German elections: is SPD vice-chancellor Olaf Scholz facing a smear campaign? | Germany | In-depth news and reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW

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On Monday morning there will be a closed-door meeting of the Bundestag’s finance committee. This is what is on the agenda of the German parliament for this coming week. On the program: A “conversation” with the Minister of Finance and the Social Democratic candidate (SPD) leading the federal election list, Olaf Scholz.

The committee is due to discuss what is behind the police raid on the SPD-led ministries of finance and justice that took place on September 9.

The opposition parties Free Democrats (FDP), Left and Greens called for the meeting. But the Christian Democrats (CDU) led by Chancellor Angela Merkel, and their sister Bavarian party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), which currently form a grand governing coalition with the SPD, seemed only too happy to ‘accept.

The Ministry of Finance in Berlin was raided on September 9

A raid and its interpretation

It’s a politically explosive story that unfolds on many different levels. Apparently, these are investigations carried out by Osnabrück city prosecutors into the Cologne-based Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), which is responsible for investigating money laundering and terrorist financing. . The FIU has regularly failed in its task because it is poorly positioned in terms of staff and organization. The workload of the FIU has increased considerably in recent years. In 2020, the FIU received 144,000 reports of suspicious financial transactions from banks – it only forwarded 17% to police or prosecutors.

The FIU is a branch of the customs authority, which is part of the Ministry of Finance. As Minister of Finance, Scholz is the legal supervisor of the FIU, which means it is his responsibility to ensure that the FIU operates as the law requires. Operationally, however, the unit acts independently of the ministry.

Osnabrück prosecutors have been investigating FIU employees for obstructing justice since February 2020. The investigation was sparked by a report from a bank in Osnabrück that noticed money transfers to places in Africa totaling 1.7 million euros ($ 2 million) that the bank suspected may be linked to terrorist financing. The bank reported its suspicions to the FIU, but the latter did not forward the case to the relevant investigative authorities.

So far, investigators have been unable to identify specific suspects. The intention of the raid earlier this month was to secure emails between the FIU and the Ministry of Finance, to obtain the names of those responsible for the FIU. This is also stated in the search warrant.

However, during the search, the Osnabrück prosecutor’s office issued a press release giving the impression that Olaf Scholz was also under investigation. According to the press release, the purpose of the searches was to further clarify an alleged criminal offense and in particular individual responsibilities, and further: “Among other things, it will be considered whether and, if so, to what extent the leadership , as well as the heads of ministries, as well as higher departments, were involved in the decisions of the FIU. “

Saskia Esken

SPD co-chair Saskia Esken criticized Berlin finance ministry raid “inappropriate”

Was the raid politically motivated?

For the SPD, the thing is clear. The party assumes the raid is part of a conspiracy and accuses the CDU of a political smear campaign ahead of the general election, in which opinion polls see Olaf Scholz in front of his conservative rival, Armin Laschet.

They point to the fact that the chief prosecutor in Osnabrück was formerly president of the CDU in a town in Lower Saxony and head of the office of the Ministry of Justice managed by the CDU in Lower Saxony at the time. This person remains active in politics today, as vice-president of the parliament of the Land of Lower Saxony.

To clarify the discrepancy between the search warrant ordered by the judge and the press release, Scholz’s finance secretary, Wolfgang Schmidt, posted part of the warrant on Twitter. However, this is not legally permitted and Schmidt is currently under investigation into this matter. His Tweet has been deleted from the platform.

SPD co-chair Saskia Esken defended Schmidt. The publication of the warrant was “necessary because the press release from the public prosecutor was grossly negligent,” she said in a radio interview. The inquiries were not directed against Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, she said and argued that the press release had created a “false impression”.

Esken criticized the raid as “inappropriate”. Several media and legal experts believe that the prosecution’s approach was not proportionate to the case. Prosecutors could also have obtained the information they were looking for over the phone or online, according to critics.

This opinion is also widely shared on social networks. There are heated discussions under the hashtag #CDUgate suggesting that the raid could backfire on the CDU – instead of damaging Scholz and the SPD – if it turns out that the timing of the election was more than a coincidence.

Confrontation in the finance committee?

But that would likely be difficult to prove, and it won’t be an immediate issue at Monday’s finance committee meeting.

Moreover, lawmakers want to hear from Olaf Scholz what he knew about the shortcomings of the FIU. This case has already played a central role in investigations into the Wirecard scandal earlier this year, in which Scholz and Merkel came under scrutiny. Market of the Free Democratic Party (FDP), “inconvenient for someone who wants to become chancellor”.

The questioning that Scholz will face on Monday will be uncomfortable to say the least. He is also interrupting his campaign tour. Scholz first tried to prevent this. He told the committee that he was traveling in southern Germany and therefore could only be available by videoconference. But the parliamentarians on the committee were not prepared to accept this.

Scholz could be forced to appear in person if the finance committee summons him on Monday. In that case, the session would be adjourned and Scholz would be forced to travel to Berlin – in all haste.

This article was translated from German.

While you’re here: Every Tuesday, DW’s editors summarize what’s going on in German politics and society, with the aim of understanding this year’s elections and beyond. You can sign up for the weekly Berlin Briefing email newsletter here, to stay abreast of developments as Germany enters the post-Merkel era.


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