The €90,000 armoured Mercedes S-Class was found near her vacation spot in Alicante, daily Rheinische Post reported on Wednesday. According to the paper, Spanish authorities speculated that the thieves lost interest in the vehicle in the face of increasing media attention.
A member of the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), Schmidt returned to Germany after her vacation on Wednesday to face more scrutiny as the scandal unravels.
While Schmidt flew to Spain on holiday at her own expense, she said she planned to attend a few minor official events and requested that her driver make the 2,387-kilometre journey from Berlin in the official car to her vacation flat near the Costa Brava.
“The most current signs suggest the perpetrators pried open the door grille, drugged the driver and then took the car key and personal belongings from the room,” wrote Schmidt's deputy Klaus Theo Schröder in a letter to a parliamentary committee.
Rival politicians and headline writers have had a field day with the news, saying the incident underscores how out of touch the SPD has become after 11 years in power. The case could also damage Schmidt's career.
The Health Minister, who has served in that role since 2001 under Chancellor Merkel and her predecessor Gerhard Schröder, said late on Wednesday that she would not resign, but would also not occupy a position in SPD chancellor candidate Frank-Walter Steinmeier's campaign due to the scandal.
On Thursday, Steinmeier will announce his “election campaign team” to signal those likely to be important players in a future SPD government.
Meanwhile criticism of Schmidt's conduct continues. Head of taxpayers' union BdSt Reiner Holznagel on Wednesday accused her of covering up the event and misusing taxpayer money, calling the use of her personal vehicle “disproportionate.”
“The minister only clarifies bit by bit and the incident becomes more convoluted,” he told daily Passauer Neue Presse. “There are still many unanswered questions.”