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Wirecard scandal: Bundestag wants answers from government

  • July 29, 2020

Not all of Germany’s parliamentarians are enjoying their two-month summer break. The 41 members of the finance committee are meeting today to fire questions at Finance Minister Olaf Scholz and Economy Minister Peter Altmaier. Each is expected to sit for one hour before the committee.

The closed-door session is being viewed more as a starting point than a moment for any bombshell revelations. Committee members want to know what and how much the ministers knew about  Wirecard’s fraud, when they knew it and why their ministries failed to pursue repeated credible accusations of the company’s wrongdoing.

“I don’t see signs of an intentional effort to look the other way,” Green committee member Danyal Bayaz told public broadcaster, Bayerischer Rundfunk. “But I do see carelessness in how the matter was handled.”

Both ministers have said they are committed to full transparency in the case, which Scholz has called ”an unparalleled scandal” and a blow to Germany’s finance reputation.

“The only approach here is to keep on top of the investigation to ensure that everything gets clarified,” Scholz told public broadcaster ZDF.

A promise of the full truth

Scholz is under fire for potentially having knowledge of problems at Wirecard months before the company admitted to inflating its books by €1.9 billion($2.2 billion), which led to it filing for insolvency at the end of June as well as the arrests of CEO Markus Braun and other executives on charges of commercial fraud. Investigators in Bavaria, where Wirecard has its headquarters, say the total fraud may amount to €3.2 billion, which was borrowed to cover unreported losses.

Germany’s financial regulator, BaFin, which falls under Scholz’s Finance Ministry, has also been criticized for failing to investigate Wirecard. In some instances, BaFin opened investigations into accusers, including the British newspaper Financial Times, which first raised a red flag in January 2019.

A special inquiry?

More than grilling the ministers, finance committee members are tasked with deciding whether to establish a special inquiry. That would allow them to call witnesses and investigate the affair more deeply.

In a survey for the German magazine Der Spiegel, more than three-quarters of respondents said they support a parliamentary investigation into the German government’s role in the Wirecard scandal. A number of parliamentarians are also in favor.

“The government has not properly informed the Bundestag,” committee member Florian Toncar of the business-friendly Free Democrats told Bayerischer Rundfunk. “The matter is well worth an investigative committee.”

For an investigation to get off the ground, it would need the support of committee members from both the opposition and the government coalition’s parties. It would also have an expiration date: Germany’s next general election in September 2021.

That would likely keep Wirecard in the news through the election campaign. Scholz, who in addition to being finance minister is also Angela Merkel’s vice chancellor. He is also considered to be a top choice for the Social Democrats’ chancellor candidate.

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