Prosecutors will look into allegations the German development minister broke the law when he didn't declare an Afghan rug to customs before it was flown home on a government plane.
German prosecutors said on Sunday that they were looking into whether Germany's development minister was in breech of the law when he failed to declare a rug he bought in Afghanistan to customs and later got the head of the German intelligence agency to bring it back for him.
The Berlin prosecutor's office said on Sunday that it was looking into “initial suspicions of possible punishable behavior."
Dirk Niebel, of Chancellor Angela Merkel's junior coalition partners, the Free Democrats (FDP), responded to criticism for not paying import duties estimated to be around 200 euros for the carpet by saying the item, intended for his dining room, was too heavy to be flown back. Therefore, he requested the embassy to put it on the next government plane. It was in the end bought back with the head of German intelligence, Gerhard Schindler.
"With the request for late payment, the matter is over," Niebel said to German newspaper Bild am Sonntag.
"I wanted to support small businesses in Afghanistan and buy a rug for my dining room. I really wanted to go to a bazaar but security told me I wasn't allowed to," said Niebel.
Instead, Niebel purchased one from a carpet seller brought to the embassy especially.
"I don't know anything about carpets but I liked it. So I bought it for $1,400 ... I am sorry I got the BND president into such a situation. It was stupid of me," he added.
But Niebel has had to contend with strong condemnation over the affair from the opposition.
"It is shocking how shamelessly Dirk Niebel has put the FDP belief [of putting private citizens' priorities ahead of those of the state] into practice," said Green Party official Steffi Lemke.
Lemke also accused Niebel of "using […] the German embassy as a shopping center and the BND as a carpet carrier."
If prosecutors pursue the matter, Niebel could face calls for his resignation. The scandal has already been a blow for the FDP, which is struggling to come to terms with a slump in its popularity.
sej/mz (dpa, Reuters)