Ursula von der Leyen faces new questions over German government scandal

Justin Huggler
Ms von der Leyen is facing scrutiny over her time as German defence minister - AFP

Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, is facing renewed scrutiny over a scandal from her time as German defence minister.

New details have emerged which threaten to drag Ms von der Leyen back into the spotlight in a parliamentary inquiry into the improper awarding of government contracts during her time as minister.

The ministry has reportedly told the inquiry it cannot hand over data from Ms von der Leyen’s official mobile phone because she personally deleted it before moving to Brussels.

The new details emerged in portions of a defence ministry report submitted to the inquiry that were leaked to several German publications.

If confirmed, they could leave Ms von der Leyen facing renewed questions over how much she knew about the awarding of the contracts.

The new details come after it emerged last month that the defence ministry was unable to hand over data from another of Ms von der Leyen’s mobile phones because it had been deleted by a civil servant.

MPs have demanded an explanation of why data was deleted from both mobile phones despite an official defence ministry order that it be preserved for the inquiry.

“This demands explanation. Once again, no one in the defence ministry is prepared to accept responsibility,” Tobias Lindner, a Green MP serving on the parliamentary inquiry, told Spiegel magazine.

Ms von der Leyen allegedly wiped the data from her official mobile phone before leaving office as German defence minister Credit: STEPHANIE LECOCQ/EPA-EFE/REX

MPs are holding an inquiry into how defence ministry contracts worth hundreds of millions of euros were awarded to private consultancy firms without proper oversight during Ms von der Leyen’s term as minister.

Ms von der Leyen admitted to the German parliament in 2018 that “mistakes” had been made and blamed the failures on negligence by overworked officials.

But MPs are investigating allegations that consultants exploited personal connections to senior ministry officials to bypass official procedures.

The parliamentary inquiry has been demanding access to data from Ms von der Leyen’s mobile phone, including her SMSs, since last June, but MPs have accused the defence ministry of dragging its heels.

The issue has been complicated by the fact Ms von der Leyen had two official mobile phones during the period in question. She was issued a new phone after her number was leaked in a data hack.

The ministry admitted last month that it could not hand over data from the older of the two phones because it had been deleted by officials.

At the time Mr Lindner described the deletion as a “veritable scandal” and warned that it could have “criminal implications”.

Although the newer phone is thought unlikely to have contained data relevant to the inquiry, the claim Ms von der Leyen wiped it herself before leaving office is likely to leave her facing awkward questions.

Ms von der Leyen has not commented on the reports.