Merkel's party treasurer steps down over tax affair

BERLIN Fri Feb 7, 2014 10:43am EST

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BERLIN Feb 7 (Reuters) - The treasurer of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives said on Friday he did not violate any laws or dodge taxes despite holding a half million dollars in foreign bank accounts but would still resign to avert damage to his party and family.

Helmut Linssen, a former state finance minister in North Rhine-Westphalia and the treasurer of the Christian Democrats (CDU) since 2010, told Bild newspaper that he had held some 420,000 euros in tax havens on behalf of his elderly mother.

Linssen, who has been CDU treasurer since 2010 and was the CDU's finance minister for Germany's most populous state from 2005 to 2010, said he had done nothing illegal.

"I decided, in the interest of my party and my family, to ask the party leader (Merkel) to find a new treasurer at the next party congress in April," Linssen told Bild. "I did not do any tricks. I was only trying to help my mother and followed the letter of the law."

In another interview with the local Neue Ruhr Zeitung, Linssen said: "I did nothing wrong. But I'm not going to let myself be paraded around the circus ring by a nose ring."

It is only the latest tax affair to hit German politicians and celebrities. Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit is under pressure to resign because he knew for years that his culture minister Andre Schmitz had evaded taxes but still allowed him to stay in his job.

The matter reflects badly on Wowereit, who knew that proceedings had been initiated against Schmitz but then halted in 2012. The mayor is already facing public criticism over lengthy delays and ballooning costs for Berlin's new airport.

Germany's front pages have been dominated in recent days by public confessions from feminist activist Alice Schwarzer about tax evasion. Schwarzer, an anti-pornography campaigner seen by feminists as a moral authority, said she had paid back 200,000 euros in taxes plus default interest to the authorities for the last decade.

These affairs follow a scandal over Bayern Munich soccer club president Uli Hoeness, who is to stand trial for tax evasion in March. (Writing by Erik Kirschbaum; Editing by Stephen Powell)

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