Berlin under fire for trying to interfere with Wirecard investigation

Germany’s finance ministry has come under fire for an attempt to covertly interfere with the questioning of a key witness during a parliamentary inquiry into Wirecard, a potential violation of parliamentary etiquette.

The collapse of the German payments company last summer sent shock waves through the German financial and political elite. A parliamentary inquiry uncovered multiple regulatory failures and led to the departure of the heads of three control agencies.

A few days before Friday’s last parliamentary debate on the commission’s final report, the finance ministry revealed that one of its senior officials tried to interfere in the work of the investigation ahead of the interrogation. Munich Chief Prosecutor Hildegard Bäumler-Hösl, a key witness.

The government revealed this in a written response to a question posed by Fabio De Masi, a member of the far-left Die Linke party, which was seen by the Financial Times.

The ministerial official has not been appointed, but can be identified by the description of his role, such as Reinhard Wolpers, the head of the financial market stability subdivision. Wolpers is one of three Ministry of Finance employees who are members of the BaFin board of directors. The finance ministry declined to comment on his identity.

Ahead of Bäumler-Hösl’s questioning in January, Wolpers approached BaFin Vice-President Elisabeth Roegele and asked her to provide questions to Bäumler-Hösl which he would then pass on to MPs.

The government has no constitutional role in the inquiry, which is conducted by parliament and has powers comparable to those of a court. Moreover, Roegele was also named as a witness and had not yet been questioned by MPs at that time. She was forced to quit her job by the government alongside President Felix Hufeld at the end of January.

“Wolpers’ behavior is a flagrant violation of the rules,” De Masi told the Financial Times, adding that the government official had shown “lack of respect for the Bundestag”.

BaFin and Munich prosecutors are embroiled in a blame game over the controversial 2019 short-selling ban that investors saw as a vote of confidence in the disgraced company. BaFin imposed the ban after receiving information from Munich prosecutors about an allegedly imminent short-selling attack on Wirecard.

Several BaFin employees told MPs that Munich prosecutors said the information was highly credible. Bäumler-Hösl denied this and said she had just passed it on to BaFin without commenting on its validity.

The ban on short sales is potentially toxic for German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, who is the Social Democrats’ candidate for chancellor in the September federal election.

The Finance Department publicly berated the watchdog for the short sale ban, saying it was based on poor and insufficient analysis.

The ministry’s response to De Masi revealed that Wolpers contacted Roegele via email and text a few days before Bäumler-Hösl’s testimony. The ministry said Wolpers “acted on his own personal initiative and did not coordinate with other finance ministry employees.” He added that the executive level “at no time” was made aware of the behavior but only became aware of the case due to De Masi’s investigation.

“The communication of [our] employee with Ms Roegele was ultimately to no avail, as Ms Roegele did not submit such suggestions for questions, “the ministry said, adding that” no information “was passed on to members of the commission of inquiry. of the ministry.

Lisa Paus, Green MP, said that “the authority of the Ministry of Finance” has been hijacked in favor of the political interests of the Social Democrats. “It is an absolute lawlessness. ”

Florian Toncar, a pro-business Free Democrats MP, said it would be “very surprising” if Wolpers’ actions were “not approved or even requested by senior ministry officials”.

Jens Zimmermann, the SPD’s representative at the investigation, said he was unable to comment on the ministry’s internal procedures “because I have no idea [into them]», Adding that his only contact was with the official representatives of the ministry within the committee. “I did not receive any suggestion of potential questions to Ms Bäumler-Hösl,” Zimmermann said.

Wolpers and Roegele did not respond to requests for comment from the FT. Munich prosecutors declined to comment.

About Norma Wade

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