German minister cleared over holiday use of official car

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Minister Schmidt caused political maelstrom after she had her driver travel more than 2,600 km in her official car at public expense on holiday.

Berlin – Germany's state audit office cleared Health Minister Ulla Schmidt of any irregularity over the weekend following revelations that she took her official car on a private holiday in Spain.

Schmidt had found herself in a political maelstrom less than two months out from general elections after she had her driver travel more than 2,600 kilometres (1,600 miles) in her official car at public expense so she could use it while on holiday in Alicante.

The trip came to light when the EUR 90,000 (USD 132,000) Mercedes S-class car was stolen, unleashing attacks over what was called a waste of taxpayers' money and calls for Schmidt to resign.

The audit office said Saturday that the minister's trip was mainly of a private nature and had been paid for "in accordance with the law" without cost to the state budget.

The Social Democrats' candidate for chancellor, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, immediately reinstated her in his campaign team for September's elections. She had stood down following the scandal.

Steinmeier said the federal audit office "had not found any irregularity" committed by Schmidt.

After the theft a number of politicians, including members of Chancellor Angela Merkel's centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), called for Schmidt to reimburse the state.

Schmidt, 60, had spoken of a "campaign" against her and said she would provide documentation to prove that her use of the official car in Spain was in fact in the taxpayers' interest because she was also conducting official business.

She had argued that it was more "economical" to have her driver bring the car to Spain than to rent a vehicle locally and that she would pay back expenses incurred for her private use of the car according to government guidelines.

AFP / Expatica

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