The German finance minister has been subjected to an attempt to secretly 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 payment company, once high, last summer sent shockwaves through the German financial and political elite. A frightening parliamentary inquiry has revealed several regulatory failures and led to the departure of the heads of three oversight agencies.
Days before Friday’s last parliamentary debate on the committee’s final report, the finance minister said one of his senior officials had tried to intervene in the work of the investigation in preparation for the question by Munich Chief Prosecutor Hildegard Bäumler-Hösl, key witness.
The government revealed this in a written response to a question posed by Fabio De Masi, MP for the left-wing Die Linke party, which was seen by the Financial Times.
The ministerial official has not been named, but can be identified by the description of his role, as Reinhard Wolpers, the head of stability at the subdivision’s financial market. Wolpers is one of three finance minister employees who are members of BaFin’s board of directors. The finance minister declined to comment on his identity.
During the period scheduled for the Bäumler-Hösl interrogation in January, Wolpers approached then-BaFin vice-president Elisabeth Roegele and asked her to provide questions for Bäumler-Hösl which he then forwarded to parliamentarians.
The government does not have a constitutional role in the investigation, which is pursued by parliament and which has similar powers to a tribunal. On the other hand, Roegele was also named as a witness and had not even been questioned by parliamentarians at that point. She was forced out of her job by the government alongside President Felix Hufeld in late January.
“The behavior of the Wolpers is a clear violation of the rules,” De Masi told the Financial Times, adding that the government official showed a “lack of respect for the Bundestag.”
BaFin and Munich prosecutors are engaging in a game of guilt over the controversial 2019 short sale ban that investors have viewed as a vote of confidence in the unfortunate company. BaFin imposed the ban after receiving information from Munich prosecutors about an alleged imminent short-selling attack against Wirecard.
Several BaFin employees told lawmakers that Munich prosecutors had said the information was highly credible. Bäumler-Hösl denied this and said she had just forwarded it 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 elections.
The finance minister publicly rebuked the watchdog for banning short selling, saying it was based on poor and insufficient analysis.
The minister’s response to De Masi revealed that Wolpers approached Roegele by email and text messages days before Bäumler-Hösl’s testimony. The ministry said Wolpers “acted on his own personal initiative and did not coordinate with other employees of the finance minister.” He added that the executive level “at no point” was informed about the behavior, but took note only of the matter because of De Masi’s investigation.
“The communication of [our] The employee with Ms Roegele was ultimately without result, as Ms Roegele did not submit such suggestions for questions, ”the minister said, adding that“ no information ”had been passed on to members of the committee. investigation by the ministry.
Lisa Paus, Green MP, said that “the authority of the finance ministry” has been abused for the political interest of the Social Democrats. “It’s an absolute no-go.”
Florian Toncar, MP for the Free Democrats in favor of the companies, said he would be “very surprised” that Wolpers’ actions were “not approved or even demanded by the top level of the ministry”.
Jens Zimmermann, the SPD’s leader for the investigation, said he was unable to comment on internal procedures at the ministry “because I have no idea [into them]”, Adding that his only contact was with the ministry’s official representatives on the committee. “I have not received any suggestions for potential questions to Ms Bäumler-Hösl,” Zimmermann said.
Wolpers and Roegele did not respond to FT requests for comment. Munich prosecutors declined to comment.