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German defence minister Thomas de Maizière accused of covering up bungled Euro Hawk drone project


German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Defence Minister was fighting for his political survival yesterday amid reports that his office tried to cover up a scandal over the bungled purchase of a multi-million surveillance drone which proved too dangerous to be flown in European air space.

Thomas de Maizière is regarded as one of Angela Merkel’s closest allies and has been tipped as her possible successor. But the 59-year-old conservative Defence Minister faced calls for his resignation yesterday as the scandal surrounding his ministry’s Euro Hawk surveillance drone project worsened.

“This is a case of  wasting money to an unimaginable degree,” said the opposition Social Democrat spokesman Thomas Oppermann in an interview in which he demanded the Defence Minister’s resignation. “Somebody has to take the political responsibility for this,” he added.

Mr de Maiziere stands accused of wasting €600m of taxpayers’ money by ordering  the Euro Hawk drone from the US manufacturer Northrop Grumman, only to establish – five years after signing the contract – that the European Aviation Safety Agency would not allow the drone to fly in Europe. Among other deficiencies, the Euro Hawk was found not to have a proper collision-avoidance system.

The affair deepened after it emerged that staff at the German army’s aircraft testing complex  at Manching in Bavaria were instructed last week to destroy computer files containing embarrassing details about the Euro Hawk. The “destroy” order was rescinded a day later. Der Spiegel magazine also revealed Germany’s military aircraft licensing authority in Koblenz had over the past week been instructed to classify all Euro Hawk information as “top secret”. “The armed forces appear to have tried to cover up important details,” the magazine wrote.

Mr de Maiziere will appear before a parliamentary committee tomorrow where he is expected to face a barrage of questions from MPs. Opposition parties have pledged to open a full committee of inquiry should his explanations prove inadequate.