Hamburg (dpa) – Federal Finance Minister Olaf Scholz has rejected any suspicion that, as mayor of Hamburg, he influenced the tax treatment of Warburg Bank, which was involved in the “Cum-Ex” scandal.
Although he could not recall the specific content of various meetings with the bank owners in 2016 and 2017 – at which the tax authorities for large companies in Hamburg demanded a total of around 90 million euros – he said on Friday before the parliamentary committee of inquiry into citizenship of Hamburg to the “Cum-Ex” affair. However, exercising influence would have been “political stupidity.” “I won’t,” said Scholz.
Other accusations are “baseless horror fairytales”. Tax evasion or tax fraud are “not trivial offenses,” stressed the SPD candidate chancellor. “These are serious crimes” because they deprive the state of financial resources for the common good. “Anyone who withdraws from this, as a private person or as a company, behaves very much in solidarity.”
The Commission of Inquiry was established after Scholz’s meetings with Warburg owners Max Warburg and Christian Olearius became known through the publication of diary entries in the press. The diaries belong to Olearius and had been confiscated in the course of the investigation against the banker on suspicion of serious tax evasion.
Scholz had initially denied the encounter – which Olearius had already been investigated for. Before the committee he justified his amnesia by the large number of conversations he had also had with companies as mayor. “My appointments were usually held without a break from 9am to 10pm,” he said. In addition, the conversations were “many years ago, and they were very eventful years for me”.
A review of his calendars later revealed that he received Olearius and Warburg at the town hall on September 7 and October 26, 2016 and called Olearius on November 9. Another meeting took place on November 10, 2017 in the town hall. But he could not comment on the content of the respective conversations.
Olearius and Warburg’s attorneys had stated before the committee that their clients had presented their legal advice to the mayor, according to which the taxes had already been paid by the bank and any further payment would endanger the traditional home. They also submitted a corresponding letter to Scholz.
Though he couldn’t say anything from his own memory, Scholz said. For him, however, it has been a habit for years at such meetings “that I do not normally comment on my assessment of the facts”. The fact that, according to the diary entry, he called Olearius a little later and asked him to send the newspaper directly and without further ado to the then Senator of Finance and current Mayor Peter Tschentscher (SPD) seems credible and underscores this practice. “It would be something I’ve done many times in my life: referring to the official channels.”
The tax authorities later withdrew an initial tax claim of EUR 47 million and initially barred it, with a further EUR 43 million being claimed after the federal Treasury Department intervened. The bank has now paid all claims, but this is not an admission of debt, as she emphasizes. Attempts are currently being made to recover the money through legal action.
How it came to the change of heart at the tax authorities, he couldn’t say, as decisions are made there independently, Scholz said. But: “I never had any influence on Warburg’s tax procedure.”