Hamburg’s tax authority waived tens of millions of euros in 2016. This Friday, former mayor Olaf Scholz is to clarify questions about his meetings with the beneficiary bank for the second time as a witness before the investigative committee.
On Friday, Chancellor Olaf Scholz will appear for the second time before the Hamburg parliamentary committee of inquiry into the Cum-Ex scandal. For about two years, he has been trying to clarify whether Hamburg’s politicians have influenced the authorities so that they waive tens of millions of euros.
The investigations are not aimed directly at today’s Chancellor. Last week, the Hamburg Attorney General refused to initiate investigations into suspected aiding and abetting of tax evasion against Scholz.
But Scholz was the city’s head of government at the time and met several times in 2016 and 2017 with the representatives of the beneficiary bank, the shareholders Christian Olearius and Max Warburg, even when the allegation of tax fraud was not only in the room, but investigations were being conducted .
After the first meeting, the Hamburg tax authorities initially let the bank’s tax refunds amounting to 47 million euros expire. A claim for a further 43 million euros was only raised a year later, shortly before the statute of limitations expired and only at the instigation of the Federal Ministry of Finance. Olearius, the authorized representative of Hamburg’s Warburg Bank, was allowed to visit Scholz three times in 2016 in his capacity as Hamburg mayor.
Cum-Ex scandal: No criminal proceedings against Chancellor Scholz and Mayor Tschentscher
According to Olearius, after the first meeting in the town hall, Scholz recommended that the bankers send a letter to the finance senator and current mayor Tschentscher (SPD), in which the bank presented the reclaim of 47 million euros in capital gains tax that had been wrongly reimbursed as unjustified.
Tschentscher had forwarded the letter with the “request for information on the situation” to the tax authorities, where, contrary to original plans, they decided a short time later to let the claim run into the statute of limitations. A claim for 43 million euros was raised a year later, just before the statute of limitations expired, and on the instructions of the Federal Ministry of Finance. Tschentscher had confirmed the forwarding of the letter to the committee. However, he described the allegation of influence as “unfounded”. Scholz, who acknowledged the meetings with the bankers but says he can no longer remember the content of the talks, also denies any influence.
Scholz has now also admitted that there were such meetings – but only after this became known through Olearius’ diary entries and could therefore not be denied. Only his memory of the content of the meetings failed him, according to the testimony. On Friday, the chancellor will have several hours to remember. Because, as the investigations in North Rhine-Westphalia have now shown, there are not only gaps in memory: the Cologne public prosecutor’s office also found gaps in the confiscated e-mail traffic from the then Finance Senator Tschentscher and Scholz, which of all things relate to the period in question.
Documents from Mayor Scholz’s former office manager, Jeanette Schwamberger, also indicate that this loss of data could be more than a coincidence. Accordingly, the protagonists in the Hamburg administration probably gave concrete consideration to the project of data deletion. The Cologne public prosecutor is investigating against the SPD politicians Pawelczyk and Kahrs as well as the officer responsible for the Warburg Bank at the Hamburg tax office for large companies at the time on suspicion of encouraging tax evasion in connection with cum-ex transactions.
If the Hamburg opposition has its way, the current chancellery minister, Wolfgang Schmidt (SPD), who has worked closely with Scholz for many years, should appear before the committee. The question of where the ominous 214,000 euros and 2,400 dollars in cash in the safe deposit box of party colleague Kahrs, who is being investigated in the course of the affair, came from also remains open.
After all, there is now a kind of possible reminder for the witness Scholz in the media – namely previously kept secret minutes of a conversation in which, according to Scholz, everything is said to have been about. Accordingly, Scholz is said to have granted a meeting with the Warburg shareholders in July 2020, but downplayed its importance.
The questioning of more than 50 witnesses in the Cum-Ex investigation committee did not result in any usable evidence of any clear illegal action by Scholz.
But the Hamburg opposition, made up of CDU, Left and AfD, considers the memory gaps to be implausible. In particular, the chairman of the CDU in the committee, Richard Seelmaecker, demands the resignation of Scholz and his successor as mayor, Peter Tschentscher. On a national level, too, it is the CDU of all people – for example with party leader Friedrich Merz – that seems to demand honesty and justice here, although high-ranking Union politicians have done quite well in recent years by reporting their memory problems or equally inexplicable data loss in committees to present, even if it raised the suspicion that it was a ploy to cover up the facts.
Cologne public prosecutor’s office: searches of ex-SPD politicians because of the cum-ex scandal
According to parliamentary group leader Mathias Middelberg (CDU), the Union parliamentary group in the Bundestag will also follow the Chancellor’s renewed statement “with great attention”. “Depending on the quality and credibility of the statement, we will decide whether Olaf Scholz should also be invited to the Finance Committee of the German Bundestag for questioning,” said Middelberg New Osnabrück newspaper.
The CDU and the left in the citizenship are now calling for the investigation to be expanded and for Scholz to be summoned a third time. Left parliamentary group leader Dietmar Bartsch also spoke in the Handelsblatt of a “cloud of distrust over the chancellor, which the public can no longer reasonably be expected of and is damaging to the office” and said that Scholz must expect further investigations if he lets this opportunity pass instead of creating more clarity.
Former left-wing member of the Bundestag Fabio de Masi doubts that Scholz will survive the full legislative period. “I don’t think so,” he said in the RTL/ntv-Broadcast “early start” on Friday. Because “Cum-Ex” participants threatened up to ten years in prison. “They will certainly sing something in court and will no longer stand in front of Mr. Scholz to protect them if they get prison relief for it”.
The financial expert at the anti-corruption organization Transparency International, Stephan Ohme, described Scholz’s account as “simply implausible”. “The chancellor is a proven expert on these issues, he knew the importance of the issue of waiving a million-dollar tax debt for the Warburg-Bank from “cum-ex” transactions,” said Ohmeden spark-Newspapers.
The former Greens member of the Bundestag and head of the Finanzwende initiative, Gerhard Schick, also sees evidence from the parliamentary and journalistic research that has emerged in the meantime that there was “successful influence by rich bankers on politics” in Hamburg. As mayor, Scholz swept meetings “with a Warburg banker against whom “Cum-Ex” investigations were already underway,” said Schick. “Recently there was also the suspicion that Mr. Scholz and Co. had deliberately deleted emails.” He doesn’t believe in the gaps in his memory either. “Olaf Scholz has to come clean now.”
So far, however, he repeated before the committee of inquiry on Friday: “I have had no influence on the Warburg tax procedure.”
More on the subject – The Federal Ministry of Finance is hesitating: Protocol on Scholz to the Cum-Ex scandal must be checked