Sleaze? Official car stolen at holiday pick-up

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The Independent Online

A German government minister is facing awkward questions after her official chauffeured car was stolen while she was using it on holiday in Spain.

Health Minister Ulla Schmidt faced demands from opposition politicians and a taxpayer group to explain why she had her Mercedes S-Class saloon driven 1,500 miles to meet her as she flew to Alicante.

It was stolen after thieves broke into the driver's room and took the keys.

Germany's Bild newspaper asked: "How does one explain something like this to taxpayers?" The Berliner Kurier tabloid gave her prominent coverage, with the headline "Privileges know no vacation."

Otto Fricke, from the opposition Free Democrats who heads parliament's budget committee, said he wanted "figures, data and facts" from her.

"We should all be very careful on the question of how we as politicians handle sensibly what is entrusted to us by taxpayers," he said.

Ms Schmidt's Social Democrats, who trail Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives in polls ahead of Germany's September general election, were keen to downplay the incident.

"Ulla Schmidt behaved within the bounds of the law," party general secretary Hubertus Heil said. He added that the party "will not allow her to be put in a bad light" and that the minister was prepared to answer questions about the episode in parliament.

Ms Schmidt's spokeswoman also defended her. All ministers are entitled to an official car with a driver at all times, at home and abroad, "although some people may not like it," she said.

She also said that Ms Schmidt, 60, logs private use of the car and settles the costs separately and that there were security arguments in favour of her using an official car, among other things.

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