BERLIN (AP) — A lawmaker from Chancellor Angela Merkel's party is stepping down following allegations he was involved in questionable lobbying activity for Azerbaijan, German media reported Thursday.

Berlin-based daily Die Welt quoted Mark Hauptmann of the center-right Christian Democratic Union as denying that he received money from abroad, but acknowledging that Azerbaijan and other countries paid for advertisements in a newspaper he publishes. The Spiegel weekly had reported that the 36-year-old repeatedly spoke out in favor of the authoritarian, oil-rich nation in the past.

Hauptmann told Welt that he was never influenced in his political decisions and that he was resigning because of the criticism he has faced, adding: “I want to protect my family.”

Two other members of Merkel's bloc resigned in recent days amid allegations they profited from brokering deals to procure masks early in the pandemic.

The bloc, comprising the Christian Democratic Union and the Bavaria-only Christian Social Union, has seen its support dip in recent opinion polls but remains by far the most popular political force in Germany.

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