Spd candidate for chancellor questioned about cum-ex: the forgetful olaf scholz

In the Cum-Ex affair, he is said to have saved a bank a payment of millions. When questioned in the Bundestag, Scholz says little.

Contributes – to put it kindly – nothing to the clarification: Olaf Scholz Photo: Michael Kappeler/dpa

The Warburg-Cum-Ex affair does not look good for the Hamburg SPD. The long-established Hamburg Warburg Bank was involved in Cum-Ex deals. Cum-Ex was organized, criminal fraud. Banks stole ten billion euros from the German state.

In 20, claims of up to 90 million euros rolled in on Warburg Bank because of old Cum-Ex deals. The deals went badly for the bank at the time. Warburg CEO Christian Olearisus tried to avoid paying. The banker, who is very well connected in Hamburg, antichambered to the SPD, met with budget politician Johannes Kahrs and donated 45,000 euros to his comrades in Hamburg.

All other parties involved in the affair – the Ministry of Finance in Berlin and tax investigators from North Rhine-Westphalia – insisted that the bank pay 47 million euros in Hamburg before the claim became time-barred. Only the Hamburg tax authorities took a different view. Olearius was successful. Warburg did not pay.

Olaf Scholz, then mayor in Hamburg, met Olearius three times in 20. "A good mayor has many conversations," Scholz told the Bundestag on Wednesday. It looked suspicious, meanwhile, that Scholz had only recalled meeting Olearius once during an earlier questioning in the Finance Committee. In the Finance Committee on Wednesday, the SPD candidate for chancellor now also admitted the other, already documented meetings.

Scholz: Immune to lobbying?

Apart from that, however, he could not remember anything as before. Apart from that, the decision was a matter for the tax office, over which politicians have no influence. He said he was immune to influence by lobbyists. "I can be very stubborn," Scholz said in the Bundestag. That’s the line of defense.

The Green Party’s Lisa Paus thinks this is not very credible. That Scholz simply forgot three meetings, a phone call and a letter from Olearius is not very plausible, she says. After all, it was about Cum-Ex and a renowned Hamburg bank on the brink. Scholz spoke to Olearius on the phone on November 9, 2016. He had previously sent him a paper, a justification why the bank did not need to pay. Scholz advised the banker to forward the letter to Finance Senator Peter Tschentscher without further comment. On November 17, Hamburg tax officials and the tax administration decided to let the Warburg case lapse.

This could not be a coincidence, said Paus in the Bundestag. The left-wing politician Fabio De Masi, who shines in the Cum-Ex affair by astuteness, asked in the Bundestag, why Scholz advised at all to forward the Warburg letter, if everything was nevertheless only a matter of the tax office.

One insight on Wednesday is that Scholz knows what Teflon is. "You can have considerations," he answers vaguely. But he has had many conversations as mayor, he says. On the tip to forward the letter to the finance senator, he says tight-lipped: "It has been referred to the official channels. That’s always the proper procedure." There is often no subject or author in the Finance Minister’s sentences. Political responsibility is disposed of in passive constructions.

Suspicious – but tangible things are not there

If we follow Scholz’s version, as mayor he also had nothing to do with the donation to the SPD. In Hamburg, he said, there is a strict separation between the government and the party in order to exclude bribery of office holders as far as possible. However, Scholz was also head of the SPD in Hamburg until 2018.

According to Scholz’s version, a female tax official must have been primarily responsible for the Warburg decision – bearing in mind that Cum-Ex was a highly politicized case, this seems unlikely. The fact that Scholz, to put it kindly, did nothing to help clear up the case reinforces the suspicion that there is something to hide.

Namely, that Scholz, in order to avoid the possible bank failure and job loss, turned a blind eye, even though there was evidence that the bank had brazenly enriched itself at state expense. But there is a difference between unlikely and proven wrong.

According to the Green Party’s Lisa Paus, Scholz will probably not be summoned to the Finance Committee. That would make no sense for someone who could not remember anything. Or only if there are new facts.