The European Commission President has been criticised for the move, as an investigative committee of the German parliament looks into a contracting scandal that occurred under Ms von der Leyen’s premiership as minister of defence. They had wanted to examine the phones as part of their probe into how lucrative contracts from the defence ministry were awarded to outside consultants without proper oversight and who authorised those deals. Investigators sent an extensive report to the Bundestag, the German federal Parliament, on Monday stating that it is unable to use text messages by the former minister to clarify decision-making processes, as the phones had been wiped.
The report, commissioned by defence minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, said that messages from Ms von der Leyen’s Blackberry service cell phone were deleted due to the negligence of a clerk in August last year, while the data on the second phone was also wiped.
The ministry wrote in the report that the second phone “contains neither the business area folder nor the text messages or files folder”
The report is likely to further escalate the dispute over the ex-minister’s text message, as members of the committee had repeatedly asked to examine Ms von der Leyen’s mobile phone.
Now they have learned that ultimately all text messages by von der Leyen have been irretrievably deleted.
Ms von der Leyen had two phones, as she was issued a second mobile after the original number had been exposed as part of a major data hack.
She kept the old device and the unlocked SIM card.
Data from the first phone is of most interest, as it was used during the time the contracts were awarded.
Lawmakers had been keen to access data on the phone since February last year, as part of their investigation into the contracts.
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But in December they discovered that the first phone had been wiped in August – the same month that von der Leyen left the ministry after being elected as European Commission President.
The ministry argues that the official responsible for wiping the phone did not know that the text messages on the minister’s phone could be relevant to the committee.
Instead, he handled the phone like any other service device in the house, by deleting the data and returning it to the operating company for destruction.
The ministry spokesperson said the first phone was “deleted properly, in accordance with the internal regulations,” while the second phone is still kept at the ministry.
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The news that the data cannot be retrieved has angered many politicians in the German government.
Alexander Müller, a committee member from the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), said there were “reasonable grounds to suspect that von der Leyen’s phone contained important information” for clarifying her role in the consultancy affair.
He said: “We could not find official papers or other documents revealing why the ministry hired external consultants … so the assumption is that a lot happened by text messages.
“Since February, we have insisted that her phone should be examined as part of the investigation, and for months we were told [by the ministry] that they are still looking for the phone and can’t find it.”
When discussing the matter last month, Ms von der Leyen said: “In my opinion, nothing is lost, because text messages are suitable for fast communication.
“However, documents and strategies are developed elsewhere in federal ministries and sent differently.”
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