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Weekend Reads Committee of Inquiry: The Wirecard investigation begins with Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg

20:20  09 october  2020
20:20  09 october  2020 Source:   wiwo.de

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The political reappraisal of the largest German accounting scandal begins. It could be very uncomfortable for some top politicians. For example for the fallen CSU star who doesn't want to be in the limelight.

Die politische Aufarbeitung des größten deutschen Bilanzskandals beginnt. Für einige Spitzenpolitiker könnte es sehr unangenehm werden. Zum Beispiel für den gefallenen CSU-Star, der eher nicht ins Rampenlicht möchte. © dpa The political reappraisal of the largest German accounting scandal begins. It could be very uncomfortable for some top politicians. For example for the fallen CSU star who doesn't want to be in the limelight.

Time is short, the electoral term will end in a year, and yet the Bundestag has set itself another mammoth task for the next few months. On this Thursday afternoon, the committee of inquiry into Wirecard fraud, the largest accounting fraud scandal in recent economic history, starts. The question is who bears the political responsibility for the fact that the payment service provider has apparently been monitored far too carefully by the supervisory authorities for far too long, despite information and media reports on irregularities.

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The group is now insolvent, a suspected key figure on the run, investors feel cheated and complain. The Munich public prosecutor's office is investigating. And EY's Wirecard auditors face massive criticism of why they did not recognize 1.9 billion euros in trust accounts for what they were: air bookings.

Politically, the scandal puts the Federal Finance Minister and SPD candidate for Chancellor Olaf Scholz in the most distress. He is responsible for supervising BaFin's financial supervisors. Scholz has therefore been on the offensive for several weeks. On Wednesday, one day before the constituent committee meeting, he announced his “action plan”, which not only contains BaFin reforms, but also stricter rules for auditors. This includes, among other things, a stricter separation of the audit and consulting business and a stricter upper limit of ten years for audit mandates.

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This Scholzsche Wirecard plan still sounds all too much like an application for a review to your own ministerial administration: let's see what's going on. But the Finance Minister and Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht (SPD) want to get the relevant laws in motion quickly. Economics Minister Peter Altmaier (CDU), who is responsible for the legal supervision of the Apas auditors' control body, has so far been - to put it mildly - skeptical about these plans.

It is "certainly not a coincidence" that Scholz presented his plan of action exactly one day before the first meeting of the committee of inquiry, says FDP finance politician Florian Toncar. "His suggestions are intended to simulate a willingness to act, but they are little more than a catchphrase with numerous non-binding test orders." Toncar says that a bad conscience oozes out of every pore. “It is actually a rescue plan for the Chancellor candidate.”

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But the Wirecard investigation is not only for Scholz and Altmaier at least a bit uncomfortable. The list of witnesses who want to hear the FDP, the Greens and the Left, and which was first reported by the ZDF, includes many names from the first line of politics: Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) as well as Bavaria's Prime Minister Markus Söder (CSU).

The MPs also want to invite FT journalist Dan McCrum to the second session at the end of October, who was instrumental in uncovering the scandal with his research. The insolvency administrator, who is currently holding all the strings at Wirecard, should also be contacted.

The committee wants to start the witness questioning properly at the beginning of November. First, it could be about an aspect of the affair that requires little previous study of files: Chancellor Merkel's visit to China in autumn 2019, during which she promoted the company - although doubts about business practices were already known. In this context, a former minister of economics and defense is to be interviewed, whose name has recently been mentioned more frequently in political Berlin, mostly in the context of somewhat questionable lobbying interests: Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg.

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Two days before Merkel's trip, zu Guttenberg had a personal conversation with Merkel about Wirecard and is said to have acted as a lobbyist for the company. Now the former CSU hopeful is at the top of the witness list. Merkel's economic advisor Lars-Hendrik Röller will also be asked about the trip, as will Wolfgang Schmidt, State Secretary in the Ministry of Finance and one of Olaf Scholz's closest confidants.

Meanwhile, an expert report by the Bundestag's scientific service points to another massive BaFin problem. Financial supervision employees could trade in shares of a supervised company, and in the case of Wirecard they actually did so. That not only raises serious compliance and independence issues - it would not be possible in many other countries either. At least that is how it becomes clear in the paper of the Scientific Service. The rules of the British authorities, in Switzerland and also in the USA are stricter than those of the German authorities. "BaFin is a toothless tiger, even in-house," criticizes FDP financial expert Frank Schäffler.

After all: In the meantime, employees are prohibited from doing financial transactions until further notice. The Ministry of Finance wants to tighten the regulations there too.

More on the topic: Why the financial supervisory authority cannot talk its way out of the Wirecard scandal

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