Minister hits turbulence over flying carpet affair
A German minister with a taste for soft-furnishings has hit turbulence after he got a carpet flown home from Afghanistan free – on an intelligence service plane, avoiding import tax.
Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Dirk Niebel is now under pressure to explain why he pulled strings to get his Afghan carpet flown to Germany for nothing – on a plane belonging to Germany's foreign intelligence agency (BND).
“This is not a surprise” said speaker of the Social Democrat (SPD) fraction in the Bundestag Thomas Oppmann. He added that Niebel treated his ministry like a “self-service shop for himself and his party”, the deeply unpopular junior coalition partner the Federal Democratic Party (FDP).
“The FDP has a tradition of tax evasion,” he told news magazine Der Spiegel on Thursday and added that he was waiting for Niebel to explain himself.
Niebel was on an official visit to Afghanistan in March when the €1,100 rug caught his eye – but because it weighed 30 kilos and he had other luggage, he could not take it with him on his commercial flight.
So he pulled a “personal favour” from Gerhard Schindler, head of Germany’s equivalent of MI6, who was happy to help. They arranged a drop at the German embassy in Kabul, where it was picked up by a secret agent, and flown home on a spy plane.
Not only did this mean he did not have to wait for his carpet, Niebel got it transported to Germany for nothing – and once there, it was whisked past customs, the magazine said. The plane landed at the non-commercial area of Berlin’s Schönefeld airport, and a driver collected the carpet and took it to Niebel – without declaring the import, Niebel’s ministry admitted.
“I had planned on picking it and taking it back as luggage up on my next trip to Afghanistan,” the minister said in a statement. “That, like how it was actually delivered, would not have cost extra.”
He has since informed customs officials of the carpet and applied to pay whatever is due.