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How long should the Wirecard Committee question witnesses?

The Wirecard accounting scandal causes a dispute in the Bundestag: The parliamentarians argue about how long the investigative committee should still summon witnesses. The MPs are running out of time.

The attention is great, the findings are, so far, still low: Before the Wirecard investigative committee in the Bundestag meets again on Tuesday for the first time in the new year, there is a crunch between the representatives of the respective parliamentary groups. The question of how long the committee should question witnesses – and to what extent it could become the stage for the upcoming election campaign – is causing controversy.

The background to this is that parliamentary investigators are running out of time. The Bundestag elections are due at the end of September, and Parliament will meet for the last time on June 25 for a plenary session. At this point at the latest, the committee of inquiry must present a report with conclusions and possibly a recommendation on how to proceed in the case in the coming legislative period.

The problem: The creation of the report is complex and experience has shown that it takes several weeks. The coalition factions of the CDU / CSU and SPD therefore ideally want to have the inventory and witness questioning completed by the end of March or by mid-April at the latest – not least to prevent media-effective questioning of prominent politicians from their parties such as Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) and Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) are all about struggling for votes.

Opposition does not want to be put under time pressure

The chairmen of the driving opposition factions of the Left Party, Greens and FDP, on the other hand, do not want to set a deadline. They insist that the Wirecard Committee meet and question witnesses until all open questions have been clarified. “We have a clear mandate,” said left chairman Fabio De Masi t-online. “I’m not starting to follow Mr. Scholz’s election campaign calendar. The Wirecard case is far too important for that.”

Left-wing politician Fabio De Masi: The witness questioning could not be based on the election campaign. (Source: imago images)Left-wing politician Fabio De Masi: The witness questioning could not be based on the election campaign. (Source: imago images)

The Munich payment service provider Wirecard made headlines last summer with air bookings totaling around two billion euros. In the wake of the biggest accounting scandal in German post-war history, Wirecard was the first DAX group to ever file for bankruptcy. Since then, the question has been raised how it could have come to this. The U-Committee in the Bundestag is now trying to clarify whether the banking supervision Bafin, to which Finance Minister Scholz reports, could have checked the Wirecard books – and what the Chancellery knew about the inconsistencies in the scandal company when it advertised Wirecard in China.

CDU advocates special sessions in February and March

“The lobbying for Wirecard abroad in spite of existing warning signals and the uncritical assessment of the work of the financial supervisory authority are the biggest, but by no means the only mistakes for which Chancellor Merkel and Finance Minister Scholz have to declare themselves personally,” said Greens chairman Danyal Bayaz t -on-line. It is already foreseeable that the clarification of the many storylines will take some time.

“We get messages every day from small investors who feel cheated – from Wirecard, but also from Bafin,” said Bayaz. “We have a responsibility for them.” He understands that it is displeasing to the SPD and Union that well-known top politicians such as Merkel or Scholz are only invited to the end of the investigation. “But that’s the way it is. And that’s usually how it is with every U-Committee.”

Green MP Danyal Bayaz: Merkel and Scholz should explain. (Source: imago images)Green MP Danyal Bayaz: Merkel and Scholz should explain. (Source: imago images)

De Masi sees it that way too. “We’ll take all the time we need. We won’t let ourselves be pressured,” he said. Most recently, the Wirecard committee had sometimes met until the early morning. “These night shifts cannot be in the interests of the participants. Then we’d rather have more meetings, if necessary in April, May and June.”

CDU finance politician Matthias Hauer: The U Committee needs enough time to prepare the report at the end of the legislative period. (Source: imago images)CDU finance politician Matthias Hauer: The U Committee needs enough time to prepare the report at the end of the legislative period. (Source: imago images)

Matthias Hauer (CDU) thinks meetings in May or June are not a good idea. He also says that the questioning of the witnesses “takes as long as it takes”. The committee would be happy to schedule further special meetings, if necessary also in the non-meeting weeks in February, March or April.

“But we don’t want the committee to become a show event that ultimately only involves electoral maneuvers,” he told t-online. “We want the committee to clear up the Wirecard scandal as much as possible and at the end of the day we can make specific recommendations for better regulation, for example by the Bafin, with a proper final report.”

The prominent witnesses come to the end

Jens Zimmermann (SPD) is also in favor of ending the testimony earlier. In an interview with t-online, he thinks that the committee is based on the calculations of the SPD candidate for chancellor is nonsense. “You could also say that it was about Ms. Baerbock’s or Mr. Lindner’s election calendar,” said Zimmermann. “The decisive factor is the calendar of meetings of the German Bundestag and the time it takes to prepare the final report.”

SPD chairman Jens Zimmermann: So far, the Social Democrat has not seen any failures in Finance Minister Scholz. (Source: imago images)SPD chairman Jens Zimmermann: So far, the Social Democrat has not seen any failures in Finance Minister Scholz. (Source: imago images)

The meeting of the Wirecard investigation committee on Tuesday is a special session. It is a continuation of the most recent survey from December, in which, among other things, the questioning of the head of the economic department in the Chancellery, Lars-Hendrik Röller, could no longer take place. In the regular meeting on Thursday, Deutsche Bank boss Christian Sewing has to put up with questions about lending to Wirecard.

The committee had previously asked the former Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg about his lobbying efforts in the Chancellery. Ex-Wirecard boss Markus Braun was also invited, but refused to give a statement.

In addition to Merkel and Scholz, Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Söder, Federal Minister of Economics Peter Altmaier (CDU), Finance State Secretary Jörg Kukies (SPD) and possibly Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU) as a former finance minister are on the witness wish lists of the parliamentary groups for the surveys in the coming weeks. So far, the stewards have decided on the invitations by mutual agreement. It remains to be seen whether it will stay that way over the next few weeks.

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