World Bulletin / News Desk
German opposition parties accused a close ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel of withholding information on a cancelled drone project and squandering hundreds of millions of euros of taxpayers' money four months before an election.
The row, which has topped the German news for the last few days, threatens to tarnish the reputation of Thomas de Maiziere, one of Merkel's most trusted cabinet cohorts, who until now was widely seen as a competent defence minister.
Last week, Germany scrapped plans to purchase and modify Euro Hawk reconnaissance drones, made by EADS and Northrop Grumman, because of the cost of meeting standards required to win aviation approval.
Top Greens and Social Democrats (SPD) have seized on the issue, saying de Maiziere committed a breach of trust for keeping major technical problems under wraps and that he should have given more details to the Federal Court of Auditors.
They say the fiasco has wasted some 680 million euros ($875 million).
"It is high time the chancellor took an interest in the mess at the defence ministry. (She) must not be indifferent to such a ministerial failure," SPD lawmaker Carsten Schneider told newspaper Die Passauer Neue Presse.
De Maiziere, who has declined to give a full public statement on the issue, said on Wednesday he had made available to the Court of Auditors documents on the deal, including contractual agreement with U.S. companies.
The minister will field questions from a parliamentary committee on June 5, far too late for his critics.
Top-selling Bild wrote that warning signals had been ignored and the project looked like a black hole for billions of euros.
"The public needs answers... He must now give answers to remain credible," wrote the paper in an editorial.
A spokesman for Merkel who asked about the issue at a regular government news conference, said the chancellor had confidence in her minister.
"That Mrs Merkel has given de Maiziere her full support shows how bad things are for him," said senior SPD lawmaker Thomas Oppermann in an emailed statement.
German armed forces already have one prototype Euro Hawk and were considering whether to buy an additional four drones. Germany had earmarked 1.2 billion euros for the purchase and development of the aircraft.Last Mod: 23 Mayıs 2013, 17:45