German MPs to quiz Scholz over fraud probe
German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, the frontrunner in the race to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel, will face a grilling from lawmakers on Monday over a probe into an anti-money laundering agency overseen by his ministry.
The appearance before the parliament’s finance committee will come merely days before a September 26 general election that will see Merkel bow out after 16 years in power.
“Olaf Scholz has accepted our invitation to appear before the finance committee before the election,” said Green party MP Lisa Paus on Wednesday, calling it his “last chance to regain lost credibility”.
Scholz’s centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) is currently leading opinion polls, followed by Merkel’s conservative CDU-CSU alliance whose chancellor candidate Armin Laschet has seen a steady decline in popularity.
Lawmakers from opposition parties have asked to put questions before Scholz after his ministry and the justice ministry were raided by prosecutors last week as part of an investigation into the Cologne-based Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU).
The agency, the anti-money laundering section of Germany’s customs authority, is suspected of hushing up reports of potential money laundering and failing to pass along tips to the relevant authorities.
Political rivals have seized on the searches to criticise Scholz, seeing the probe as the latest example of the minister falling short of his oversight duties.
Scholz’s ministry had already come under fire for apparently failing to act on early warning signs of fraudulent activity at payments company Wirecard, which collapsed last year after admitting that 1.9 billion euros was missing from its accounts.
At a televised election debate on Sunday, Scholz’s main rival Laschet said the minister had to take responsibility for regulatory failures that happened on his watch.
But Scholz said last week’s searches were just about assisting prosecutors with their inquiry into the FIU and did not involve the ministry directly.
Scholz also defended his handling of the Wirecard fallout, saying he had spearheaded a massive overhaul at Germany’s finance watchdog as a result.