BERLIN, June 10 — German prosecutors are looking into whether Chancellor Angela Merkel’s international development minister broke the law by failing to declare to customs a rug he bought in Afghanistan which he later got the country’s top spy to bring back for him.
Dirk Niebel, a member of the Free Democrats (FDP) who share power in Merkel’s centre-right coalition, has become the subject of jokes and criticism over the “flying carpet” scandal.
A spokesman for Berlin prosecutors confirmed media reports today that the office was looking into “initial suspicions of possible punishable behaviour”.
Niebel has said he bought the thick red carpet in Kabul for his dining room but that it was too heavy to fly back so he asked the embassy to arrange for it to be sent on the next government plane.
The head of Germany’s intelligence agency, the BND, ended up carrying the 30 kg rug on a plane back to Berlin and an estimated bill of about €200 (RM785) in import duties was not paid.
Niebel has apologised for the lapse and is now sorting out payment.
“With the request for late payment, the matter is over,” he told Bild am Sonntag.
The minister, also under fire for sending his driver to pick up the carpet at the airport, said he had meant to help the Afghanistan economy with the purchase.
“I wanted to support small businesses in Afghanistan and buy a rug for my dining room. I really wanted to go to a bazaar but security told me I wasn’t allowed to,” said Niebel.
Instead, he ended up buying it from a carpet seller summoned to the embassy.
“I don’t know anything about carpets but I liked it. So I bought it for $1,400 ... I am sorry I got the BND president into such a situation. It was stupid of me,” he said.
Last week, Merkel’s spokesman gave Niebel an unusual public dressing down for “neglecting” to pay duty on the rug.
“The word neglect implies that it would have been more correct and preferable if it had been imported some other way,” Steffen Seibert said on Friday.
It is unclear if prosecutors will take the matter any further but if they do Niebel could come under pressure to resign. The affair also reflects badly on the FDP which is struggling to recover from a slump in popularity.
Germans are highly intolerant of politicians who fail to pay their way and over the years a number of ministers have had to resign over expense scandals. — Reuters