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Global Economy

Urgent questions for Scholz

In the tax affair surrounding the Hamburg Warburg Bank, Chancellor Olaf Scholz is once again the focus of attention. After the discovery of a large amount of cash from the former SPD member of the Bundestag Johannes Kahrs, the CDU, the left and the non-governmental organization Transparency International are demanding clarification from Scholz.

The former first mayor of Hamburg, Scholz, will testify again in the coming week before the Hamburg investigative committee on the "Cum-Ex" scandal, as confirmed by government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit. Opposition politicians demand that Scholz must comment on the discovery of large amounts of cash from one of his SPD comrades.

According to the left chairman Norbert Hackbusch, the investigation files available to the committee members show that more than 200,000 euros in cash were found in Kahrs' locker last September. An NDR reporter was also able to see documents proving that the money was found at Kahrs: exactly 214,800 euros and 2,400 US dollars.

"Even the Chancellor has a problem"

Former left-wing member of the Bundestag Fabio De Masi wrote on Twitter: "Either Kahrs proves the origin of the money, or he invokes his right to remain silent because of the Cum-Ex investigations against him." In the latter case, De Masi concluded, it stands to reason that the money was linked to the cum-ex case "and the chancellor has a problem too."

The question of whether there was political interference in a tax procedure must finally be answered, said the parliamentary manager of the Union Bundestag faction, Thorsten Frei (CDU), on Sunday of the "Bild". He expects complete transparency from Kahrs even after his time as a member of the Bundestag, said the parliamentary group leader of the Left in the Bundestag, Dietmar Bartsch, the "Spiegel".

The chairman of the anti-corruption organization Transparency International Germany, Hartmut Bäumer, asked Kahrs in the "Tagesspiegel" to disclose the origin of the money. Scholz and the First Mayor of Hamburg, Peter Tschentscher, are also responsible for helping to clarify the matter, he said.

Narrator: Didn't know about cash

Scholz himself did not know anything about a larger cash sum at Kahrs, his spokesman emphasized. He can rule that out. Nevertheless, the chancellor will once again have to take care of his Hamburg past. Because the investigative committee of the citizenship is trying to clarify whether there was any political influence on tax decisions when Scholz was the first mayor of the Hanseatic city (2011 to 2018).

The background: Shortly after Scholz and the co-owner of Warburg Bank, Christian Olearius, met, the tax authorities initially waived tax reclaims in the tens of millions. Later, the bank had to pay back more than 176 million euros in unjustly refunded taxes due to a court order.

The Warburg Bank was involved in the so-called "Cum-Ex" scandal. Financial players shifted blocks of shares around the dividend date in a complicated system in such a way that they were reimbursed for taxes they had never paid. At his first hearing before the committee in April 2021, Scholz denied any political influence in the case. However, he could no longer remember the talks with the shareholders of the bank. Kahrs is being investigated on suspicion of favoritism. Kahrs has not yet issued a statement.

Prosecutor's office: No sums of money seized

According to the responsible Cologne public prosecutor's office, "no cash amounts found" were secured. In general, this only works if there is a concrete suspicion that money comes from a criminal offense – and if it is expected that it will later be confiscated by the court. Law enforcement did not say if cash was found.

Although there is no connection to the bank with the money found, said Linken chairman Hackbusch. From Olearius' diaries and interviews in the committee, however, one knows "that Mr. Kahrs carried out many activities in connection with Mr. Olearius, knowing that he was already being investigated on suspicion of serious tax evasion".

Left: Finding cash raises questions

The cash find put Kahrs' commitment in a new light, said Hackbusch. "Why else should one have undertaken such activities in favor of a then already well-known tax robber?"

As a member of the Bundestag in Berlin, Kahrs was considered an accomplished string puller. As spokesman for his parliamentary group in the powerful Budget Committee, he regularly channeled public funds into his Hamburg constituency. After he failed in the race for the office of military commissioner, the spokesman for the more conservative SPD current Seeheimer Kreis resigned from all political offices.

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