Germany’s transport ministry has halted the approval of any new hydrogen-related funding in the wake of a nepotism scandal that led to the firing of a department boss.

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Head of policy Klaus Bonhoff — a former long-standing boss of the National Organisation for Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology (NOW) — was sacked by transport minister Volker Wissing last week after previously withheld internal emails emerged that suggest he had personally interfered with a funding application for €1.4m ($1.51m) that was awarded to the German Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association’s (DWV) HyMobility innovation cluster in 2021.

DWV CEO Werner Diwald, who submitted the application, is a close personal friend of Bonhoff and the two have even been on holiday together.

NOW plays a key role in the implementation and co-ordination of many hydrogen-related funding programmes across the German federal government.

State secretary Stefan Schorr, the ministry’s top civil servant, has said that no more contracts for hydrogen transport or refuelling will be entered into until further notice, according to the DPA news agency. Exceptions may be possible, but would require approval from Schorr himself.

He had said last week that the DWV application and four other individual grants totalling €25.9m were being legally reviewed.

Transport ministry funding programmes that could be affected include the ongoing €1.4bn National Innovation Programme for Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology, which provides funding for expansion of public H2 refuelling stations and the production of their hydrogen, as well as smaller programmes for rail and aviation.

The allegations against Bonhoff first emerged last summer, and an internal investigation concluded in December that there was “no undue influence” on the funding disbursements.

However, it recently emerged that the hydrogen department at the ministry had not forwarded all the relevant documents to the internal auditors.

Schorr said last week that Bonhoff had been relieved of his duties because “the necessary relationship of trust between the minister and the head of department no longer exists”.

He added that “there have been deviations from the usual procedure when processing an application” and that “we can no longer rule out the possibility that there was influence”.

“I feel deceived… and of course Mr Wissing does too, it’s clear.”