FRANKFURT (Reuters) - A German lawmaker from chancellor Angela Merkel's party said on Sunday he would resign "to avert further damage" for receiving payments for brokering procurement deals of facemasks for local authorities.
Nikolas Loebel, a member of Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) party, said on Sunday he would resign as member of Merkel's parliamentary group with immediate effect but keep his seat in the Bundestag, the lower house, until federal elections scheduled for September.
In a statement, Loebel said he apologized that his conduct did not meet the "special moral duty" of his office.
The resignation comes one week before regional elections in the western states of Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-Wuerttemberg, where Loebel's constituency is.
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.
CDU-chairman Armin Laschet, a possible contender to succeed Merkel as chancellor, and other leading conservative lawmakers called on Loebel to quit as member of parliament immediately.
Elected officials seeking gains in their duty to protect against the pandemic "should leave parliament immediately", Laschet told broadcaster ARD.
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, denies allegations that he took more than 600,000 euros via a consultancy firm for mediating a mask purchase order by the state.
Prosecutors in Munich have said they were investigating initial allegations of bribery against Nuesslein.
($1 = 0.8391 euros)
(Reporting by Andreas Rinke, Klaus Lauer and Christian Goetz; Writing by Ludwig Burger; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)