Scholz Fends Off German Lawmaker Barbs Over Ministry Record
German Social Democratic chancellor hopeful Olaf Scholz told lawmakers that fighting money laundering is a key priority for him as he defended his record as finance minister at a parliamentary hearing probing this month’s raid on his office.
Prosecutors showed up at the finance ministry in Berlin on Sept. 9 and requested information as part of an investigation into whether officials at an anti-money laundering unit failed to handle cases correctly.
Scholz, who appears to have sidestepped any negative impact from the raid, said he had hired more staff for the Financial Intelligence Unit in question to help deal with a backlog of cases, according to a lawmaker present at Monday’s closed-door hearing who asked not to be identified.
No officials from the unit have been accused of wrongdoing and the ministry will cooperate closely with prosecutors, the lawmaker cited Scholz as telling the hearing. Scholz put his campaign on hold to attend the special session of the finance committee, which is taking place with just six days left until Sunday’s national vote.
Scholz reiterated to reporters after delivering his testimony that he had built up staffing numbers and improved IT processes as part of “continual efforts” to tackle money laundering more effectively.
“It’s a very complicated thing not being able to hold many planned events in the final week before the election,” said Scholz, who had been due to make several campaign stops in Baden-Wuerttemberg in the southwest. “But it’s something that all those involved pushed for as soon as the invitation to the committee was made.”
Scholz’s main rival for the chancellery, conservative Armin Laschet, has seized on the raid to accuse Scholz of being unfit for high office. He has also drawn comparisons with separate controversies over the collapse of payments company Wirecard AG and the Cum-Ex tax scandal.
Laschet’s attacks appear not to have dented Scholz’s chances of winning the chancellery. An Insa survey for Bild am Sonntag published Sunday showed his SPD with a five-point lead over Laschet’s CDU/CSU bloc.
Laschet said Monday at a news conference that Scholz had failed to adequately “explain what needs to be explained,” while criticizing any suggestion that prosecutors may have had a political motive. The Justice Ministry, which is also run by a Social Democrat, was raided the same day in connection with the case.
“It’s good that Scholz went to the committee following pressure from the public,” Laschet said.
Fabio De Masi, a lawmaker for the opposition Left party and long-term critic of Scholz’s record, said the SPD candidate has benefited from the fact that his main rivals are “very weak,” so the raid on his ministry is unlikely to have a substantial impact on voting intentions.
“But that’s not my primary concern,” De Masi said Monday in an interview with Bloomberg TV. “Whoever is leading Germany in the next years, we cannot afford to be the fourth-largest economy in the world while risking the integrity of our economy.”
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