Germany’s development minister is hoping to silence critics with an apology after having a privately bought rug flown home at state expense, without paying tax. The opposition is calling for an inquiry.
German Development Minister Dirk Niebel apologized on Saturday for a "misunderstanding" over the transportation of a rug from Afghanistan to Germany.
The ministry says that a 1,100 euro ($1,376) rug was flown back aboard a plane belonging to the German intelligence service (BND) and entered the country without passing through customs. It had been bought privately by Niebel on an official visit to the country.
"I have to reproach myself for not having dealt with matters personally," the German news magazine Focus reported Niebel as saying on its website on Saturday.
The carpet - reported to measure nine square meters and weigh 30 kilograms (60 pounds) - was apparently thought by the BND to have been an official gift. Niebel said he had never been in contact with the intelligence service on the matter.
Niebel, a member of the pro-business Free Democrats, a junior partner in Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition - said he had left the carpet behind because he could not take it aboard a scheduled flight home.
"I'm especially sorry to have put the president of the BND in such an awkward position," said Niebel.
Spokesman for Merkel, Steffen Seibert, had said on Friday that "it would have been preferable and more correct to import it another way."
Meanwhile, the opposition has demanded further answers, with Socialist SPD party whip Thomas Oppermann demanding to know "how he (Niebel) plans to overcome the damage that has arisen."
Oppermann's opposite number in the Greens, Steffi Lemke, also demanded further information.
"The minister must make clear whether the rug affair is a one-off case or whether he uses business trips and embassy colleagues more often for private shopping tours," Lemke said on Saturday.
rc/sej (AFP, dpa)