German court clears disgraced former president of corruption

HANOVER - A German court cleared Christian Wulff on Thursday of corruption charges for accepting about 700 euros in expenses at a beer festival when he was a state premier, ending the country's first post-war trial of a former president.

Once tipped as a future chancellor, the 54-year-old Wulff served just 20 months as president before resigning in disgrace in 2012 over favours he accepted two years before he was vaulted into the ceremonial post by his conservative ally Angela Merkel.

The dramatic fall from grace has gripped the nation. German presidents have limited power but are expected to serve as a moral compass for the nation, holding themselves to the highest standards of conduct.

The charges stemmed from a 2008 visit to the Oktoberfest beer festival in Munich when he was premier of the state of Lower Saxony. Prosecutors argued that Wulff had allowed film producer David Groenewold to cover some of the costs of his hotel stay and meals.

Wulff's credibility as president was eroded after German media accused him of misleading the Lower Saxony parliament over a cheap home loan from a businessman friend. That was followed by a stream of allegations about his acceptance of flight upgrades and gifts.

The debacle was an embarrassment to Merkel who had hand-picked Wulff as her candidate for president in 2010.