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German health minister under scrutiny over mask purchases

March 21, 2021

Last year, Germany's Health Ministry ordered over half a million masks from a company that Jens Spahn's husband works for. The reports have raised eyebrows as Merkel's conservatives continue to get hit by scandals.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn wears a protective mask as he attends a weekly Cabinet meeting in Berlin
German Health Minister Jens Spahn wears a protective mask as he attends a weekly Cabinet meeting in BerlinImage: Fabrizio Bensch/AP/picture alliance

German Health Minister Jens Spahn was in the spotlight on Sunday after several reports emerged concerning a mask deal between Spahn's ministry and the company his husband works for.

The latest reports come as Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives face criticism over corruption allegations related to the pandemic.

What did the reports find?

The mask deal was first reported on by German news magazine Der Spiegel.

According to the report, a media company called Hubert Burda Media GmbH sold the Health Ministry some 570,000 masks in April last year — when supplies were low and protective masks were thin on the ground.

The report also revealed that Spahn's husband, Daniel Funke, holds a high-level position in Burda's Berlin offices.

The company confirmed the purchase to news agency dpa, saying the ministry paid the firm around €909,452 ($1.08 million).

German Health Minister Jens Spahn and his husband Daniel Funke
The company behind the mask deal said Spahn's husband, Daniel Funke (L), was not involved in the purchaseImage: picture-alliance/dpa/D. Karmann

Burda, which publishes several popular magazines in Germany, said it sold masks it had attained to the ministry for the same price they paid for them. It acquired the masks through a minority share in a company in Singapore.

The goal was to help Burda and the Health Ministry by supplying masks as quickly as possible, the company spokesman told dpa.

What has the reaction been?

Both the Health Ministry and the company involved have denied any preferential treatment in the mask procurement deal.

"Mr. Daniel Funke was never informed of nor involved in the transaction at any point in time," a Burda spokesperson told dpa.

The Health Ministry likewise said the mask deal was made in accordance with federal rules. A spokesman told news agency AFP the contract "was concluded and carried out after receiving offers in a standardized process at market prices."

Merkel's conservatives hit by corruption scandals

The reports on Sunday came amid growing scandals and accusations of graft against Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian sister-party, the Christian Social Union.

Alfred Sauter, former state justice minister for Bavaria, announced on Sunday that he was giving up his CSU party posts after he came under investigation for corruption over mask procurement contracts.

Sauter denies any wrongdoing in the case.

Merkel and the COVID crisis

Last month, prosecutors opened a case against senior CSU lawmaker Georg Nüsslein, accusing him of accepting hundreds of thousands of euros to lobby for a mask supplier.

Another lawmaker, CDU parliamentarian Nikolas Löbel, also resigned over a separate mask scandal. Prosecutors are likewise looking into his business deals with mask procurement.

Other conservative lawmakers have resigned over corruption allegations not related to the pandemic, including MP Tobias Zech. The CSU lawmaker resigned on Thursday after reports emerged he did PR work for a political party in Macedonia.

The continuous stream of scandals and corruption allegations have hit the conservatives hard just six months before Germany's general election.

The CDU suffered historically low results in two key state elections this month in Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate.

rs/sri (AFP, dpa)