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It has something of déjà vu – in several respects: not only that Chancellor Olaf Scholz takes the seat of his old mayor on the Hamburg Cum-Ex Committee of the Citizenship. His ability to remember is also reminiscent of previous performances.

Olaf Scholz is on time. At 2:02 p.m., the chancellor greeted both the SPD chairman of the Hamburg parliament’s parliamentary inquiry committee on the “Cum-Ex” scandal and the secretary and CDU chairman with a handshake before taking his usual seat in the plenary. . hall of the town hall on Friday. “I am happy to be back in Hamburg after a long time, especially in this square,” said the former mayor of Hamburg, opening his second appearance before the committee.

This time again, as a witness, he will help clarify whether he or other leading SPD politicians had any influence on the tax treatment of the Warburg Bank, which was involved in the “Cum-Ex” scandal. Declaring his profession as a lawyer before the commission, Chancellor Scholz first denounced “cum-ex” transactions in general – “that’s nothing more than tax fraud” – and then went on to emphasize that he has devoted his entire political life to a fair tax system .

Three encounters with Warburg bankers

It only takes him a few minutes to repeat what he said during his first interrogation in April last year. “I had no influence on Warburg’s tax process.” This time he adds that he hopes that the assumptions and innuendo, which are “supported by nothing and no one”, are now slowly coming to an end.

The background to the opposition’s allegations is three meetings between Scholz and Warburg Bank shareholders Christian Olearius and Max Warburg in 2016 and 2017. After the first meeting, the Hamburg tax authorities had to recover wrongly recovered capital gains tax, despite originally having different plans from 47 million euros against the bank. A year later, another €43 million was recovered, shortly before the statute of limitations expired and on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Finance.

Scholz admitted to the meetings during his first interrogation in April last year, but stated he could not remember the contents. That is still the case, the chancellor says. At the same time, he emphasizes that he finds meetings between mayor and bankers appropriate. In addition, the commission’s investigations have since confirmed exactly what he said at the time: “There has been no political interference of any kind.”

“I don’t want to,” replies Scholz

Scholz rejects CDU MP Götz Wiese’s question whether his advice to Olearius was influential in sending a letter about the bank’s situation to then-senator for finance and current mayor Peter Tschentscher (SPD). “Can you justify that?” asked Wiese. “You don’t have to,” Scholz replies. “I’m asking you to do that,” Wiese digs in. “I don’t want to,” Scholz replies.

After Olearius sent the letter to Tschentscher, he forwarded the letter to the tax authorities with a “request for information about the situation”.

Just as in April, the MPs are finding it extremely difficult to deal with the witness Scholz. They question him over and over and they always get the same answers: he can’t remember, he doesn’t know, he doesn’t know. Again and again: “It makes no sense if we speculate here together.”

stern editor-in-chief explains the Cum-Ex investigation on Olaf Scholz (video)

Absurd interrogation

The absurdity of the interrogation becomes apparent when CDU chairman Richard Seelmaecker asks the chancellor whether the chancellor is prepared to hunt down his lost memories under hypnosis. “Thank you for caricaturing the state of this research myself,” Scholz says, but “please leave this hocus-pocus aside.”

Even without a concrete memory, it is clear to him: “There was no preferential treatment for Mr. Warburg or Mr. Olearius.” Scholz also emphasizes: “The Free Hanseatic City has not suffered any financial damage in this case.” The tax debts had been recovered and paid – in 2016, however, it was not yet clear that this was possible. The redemption was not made until later after a corresponding court decision and Warburg Bank is still taking legal action against this.

The controversial meetings between Scholz and Olearius are said to have been initiated by the then SPD member of the Bundestag Johannes Kahrs and the former SPD domestic senator Alfons Pawelczyk. According to members of the Hamburg investigative committee, investigation files show that more than 200,000 euros in cash was found in a Kahrs safe. Scholz says he doesn’t know about the locker, what’s in it, or where the money came from. Kahrs, who is under investigation for complicity in tax evasion, has so far remained silent about the origin of the money.

Olaf Scholz is satisfied after the hearing

After about three and a half hours of interrogation, Chancellor Scholz is satisfied. “It was a very interesting hearing today.” It was also very good and brought very clear results, namely that there was no interference. “I admit I was prepared for the fact that it would take longer. But the fact that it was very fast and energetic also speaks for the fact that everything is now on the table.”

However, the opposition sees it differently. “Of course it was short. He had memory hole after memory hole after memory hole,” Wiese says. That’s disappointing. “Today, Olaf Scholz has not contributed to the clarification of this case.” Left chairman Norbert Hackbusch takes a similar view: “I think the chancellor has been unable (…) to help.”

The Chancellor’s second appearance was originally planned to conclude the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry. The disclosure of the results of the investigation by the Cologne Public Prosecutor’s Office, which is investigating the Warburg Bank’s “Cum-Ex” transactions, and press releases about previously kept secret minutes of a statement by Scholz in 2020 before the financial commission of the Bundestag have raised many new questions.

CDU and Linke want to hear Scholz for the third time and expand the committee’s investigation to include the “Cum-Ex” transactions of the former Landesbank HSH Nordbank. Then the head of the Chancellor, Wolfgang Schmidt, who has been Chancellor Scholz’s close friend for years, must also be summoned.

this / Markus Klemm and Martin Fischer

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