exchange, Wulff had lobbied Siemens, a German conglomerate, to provide financial support for a Groenewold movie.
This does not seem to be the first time Wulff has found himself in trouble. Wulff’s reputation was previously tainted after he was accused of misleading the Lower Saxony parliament over a cheap home loan from a businessman friend. Further allegations eventually followed, regarding flight upgrades and other illicit gifts.
Some foreign commentators have expressed shock that Wulff was taken to court over a sum of only 719 euros, but bribery of a government official is a serious thing. According to Transparency International, corruption can generally be defined as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain” In other words, corruption is the practice of illegally garnering financial gain by abusing a position of authority, such as an elected governmental appointment. Many countries have enacted laws to prevent bribery of foreign officials. Such examples include the United State’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), the UK Bribery Act of 2010, Brazil’s recently enacted Clean Company Act, and Canada’s Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act (CFPOA). Taking steps to fight corruption appears to be a growing trend among international lawmakers. These Act were enacted to prevent the very type of behavior that led to Mr. Wulff’s prosecution. Corruption has been a problem in Germany. According to jurist.org, “[i]n 2007 Germany to tighten anti-corruption laws on the heels of scandals at Volkswagen AG and Siemens AG. The law sought to increase public prosecutors’ power to investigate corruption of a broader range of implicated employees, and to allow employees of foreign corporations to be indicted in Germany.”