BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany’s overseas aid minister has received a stiff customs bill and a reprimand for getting the country’s top spy to fly home a rug from Afghanistan for him without declaring it, officials said on Friday.
Economic Cooperation and Development Minister Dirk Niebel bought the carpet for personal use on a trip to Kabul in May but could not take it on board his scheduled flight home and left it at the German embassy, his spokesman said.
He then got the head of Germany’s intelligence agency, the BND, to take it on his plane back to Berlin, thereby failing to pay an estimated 200 euros import duty on the 1,400 euro rug.
Niebel also faced criticism for sending his official driver to the airport to pick up the carpet. An aide said Niebel had every intention of paying for that in his tax returns.
Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters the chancellor was confident the minister would make good the import duty he had “neglected” to pay for the rug.
“The word ‘neglect’ implies that it would have been more correct and preferable if it had been imported some other way,” Seibert told a regular news conference, which spent longer discussing Niebel’s rug than the euro zone crisis and impending Spanish bailout.
The centre-left opposition accused the minister of “brazen abuse” of office which risked undermining Germany’s efforts to promote good governance in countries like Afghanistan.
Germans have little tolerance of officials omitting to pay their own personal expenses. Merkel’s own husband has taken budget airlines to their holiday destinations rather than paying a higher fee to accompany her on an official government flight.
Reporting by Stephen Brown; Editing by Toby Chopra