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Friday, 8 June 2012

The non-magic carpet ride – Germany’s Development Minister and his troubles with an Afghan carpet

It could have been a nice souvenir for the German Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, Dirk Niebel: an original Afghan carpet. And it’s even more convenient when you can transport it back home in a government plane, even more if you can avoid tariffs and shipping costs by that.

But it is not that easy as it looks like. Because he avoided paying tariffs and shipping by having the carpet transported in an official government plane, Niebel was running a severe danger of being officially sued for tax dodging. For the carpet in question, which weighs about 30 kilograms and costs around 1,400 Euros, Niebel would have had to pay around 200 Euros in shipping and tariffs. Now, to avoid a lawsuit for tax fraud, Niebel turned himself in for amended return.

In the past, various German politicians have used official government flights for private business, or even private holiday trips. Naturally, the German public reacts highly sensitive to this variation of “tax waste” through our political elite. So do his colleagues in the Merkel administration and the German parliament. Merkel herself has rebuked Niebel for this act of “convenient” souvenir transport.

Niebel himself claims that he had received a friendly offer from the President of the German Intelligence Service, BND (Bundesnachrichtendienst), Gerhard Schindler, who had offered him to transport the carpet in a BND plane, free of charge. The trouble is that the limit for tariff free transport of foreign goods in a governmental plane is set at 430 Euros, so the value of the carpet in question was way above that limit. In the end, even the BND shows itself to be misinformed by Niebel, since they assumed the carpet to be an official present rather than a private purchase for Niebel’s own apartment. This statement would be a clear contradiction to Niebel’s statements, claiming that Schindler was doing him a personal favour.

But with his act of turning himself in for amended return, the story won’t be over for Niebel yet, he will have to face a detailed hearing by the opposition groups in the parliament. Furthermore, it is not the first time that Dirk Niebel finds himself in public criticism; he was already under public attack for having exclusively filled recruitment positions in the Ministry Economic Cooperation and Development with members of the liberal party only. After protest from the workers’ council, the application process has been re-opened, with unclear results for the applicants.

It is again quite astonishing, in which way some German ministers or diplomats misbehave on official visits abroad, while they should represent Germany in an appropriate, respectable, and shiny example as a global power and a respected diplomatic partner, especially in development regions. It would not be the first time for German high ranked politicians to misconduct in an embarrassing manner; a few months ago a German Member of Parliament completely played up and nearly caused a serious diplomatic embarrassment during an official visit in Burma, by claiming that the Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi “only looked so good because she had no stress at all in the past few years”.
However, this Member of Parliament was neither officially rebuked, nor criticized in parliament.

At least, Niebel will consider himself happy, if Merkel does not wrap him into his own carpet.

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