A powerful investigative committee in Germany is looking into contracts awarded when von der Leyden was defence minister, potentially tainting her new role as the political figurehead of the EU.
Shortly after the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, took office in September 2019 she gave a speech on the damaging impact corruption has on society at large and made it a focus of her mandate.
Closer to home in Germany, however, where the EU’s top decision-maker is from, an ongoing investigation is digging into lucrative contracts that were illegally awarded by Leyen and her senior staff when she was the defence minister, in what has been described as corrupt practices.
Von der Leyen was hauled in front of a powerful investigative committee of German MPs as evidence has mounted that there may have been tampering with her phones when they were handed back to the ministry and fully wiped of any information which may have proved valuable to the investigation.
The wide-ranging investigation has resulted in 30 witnesses being called and more than 4,000 documents collected. A circle of nepotistic relationships were allowed to accrue around the former German defence minister, which resulted in contracts being awarded in the hundreds of millions.
When auditors were tasked with investigating how external contractors were awarded they found that in 2015 up €100 million had been spent but only €2.2 million was declared.
Investigators found a similar pattern in 2016 with von der Leyen’s ministry spending €150 million while declaring expenditure amounting €2.9 million.
Further questions have been raised on why lucrative contracts were awarded to the global consulting giant McKinsey & Company, where von der Leyen’s son works as an associate and whether there was a conflict of interest in the decision-making process.
The investigation which is also looking at nepotism marks a humiliating low point for von der Leyen’s leadership that will inevitably be exploited by her opponents within the EU bloc.
Breitbart London, an immensely popular far-right outlet, has already sought to frame the scandal as ‘Hillary 2.0? Data on New EU President’s Official Phone Wiped‘, alluding to sensitive government emails that the former US presidential candidate stored in a privately unsecured server.
Hillary Clinton deleted the emails before she could be investigated – a fact that Donald Trump used to bludgeon his political opponent, painting her as corrupt.
Von der Leyen’s mandate was considered by some as weak when she won by a margin of just nine votes garnering 383 parliamentarians.
“A slim margin of fewer than 400 votes is generally seen as a weak mandate that will make it difficult to secure legislative majorities for the five-year term,” said Alexandra Hennessy, a senior lecturer in Government at the University of Essex in the UK.
The revelations also cast a shadow around German Chancellor Angel Merkel’s waning premiership and increasing political difficulties. Von der Leyen was a close confidant to the chancellor for more than 14 years before she took her new job at the EU.
Between 2013 and 2019 von der Leyen served as a defence minister and it is during this time when most of the questionable practices have occurred.
The revelations about the former defence minister also come as the German chancellor’s anointed successor unexpectedly quit dealing a blow to Merkel’s succession ambitions and potentially threatening the tail end of her leadership which ends in 2021.