Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The fast food scandal

The discussion about the German President’s alleged corruption continues unabated, and now there are accusations of double standards. I’m right now reading an article in the Spiegel about how lower-ranking officials are being persecuted for the tiniest of indiscretions, such as teachers accepting a Christmas present from parents as a mark of gratitude.

The rules are really strict: any gift with a value of more than €10 cannot be accepted at all; even the smallest of gifts has to be declared to the appropriate authority.

A case illustrating the apparent problem is discussed more fully. In one town in Lower Saxony, police officers calling in at the local McDonald’s just before closing time would routinely find an extra burger or two, which would otherwise just have had to be thrown away. Hardly a crime in anyone’s eyes, but the authorities got wind of it and launched a massive investigation. In the end, the officers were sensibly found not guilty of any offence (surprisingly, the one place you’re most likely to find common sense in Germany is in the courtroom), but not before a hugely expensive operation.

However, there is one small piece of information, a chicken nugget of pure gold, that made reading the whole article worth every boring subordinate clause. In Germany, there’s no watchdog or ombudsman for the police, no equivalent of the British Independent Police Complaints Commission. If a complaint is made against police officers, this has to be investigated by the police. To avoid the obvious conflict of interests here, the investigating officers are brought in from another state.

In this case, the officers spending taxpayers’ money spying on other officers ordering their calories from a fast-food restaurant came from the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg.

Ah, I see you were ahead of me on that one. Well done.

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