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Politicians irked by more car scrapping premium fraud

Politicians are calling for tighter controls after further reports of criminal misuse of Germany’s "cash for clunkers" car scrapping premium emerged this week.

Politicians irked by more car scrapping premium fraud
Photo: DPA

The BDK criminal investigative alliance reported on Wednesday that up to 50,000 cars have been illegally sold to places like Africa and Eastern Europe instead of being scrapped as agreed.

The popular Abwrackprämie, or car scrapping premium, was part of Germany’s second stimulus plan and gives €2,500 ($3,500) to those who junk a car that is at least nine years old for a new one. The measure has boosted car sales significantly, but reports of fraud are on the rise.

While there is no concrete data for such incidences in Germany, BDK leader Winfried Albishausen told broadcaster ARD on Thursday that his organisation has logged some 200 “coincidental finds” in the port city of Hamburg and in the state of Baden-Württemberg. Selling the cars abroad is an easy way for criminals to make money because there is low risk for being caught, Albishausen said.

Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück has already said the government should look into the misuse of the funds.

Meanwhile, transport policy expert for the pro-business Free Democrats Patrick Döring told daily Bild on Thursday that the government should begin a special commission to stop the fraud.

“Customs, criminal investigators and the Federal Office of Economics and Export Control (Bafa) must conduct more spot checks at scrap merchants,” he said.

Head of the Christian Social Union parliamentary party group, Hans-Peter Friedrich, also called for stricter control on the government funds.

“Those who take part in fraud should know they will be followed without mercy,” he told Bild.

Last month reports surfaced that fraudulent claims on scrap cars from Germany have gleaned millions of euros in the Netherlands, and some of the vehicles are coming from the popular Abwrackprämie.

The car scrapping premium began on February 20 as part of the government’s attempt to stimulate growth after the financial crisis. It was designed to encourage used-car buyers to add their old cars to the scrap heap for new, cleaner-burning autos.

In early March German officials changed the rules for the scrap premium due to fraud because some people were selling their old cars instead of scrapping them. Those who apply for the premium must now provide the original vehicle registration for the scrapped car instead of just a photocopy.

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CRIME

Who was involved in the alleged plot to ‘overthrow German democracy’?

There are a litany of strange characters thought to be behind a planned coup in Germany, including a former far-right politician, high-ranking military men and a minor aristocrat with a love of conspiracy theories. Here's what you need to know.

Who was involved in the alleged plot to 'overthrow German democracy'?

On Wednesday, the shocking news emerged that police had arrested 25 people in connection with a suspected plot to overthrow the German government.

Those arrested are accused of having formed “a terrorist group by the end of November 2021 at the latest, which had set itself the goal of overcoming the existing state order in Germany and replacing it with their own kind of state”, prosecutors said in a statement. 

They added that the suspects had allegedly planned to storm parliament with a small group of armed militants and take control of the government by force. But who exactly are the accused?

Well, if this all sounds like something out of a dystopian novel, there are some familiar characters you need to know about.

Here’s a rundown of who they are.

The Reichsbürger movement

Known as far-right extremists who hanker after a bygone era, the Reichsbürger movement is nothing new in Germany – though its members have become increasingly volatile in recent years.

Since the 1980s, the group has been a ramshackle coalition of neo-Nazis, gun enthusiasts and conspiracy theorists who ultimately question the legitimacy of the Federal Republic of Germany and refuse to follow its laws. Instead, these so-called Reichbürger (citizens of the empire) tend to believe in the continued existence of the Third Reich and often claim that modern-day Germany has become nothing more than an American vassal state in the post-war order.

Though this kind of thought has been on the fringes of German society for decades, the Reichbürger have recently been amassing support and appear to have been emboldened by the rise of other far-right groups. Its estimated number of followers has doubled from 10,000 to 20,000 since 2017 alone, with around 2,000 deemed to be potentially violent. Indeed, recent years have seen increasingly brutal clashes between members of the group and the German authorities. 

One such incident in 2014 saw a former Mr. Germany beauty pageant winner open fire on the police when they tried to evict him from his property as a result of unpaid debts. Another incident led to the death of a police officer, who was shot in Bavaria while trying to confiscate firearms from a radicalised follower of the group. 

Alongside the alleged plot to overthrow the German government, other acts of terrorism have also been pinned on the group – or those associated with them. Most recently, they include a suspected plot to kidnap Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD), along with planned attacks on asylum seekers, Jewish people and other minorities.

READ ALSO: What is Germany’s extremist Reichsbürger movement?

Heinrich XIII, Prince of Preuss

Heinrich XIII

The arrested the arrested Heinrich XIII Prince Reuss German police sits in a police car in Frankfurt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Boris Roessler

The 71-year-old “prince“, arrested in Frankfurt’s West End on Wednesday morning, has been described as the ringleader of the group. He pictured himself as head of the new revolutionary government if the envisioned coup went according to plan.

A descent of the the House of Reuß that ruled parts of Thuringia for about 800 years, family members had distanced themselves from him due to his outspoken far-right conspiracy theories.

In a notorious speech given at a business summit in Zurich in 2019, Heinrich XIII had referenced the antisemitic conspiracy theory that the 20th century world order had been engineered by the Rothschild dynasty and the freemasons. He also complained that his own dynasty had been “disposessed” after the first world war. 

“Ever since Germany surrendered, it has never been sovereign again,” he told listeners. “It has only been made an administrative structure of the allies.”

Rüdiger von Pescatore

Described by prosecutors as the terrorist group’s military arm, Von Pescatore was already a paratrooper commander and then part of the Special Forces Command. He was allegedly dismissed from the military after selling former East German weapons which had fallen out of use.

Birgit Malsack-Winkemann

Birgit Malsack-Winkemann

Alleged plotter Birgit Malsack-Winkemann (AfD) speaks in parliament in 2019. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd von Jutrczenka

The lawyer-by-training had been a member of the far-right Alternative for Germany ever since it was founded in 2013 as a party against the Euro currency. A member of Bundestag between 2017 and 2021, she grew increasingly vocal against immigration and espoused conspiracy theories from the extremist group QANon.

Who else is believed to be involved? 

So far, prosecutors have mentioned a number of others who could have been involved in the alleged plot. One is a Russian woman called Vitalia B., who is accused of having tried to facilitate contact between the plotters and the Russian government in order to discuss a “new political order” in Germany.

Former – and current – soldiers are also believed to be among the members of the terror group, and they are also thought to have recruited members of the police force. One of the men arrested on Wednesday was an active member of the KSK special forces – the elite wing of the German military. 

In addition to 23 arrests in Germany on Wednesday, two people were arrested in Austria and Italy. Prosecutors say they have identified a further 27 people in connection with the plot, so expect more details to emerge soon. 

READ ALSO: Germany busts far-right cell planning attack on parliament

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