Engel this week was reported to the public prosecutor’s office by party members over a contract with the CSV Frëndeskreess, a not-for-profit that owns the CSV’s headquarter since political parties cannot legally own real estate.
The party president received roughly €40,000 over seven months last year. His mission was to explore transforming the not-for-profit into a foundation, but the idea was abandoned and party members claimed misuse of assets. Engel was also supposed to look into moving the party's HQ into new premises.
During a Friday morning press conference Engel said there had been a gentlemen’s agreement that the sum would be returned to the Frëndeskreess, either through external funding or by himself. Engel said he is still prepared to return the money, but also gave some insight into what he did during the seven months of the contract, including networking, researching foundations, benchmarking, meeting with real estate agents and other tasks.
The CSV president reiterated that the agreement was sound, and that the main problem was that it hadn’t been communicated widely within the party. He also expressed dismay at party members passing the matter to the public prosecutor’s office without informing him. However, he said he was confident that this wasn’t a criminal matter.
The public prosecutor also on Friday confirmed it had opened a prelimiary investigation and had searched the offices of the CSV Frëndeskreess.
While Engel would not confirm that he was officially withdrawing his candidacy during his press conference, he said that this was becoming “more probable,” adding that the bickering within the party must stop. Later in the day, the CSV issued a statement saying Engel had stepped down as president. Vice presidents Elisabeth Margue and Stéphanie Weydert will lead the party until a new president is elected.
Radio 100,7 reported that Engel had confirmed to them in an interview that he was no longer running for president in April.
It’s not the first time Engel has courted disagreement from within the party. Last year, he spoke out in favour of introducing a wealth tax and raising more taxes on inheritances in an interview without the party’s consent. He later apologised to the party, but already back then there was speculation he might be pressured to resign.
“If the CSV’s unity is only possible without me, then so be it,” Engel said during Friday's press conference, adding that he took on the party’s leadership during a difficult time with the mission to design a better future for the party. “But this isn’t a better future for the CSV,” he said.
“We need to find a way out of this,” he said about the disagreement within the party, saying he does not want mudslinging nor a showdown at the party’s congress on 24 April, therefore urging candidates for the presidency to come forward.
Engel earlier this month and before the current scandal submitted a 20-page programme outlining his vision for the CSV.