German election updates

Olaf Scholz, the frontrunner to succeed Angela Merkel in this month’s German election, is due to be asked by MPs about a money laundering scandal as his rivals sniff the opportunity to nibble the EU’s lead. social democrat in the polls.

Scholz, whose SPD is currently well ahead of the center-right CDU / CSU with the Greens in third place and the Free Liberal Democrats in fourth, will appear before the Bundestag’s finance committee on September 20, just days before the elections for a week on Sunday. .

In recent days, the CDU / CSU has opened a new front in its campaign to stop the rise of the Social Democrats. Party leaders focused on three scandals that shed an unflattering light on Scholz, German finance minister and German vice-chancellor – the collapse of disgraced payment company Wirecard, cum-ex tax evasion and irregularities of the Financial Intelligence Unit, Germany’s leading anti-money laundering agency.

“When you see how many financial scandals he’s involved in. . . people are starting to wonder if Olaf Scholz is really the right chancellor for Germany, ”said Friedrich Merz, CDU / CSU main spokesperson on economic policy.

The SPD retaliated, along with Lars Klingbeil, the party’s general secretary, accusing Armin Laschet, the CDU / CSU candidate for chancellor, of having “deliberately distorted the facts, distorted the truth and spread lies in order to personally harm Olaf Scholz “.

The latest CDU / CSU campaign focuses on searches carried out last week by prosecutors at the Berlin finance ministry as part of an investigation into allegations of obstruction of justice at the FIU. They are investigating whether the unit’s employees have passed on bank warnings about possible money laundering to the police.

Scholz criticized the raids, saying prosecutors could have put their questions to the ministry “in writing.” They had decided to do it in a different way “and everyone can interpret that for themselves,” he said. Some SPD members privately saw a political motive behind the raids.

This elicited an angry reaction from the CDU / CSU. “If he accuses justice of dubious motives, he deliberately undermines [its] as the third independent pillar of our rule of law, ”said Hans Michelbach, senior member of the CSU and member of the Bundestag’s finance committee.

But the CRF investigation is just one of many cases that the CDU / CSU hope can tarnish Scholz’s reputation in the eyes of voters. Another is cum-ex tax evasion, a set of stock transactions that stole billions of euros of revenue from the German Treasury. In 2016, while Scholz was mayor of Hamburg, the tax administration opted not to demand the repayment of € 47 million in tax arrears to Warburg Bank, which had been involved in some of the cumulative transactions. ex.

Opposition in Hamburg accuses Scholz of influencing the tax administration to drop the bill and points to three meetings he held with one of Warburg’s owners, Christian Olearius. Scholz, who dismissed the charge of political interference as a “scary unfounded story”, says he no longer remembers what he and Olearius talked about.

The third line of attack concerns Wirecard. German financial watchdog BaFin has come under heavy criticism for failing to detect irregularities within the payment company and for prosecuting journalists who exposed the fraud. Opposition MPs say Scholz bears political responsibility for the failures of BaFin ‘, which is overseen by his ministry.

Scholz said he reacted to the scandal by reforming and strengthening the German system of financial supervision, introducing new strict rules for auditors and changing the management of BaFin.

But the CDU / CSU still sees Wirecard as a useful weapon in its campaign against Scholz. “Millions of small investors have lost a lot of money because of your inability to organize adequate supervision,” Laschet said during last Sunday’s televised debate between the candidates. “You bear the responsibility. ”

However, it is not known if the tactic works. An instant viewer poll after the televised debate revealed that Scholz had won it, with 32% of them considering he had the best results, 26% for green candidate Annalena Baerbock and just 20% for Laschet.