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EU commissioner in row over Kremlin lobbyist’s jet

Germany’s European Commissioner Guenther Oettinger on Wednesday defended his decision to fly in a Kremlin lobbyist’s private jet, days after being caught in a row over derogatory comments about Chinese people.

Oettinger, commissioner for the EU’s digital economy, said he had to catch a lift with businessman Klaus Mangold so he could get to a meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on time.

“Allegations are unfounded,” Oettinger, who is also set to take on the budget portfolio, said in one of a series of tweets after reports of the flight emerged.

Oettinger’s office said he had been invited by the Hungarian government to attend a conference in Budapest.

“Due to diary constraints he could not take a scheduled flight to be in time for the working dinner with PM Orban,” his office said in a statement to AFP.

“Thus, the Hungarian government suggested that Commissioner Oettinger join the plane of Klaus Mangold who was also travelling to Budapest. This was the only possible means to get on time to the meeting.”

The EU Observer website, which first broke the story, said that the European Commission’s code of ethics says commissioners cannot accept gifts worth more than 150 euros.

Mangold was described by the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung as the “Mr Russia of German business” and has for several years led Ost-Ausschuss, a body representing German firms doing business in Russia.

He is reported to have good relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin and was recently named as the honorary consul in Russia of Germany’s Bade-Wurtemberg region, where Oettinger is from.

Tensions between the EU and Russia have been high since Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the start of the conflict in Ukraine in 2014, for which the 28-nation European Union has imposed wide-ranging economic sanctions.

Oettinger was forced to apologise earlier this month after using the words “slitty eyes” to describe Chinese people and making disparaging remarks about women, gay marriage and Belgian politicians.