A German politician has filed a criminal complaint over the erasure of data from a mobile phone owned by Ursula von der Leyen, the new European Commission president, when she was Germany’s defence minister.
Tobias Lindner, a member of the Bundestag from the opposition Green party, filed the complaint against unnamed individuals over suspected deliberate destruction of evidence, German media reported on Saturday.
The criminal complaint over the erasure of data from a mobile phone owned by Ursula von der Leyen, the new European Commission president, when she was Germany’s defence minister.
Members of a German parliamentary committee investigating the scandal cried foul over the deletion. They had wanted to examine the phone as part of their probe into how lucrative contracts from the defence ministry were awarded to outside consultants without proper oversight, and whether a network of informal personal connections facilitated those deals
The complaint filed by Tobias Lindner, a member of the Bundestag from the opposition Green party, comes as members of a German parliamentary committee are investigating how lucrative contracts from the country’s defence ministry were awarded to outside consultants without proper oversight, and whether a network of informal personal connections had facilitated those deals.
The German parliamentarians are accusing the Defence Ministry of torpedoing an investigation into alleged wrongdoing in its consultant contracts. The ex-defence chief’s phone was wiped ‘after it was declared evidence‘.
German lawmakers wanted to examine von der Leyen’s phone, but an official from the country’s defence ministry said on Thursday that the device, which investigators had demanded be handed over since February, had been deleted in August.
Lost phone — er, no — lost PIN
The MPs have already gathered over 4,000 documents and questioned 30 people over the affair, but they say crucial evidence is still missing: text messages and data on von der Leyen’s official phone, which has now been wiped — illegally and deliberately, according to Bundestag members.
“We have to assume that people in office destroyed evidence,” Green party defense spokesman Tobias Lindner told the Funke media group. “Such actions can have have criminal relevance.”
Lindner also gave an exasperated interview to public broadcaster ARD on Friday, in which he described the Defence Ministry’s continued failure to produce the phone data, even though the Bundestag had declared the phone should be classified as evidence several months ago.
“First they said von der Leyen’s phone could not be found, they didn’t know where it was,” he said. “A week ago they said it was in the ministry, but only von der Leyen knew the PIN code, and yesterday they confessed that the relevant phone data had been deleted in August.”
He has now demanded that efforts be made to restore the data and demanded that von der Leyen’s successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, intervene and hold the relevant officials to account: not least because the data deletion happened under her tenure, not von der Leyen’s. “It can’t be acceptable that the ministry continues to torpedo the investigative work of the committee,” Lindner added.
In a statement to Die Welt, the ministry did not deny that the text messages on the phone were covered by the official evidence guidelines, adding that, “The Ministry of Defense has provided all the available documents that are subject to investigation.”
Lindner’s two-page complaint to German judicial authorities, where the lawmaker argues that the deletion of data had “thwarted the gathering of evidence of the [parliamentary committee] in the context of the investigation it is carrying out for the Bundestag and has therefore seriously damaged the aim of a parliamentary clarification of the so-called consultant affair,” magazine Der Spiegel reported.
- After her resignation as Minister of Defense, the CDU politician Ursula von der Leyen gave up her cell phone, the data was deleted.
- However, the device is considered as potential evidence in the committee of inquiry into the advisory affair in the Bundeswehr.
- The opposition suggests of a “scandal”. Evidence was deliberately destroyed.
Von der Leyen was replaced in July by Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (CDU) as Minister of Defence because she was supposed to move to Brussels as Commissioner. Under her leadership, the ministry had previously awarded contracts to external consulting firms that a Bundestag committee of inquiry has been dealing with for months. It is about allegations from incorrect order placement to nepotism. The results of the study are to be presented in the coming year before the summer break begins.
The Department of Defense confirmed on Friday that a cell phone had been deleted by von der Leyen. The reason for this was a “security incident,” said a defense ministry spokesman. The data also contain, for example, SMS messages.
Greens politician Lindner criticizes the procedure sharply. “This no longer has anything to do with political conflict and may be punishable,” he told SZ on Saturday. By deleting the cell phone data, the investigation of the case was “considerably damaged”, Lindner continues in his ad. He sees a possible offence under Section 274 of the Criminal Code . To put it simply, it is punishable if someone “deletes, suppresses, renders it unusable or changes it” relevant evidence.
In Lindner’s two-page complaint to German judicial authorities, the lawmaker argues that the deletion of data had “thwarted the gathering of evidence of the [parliamentary committee] in the context of the investigation it is carrying out for the Bundestag and has therefore seriously damaged the aim of a parliamentary clarification of the so-called consultant affair,” magazine Der Spiegel reported.
The ministry said the phone had been deleted because of security incident, a government spokesperson told the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung.
A spokesperson for the European Commission was not immediately available for comment.