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Konrad Werner: A box of snakes, but considerate ones

The case of Sebastian Edathy shows what happens when politicians think they're being nice.

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Photo by blu-news.org (Flickr CC)

You were probably under the impression that people who have power, like for example politicians or police chiefs, were all poisonous manipulative psychopaths whose only ambition in life is to compensate for their meaningless, soul-less lives by doing all they can to take and wield and hold on to power. Well, you’d be right – EXCEPT when it comes to warning a possibly-paedophile friend that there is a criminal investigation under way against them. Then they suddenly locate their compassion. Okay, telling them about the investigation is illegal, but what are you meant to do when your possible-paedophile friend is a rising star in your party who has been promised high office in future? This is what passes for a moral conundrum for politicians.

Earlier this year, Sebastian Edathy, a Bundestag MP for the SPD, was caught with films of naked children on his computer. He’d downloaded them from a Canadian company that specializes in films of naked children, which was being investigated and shut down by Canadian authorities. After a brief investigation, the German police decided that Edathy’s films were not illegal – in other words, not porn. “Just this side of legal,” is what one investigator said. They were still pretty dodgy though, and in November, a court in a town called Verden decided they were dodgy enough to let Edathy’s trial go ahead.

The other problem is this: Edathy was kept up to speed on the state of his investigation – through a network of text messages that involves SPD parliamentary leader Thomas Oppermann, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD), then-Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich (CSU), another SPD politician called Michael Hartmann, and the then head of the federal police Jörg Ziercke. They all deny knowing anything, except Hartmann, who, since he had to resign recently after admitting to buying crystal meth, probably figured, hey ho.

Whatever happens, Edathy is no longer a politician. He said that much during a press conference yesterday, when he showed what you’d call “not very much” remorse for his behaviour. He kept making sure everyone got the point that even though, with the benefit of the hindsight, he’s come to the conclusion that looking at pictures of naked children is definitely wrong, it isn’t illegal. He seemed uninterested in closing this gap between the law and ethics. He’s spent a lot of those 10 months attempting to sue the authorities for searching his home, on the grounds that he hadn’t actually lost his MP seat at the time, so he should have been protected by the legal immunity that MPs get. That’s the last time we try to look out for a friend, his former friends must be thinking.