GERMAN CANCELLER OLAF “OMINOUS” SCHOLZ IN THE CUM EX TURMOIL

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Zuspruch und Kritik für Kanzlerkandidat Scholz - PilatusToday

OLAF “OMINOUS” SCHOLZ ABOUT THE VAX: “Fifty million have now been vaccinated twice. We were all guinea pigs for those who waited until now. So as one of those 50 million, I say – it went well! Please join us.”

In what is probably the biggest tax scandal in German history, the “Association of Foreign Banks in Germany” (VAB) has now also come under the scrutiny of the Cologne public prosecutor’s office. According to information from WDR Investigativ, the prosecutors, together with officials from the State Criminal Police Office, searched the Frankfurt offices of the lobbying association last Tuesday. In doing so, the prosecutors are not investigating employees of the association itself, but were looking for evidence against the accused banks and consultants.

The Cologne public prosecutor’s office confirmed the search upon request. “The measure served in particular to locate relevant communication in the form of e-mails and other written correspondence. Corresponding has also been seized for evaluation,” a spokesman for the authority said. The authority is not allowed to provide further information due to tax secrecy.

The association also confirmed the raid when asked. “The prosecutor’s allegations were not directed against the VAB, its bodies or employees. The VAB is of course cooperating with the investigating authorities and handed over all relevant documents,” wrote managing director Andreas Prechtel in a statement. According to the statement, the association does not participate in tax product design, nor does it advise institutions in tax matters. The association is merely a representative of interests, for example vis-à-vis the ministries of finance.

According to its own information, the lobby association represents the interests of around 200 foreign banks with branches in Germany – and is very well networked. Its members include numerous banks that have already hit the headlines because of the cum-ex scandal – such as the major Dutch bank ABN Amro, the French banks BNP Paribas and Caceis, Banco Santander, which is headquartered in Spain, and the U.S. Citigroup. The banks did not comment on the ongoing investigation in earlier reports. However, all assured to cooperate with the authorities.

Foreign banks play a particularly important role in what is probably Germany’s biggest tax scandal. Particularly since 2007, when a new law was introduced to stop the transactions. However, the new law only explicitly prevented cum-ex transactions that were conducted via German banks. Bankers and consultants interpreted the unsuccessful law in such a way that the grip into the treasury over foreign banks was permitted. One cum-ex insider described this law as a “fire accelerator.” From then on, numerous foreign banks helped themselves to the German treasury.Two years later, a whistleblower warned the Federal Ministry of Finance that the 2007 changes may have been well-intentioned, but poorly done. “Foreign banks and hedge funds are systematically fleecing the German treasury with its consent!” the whistleblower wrote. The damage amounted to twelve billion euros. The ministry was now alarmed and immediately planned to close the alleged loophole with new rules.

But it was during these consultations that the ministry sought the opinion of the banking industry. Among others, the Association of Foreign Banks, which represented some banks that apparently earned a lot of money from the transactions themselves, was also involved. The VAB confirmed its participation in the consultations upon request. In its function as a lobbyist, it is regularly asked by specialized ministries to submit comments, it said. “This was also the case in the BMF letter from 2009. “According to the investigators’ findings, however, the association was not only in exchange with its members, the foreign banks, but also with Cum-Ex key figures such as renowned tax lawyers from the large law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and the law firm Dewey & LeBoeuf. Tax lawyer Hanno Berger, who is regarded by many as “Mr. Cum-Ex” in the scandal, worked for the latter law firm, among others.

According to research by WDR Investigativ, on March 27, 2009, the association sent Hanno Berger’s assessment, partly verbatim, as a statement to the Federal Ministry of Finance. According to the statement, the planned new regulation was “simply unconstitutional. At the end of the consultations in 2009 between the federal government and the industry, there was once again a regulation that was not suitable for putting an end to tax theft. The deals continued for more than two years.Law enforcement officials are now investigating more than a thousand defendants. Among them are numerous employees of well-known foreign banks. A first judgement before the regional court Bonn, after the Cum-Ex business was punishable from the outset, was confirmed in the meantime by the Federal High Court (BGH).The presiding BGH judge Rolf space clarified: “Only a tax actually paid can be asserted opposite the tax authorities.” He added that the transactions practiced were neither legal structuring possibilities nor the mere exploitation of a legal loophole. “Rather,” the BGH judge said, “it was a matter of a naked grab into the coffers into which all taxpayers normally pay.”

The Bundestag election was preceded by an attention-grabbing scandal. Olaf Scholz is involved in the biggest financial scandal in the Federal Republic. The Frankfurt Higher Regional Court described the Cum-Ex transactions, in which the players used tricks to have capital gains taxes paid out to them several times over, as “commercial gang fraud”. However, the main topics of discussion were Annalena Baerbock’s plagiarism and Armin Laschet’s laughter. Scholz only had to remain silent and do nothing to win the election – also because his opponents did not accept the challenge and did not confront him.

Still, he has no reason to breathe a sigh of relief. One man in particular could pose a threat to him: Christian Olearius, partner and managing director of the Hamburg-based private bank M.M. Warburg. Starting in 2007, Warburg Bank scammed a sum of money in the triple-digit millions with cum-ex transactions. Scholz is suspected of having deliberately waived the bank’s right to reclaim the loot. If journalist Oliver Schröm, who has read Olearius’ diaries, is to be believed, the banker is a “mastermind” who could lash out and spill the beans. If Scholz were then chancellor, the Federal Republic would have a chancellor who could be blackmailed. But more on that later.

The Cum-Ex scandal is not catchy, therefore it went down in the public between all the excitementlappalien. Oliver Schröm is also aware of this. The investigative journalist has been instrumental in uncovering the financial scandal for the past eight years. The publicization of Scholz’s involvement is also thanks to him and his team. Now he has written a book about his research, which he presented on Wednesday evening at the Berlin Volksbühne together with the business journalist Ulrike Herrmann from the taz and the left-wing politician and financial expert Fabio De Masi: “Die Cum-Ex-Files. The raid of bankers, lawyers and super-rich – and how I got on their trail” (Ch.Links Verlag, 368 pages, 18 euros).

The book advertised by the publishing house as ?restaurant thriller? is to be wished many readers, because it clears up comprehensively and carries at the same time unterhaltsame translation work out for normal consumers. Basically Cum-Ex is easy to explain, says Oliver Schröm in the discussion round at the Volksbühne. In the case of the diesel scandal, one does not need to know how the defeat device works in detail, with which VW manipulated the exhaust values of its diesel vehicles. The only thing that matters is that VW deliberately cheated. It is similar with Cum-Ex. The tricks and methods of the financial jugglers are full of intricate details, but in essence, all you need to know is that it is theft. Or, as Schröm puts it, “tax robbery” – a term of art that probably does not exist in case law, but which sums up the essence of Cum-Ex.

How the fraud scheme works
Cum-Ex is not a classic form of tax evasion, where someone hides their money in an offshore island state to avoid paying taxes. Rather, here an actor actively reaches into the state treasury and takes that tax money of the citizens, which is supposed to serve the community. A sentence by Hanno Berger, one of the main players in the Cum-Ex scandal, puts it in a nutshell: “If you can’t identify with the fact that fewer kindergartens are being built in Germany because we’re doing this kind of business, then you’re in the wrong place,” he is said to have told his colleagues.

Roughly summarized, banks and players such as Berger have had capital gains taxes that were only paid once repaid several times. To this end, large packages of shares with (“cum”) and without (“ex”) dividend entitlement were shifted back and forth in rapid succession around the record date for the distribution. As a result of the purposefully opaque transactions, the tax authorities lost track of the situation. Fabio De Masi, who made a name for himself with his energetic work in the Hamburg investigative committee, likes to draw a vivid comparison for this process: “I copy a deposit receipt at home, go straight to the supermarket checkout and redeem the receipt, even though I didn’t hand over any bottles.”

But how can it possibly be that the tax authorities do not notice when actors have their taxes paid out several times? The answer is simple: Germany is roughly at Windows 95 level when it comes to digitization. There are five outdated data centers that are not networked with each other and therefore cannot compare whether capital gains tax has been paid out more than once. Setting up a modern IT system would be nothing financially compared to the losses caused by tax theft, but the political will is lacking.

The worldwide damage caused by Cum-Ex, Cum-Cum (a less complex form of tax robbery) and comparable fraud schemes is said to be 150 billion euros, and in Germany alone around 31.8 billion euros were stolen from taxpayers. Fabio De Masi also likes to draw a comparison here: with this, one could invest one million euros in each of the approximately 30,000 schools in Germany.

When it comes to “political will,” there is no way around Olaf Scholz and the Hamburg private bank M.M. Warburg, the main topic on opening night at the Volksbühne. From 2007, the Warburg Bank made profits in the hundreds of millions through Cum-Ex transactions. After Cum-Ex was declared criminal, Hamburg’s tax authorities simply let reclaims of 47 million euros against the private bank lapse in 2016. In 2017, however, the bank was to be exempted from reclaims again, this time amounting to 43 million euros – but at the time, the Federal Ministry of Finance intervened and asked the Hamburg tax office not to allow the reclaim to become time-barred again.

The suspicion of political influence is in the room. Scholz met Warburg boss Olearius a total of three times. The then SPD district chairman in Hamburg-Mitte, Johannes Kahrs, and the SPD grandee Alfons Pawelczyk, who is well known in Hamburg, are said to have helped Olearius get a meeting. Kahrs also received a donation of 45,500 euros for his constituency from a subsidiary of Warburg Bank.

Scholz received Olearius in his office. It was not an easy appointment to get – Olearius, who was already under investigation for serious tax evasion at the time, was granted the appointment virtually overnight. De Masi and Schröm can only speculate about the motive of the mayor at the time. “You can’t win an election in Hamburg against the Elbchaussee,” Scholz is said to have said once in a familiar circle. The Elbchaussee is a posh area where Hamburg’s most influential businessmen sit. Which means: You don’t mess with the powerful Warburg Bank. For Scholz, who did not enrich himself in the Cum-Ex affair, the story was probably a strategic power consideration in the sense of a Hanseatic “one hand washes the other.

Scholz was prepared for the first meeting in terms of content, and Olearius also presented him with a seven-page paper containing bogus arguments as to why his bank should be exempted from the reclaims, for example because the bank would otherwise allegedly go bankrupt (which is demonstrably not true). That’s like a bank robber saying he couldn’t return his loot because otherwise he would be broke.

As mayor, Scholz was not allowed to interfere in such sensitive tax matters. But a few days later, he proactively called Olearius and advised him to send the seven-page paper “without comment” (presumably so that Scholz could not be proven to be involved) to the then Finance Senator and now Mayor Peter Tschentscher. Tschentscher passed the paper on to his office, but noted in green ink that he wanted to be kept up to date: “With the request for information on the state of affairs. Just eight days later, Olearius received the news that the city would not be demanding the 47 million back after all.

The public was not to know about any of this. As late as November 2019, the answer to a small question from the Left Party was that there had been no personal talks between senators and the Warburg Bank about the Cum-Ex proceedings. What the now aspiring chancellor had not reckoned with is that Olearius has kept a meticulous and highly disciplined diary for decades. The absurdity must be borne in mind: A bank boss involved in criminal activities writes down what he is up to on a daily basis. He has also recorded his meetings with Scholz.

Investigative journalist Oliver Schröm got hold of the diaries. In February 2020, shortly before the Hamburg parliamentary elections, he reported on a meeting between Scholz and Olearius. Which Scholz eventually admitted. However, the accusations of political influence were untrue, it was just a harmless meeting, he said. On March 4, he was summoned by the Finance Committee of the Bundestag around Fabio De Masi. The asked Scholz if there had been other meetings. According to De Masi, Scholz said that there was nothing except what was written in the press. At that time, the press reported one meeting, nothing about the other two meetings and Scholz’s call to Olearius. At another hearing in June, he concealed all that a second time.

But then the other two meetings became public, including the first one in Scholz’s office. One meeting took place in the presence of a speaker, the other two without witnesses. Lying and concealing before the committee is punishable by law. Scholz, who is a lawyer, affirmed that he could not remember the meetings – gaps in memory are not legally a lie. He has stuck to this version to this day. This is not credible, since the almost chancellor is considered to be a file-keeper with a good memory who is fond of details. Moreover, he remembers a harmless meeting with Olearius, but not the one about 47 million euros in tax refunds from an alleged criminal?

The story between Scholz and Olearius is long and complicated; a detailed account can be read here. To summarize: Scholz has repeatedly told the untruth, he has lied to parliament, and his alleged gaps in memory are extremely implausible. Legally, he has gotten away with it so far. Will it stay that way? Can the Cum-Ex affair still become dangerous for him, even cost him the chancellorship? That is also the big question at the book premiere evening at the Berlin Volksbühne.

The matter is far from settled, De Masi and Schröm agree. One important point is the current criminal investigation. Ms. P., the financial officer responsible for Warburg Bank at the time, spoke out in 2016 in favor of reclaiming the Cum-Ex funds, and suddenly she radically changed her mind. Ms. P. was summoned as a witness this year. The Hamburger Abendblatt wrote: “Witness exonerates Scholz and Tschentscher”.

But shortly after the federal election, Johannes Kahrs, Alfons Pawelczyk, the Hamburg tax office – and Ms. P.’s home were raided. She is accused of aiding and abetting, obstruction of justice, money laundering and embezzlement. Schröm says that all it would take would be to find one tiny detail and things would get really tight for Scholz. And there is always something.

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