Fresh Revelations German Minister in Hot Water Again Over Limousine Use

The "limousine affair" just won't go away for German Health Minister Ulla Schmidt, and it's hurting her Social Democrats in the election campaign. Schmidt has now admitted using her official car on vacation not just this year, but repeatedly since 2004. Rival parties are calling for her head.

German Health Minister Ulla Schmidt has come under pressure again over her use of an official limousine while on vacation  after she admitted having done so not just this year, but on several occasions since 2004.

Politicians from rival parties have called on Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the Social Democratic nominee running against Chancellor Angela Merkel in the Sept. 27 election , to drop Schmidt from his campaign team following the new revelations.

The Health Ministry told the German parliament's budget committee that Schmidt had the limousine driven from Germany to her holiday location in Spain and back in the years 2006 through 2008.

The chairman of the budget committee, Otto Fricke of the opposition Free Democratic Party, said the committee will now check whether Schmidt broke budget rules in those years because it was unclear why the taxpayer should have paid for the transfer of the vehicle to and from Spain.

Schmidt, who travelled to Spain by plane, said she needed the limousine for security reasons, and that she had covered the cost of any private journeys undertaken in the vehicle during the vacations.

Fricke said the new explanations provided by the Health Ministry "remain insufficient and nebulous."

'Serious Mistake'

Schmidt's use of the limousine came to light last month when the car was stolen during her vacation. It was found a few days later, but by that time the accusations that she was wasting taxpayers' money  by having the car driven thousands of kilometres had overshadowed the launch of the SPD's election campaign.  

Schmidt made matters worse by insisting throughout that she had done nothing wrong.

Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats seized on the news about Schmidt's repeated limousine use on vacation to score points in the election campaign. Wolfgang Bosbach, deputy head of the Christian Democrats' parliamentary group, said it would cost the SPD votes. "Steinmeier made a serious mistake by appointing Ms Schmidt to his campaign team," Bosbach told the Mitteldeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

Patrick Döring of the FDP also called for Schmidt to be removed. "Given the continued attempts by Ms Schmidt to camouflage and deceive, the SPD should think about whether such a minister is still tenable," Döring told the mass circulation newspaper Bild.

Schmidt, who argued that she needed the vehicle this year to drive her to official engagements during her holiday, showed first signs of contrition on Monday. "I will strictly separate my vacation from official engagements in future," she said.

cro -- with wire reports