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Wirecard investigation committee: Altmaier defends himself against allegations


When asked about his role in the Wirecard scandal, Economics Minister Peter Altmaier tried to reject all guilt. But his defense strategy did not work.

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These days there are really things that are more preoccupying Federal Minister of Economics Peter Altmaier than the collapse of a financial services group.

This could already be observed when the heavy Union man arrived to testify in the parliamentary committee of inquiry into the Wirecard affair.

The journalists present wanted to know what he had to say about Armin Laschet's position as candidate for chancellor of the Union.

Altmaier initially praised Laschet.

He uses his second sentence for the defeated challenger: "Markus Söder played a very constructive role," he tells the journalists: "But first, something to eat." House is set up and ordered two sausages.

The economics minister had a long night in the CDU presidium, then a long parliamentary group meeting before coming to his questioning.

There wasn't much time to satisfy the hunger.

The subsequent questioning about Wirecard is clearly annoying to him.

"Oh yes!" He groans as the photographers try to take a picture of him.

Altmaier's appearance, a failure

That is not surprising. Because with the auditor supervision Apas he leads the legal supervision of a central authority that played an inglorious role in the biggest financial scandal in post-war history. So he had a lot to straighten out, a lot for which he had to justify himself. Ideally, it would have taken the minister's full attention to refute the bad impression.

So maybe it was the rather stressful overall situation in political Berlin that made the appearance of the member of the government a failure.

Altmaier had to admit that neither he nor his officers were aware of relevant events.

Apas had a compliance problem that the ministry did not take care of and a boss, Ralf Bose, whose attitude towards the German auditors lacked distance.

The survey, which only started shortly before seven o'clock, started quite well for Altmaier.

In his introductory remarks he cunningly recalled the story of the Apas who lived in Berlin.

He turned directly to the chairman of the SPD, Jens Zimmermann: "When I came into the house in 2018, Apas was only two years old," said Altmaier.

His predecessor Sigmar Gabriel and the then Federal Minister of Justice Heiko Maas, both SPD, were responsible for the facility. They proceeded “with a high degree of legal expertise”. "That is why you should keep that out of the party-political dispute," he warned the SPD chairman, who had already expressed himself very critical of Altmaier in front of the media that morning.

But Zimmermann was not impressed, and it was precisely the representative of the coalition partner who scored some tough points against Altmaier in the course of the many hours of questioning.

The focus was on two processes.

On the one hand, there was a controversial call from the EY boss and his compliance manager at the Apas top.

In February 2019, they informed the Apas people that they were investigating the allegations of market manipulation that had been raised in newspapers and that they would undertake appropriate audit procedures.

The Apas boss probably lacked a critical attitude

It is explosive that Altmaier's officials failed to arrange for the auditing firm to be checked.

The ministry was also not informed.

SPD MP Zimmermann threw Altmaier on the head that the Apas boss lacked a critical attitude.

He tried to counter.

Altmaier referred to the fact that they had separated from the head of the authority.

He wasn't responsible, said Altmaier acidly.

What could he have done when he hadn't known about the phone call?

"What should the law enforcement officers have done if they hadn't known about the phone call?" He asked Zimmermann provocatively.

The objection was justified, but at that moment it becomes clear how little he had the authority subordinate to the Ministry of Economic Affairs under control.

The same was the case in another very embarrassing incident for the Apas.

When he was questioned, the head of the company, Bose, admitted that he had bought shares in Wirecard in April 2020 and sold them again the following month.

Altmaier had released Bose the next day, and the minister made it clear in the committee that he was angry about this behavior of his head of the agency.

Bose had not mentioned this to the ministry despite a survey by the ministry at the Apas.

"The share purchase did not happen at a time when there was complete ignorance, but rather at a particularly remarkable point in time when there were already a lot of allegations in the room."

Federal Minister of Economics Altmaier on Apas boss Bose's trading in Wirecard shares.

That is also the reason why Bose was finally terminated.

What also pissed Altmaier off: "The share purchase did not happen at a time when there was complete ignorance, but rather at a particularly remarkable point in time when there were already a number of allegations in the room," complained the Minister of Economics.

But with the attack on his fired head of the authorities, Altmaier did not get himself out of the line of fire.

The FDP chairman Florian Toncar followed up.

He reminded Altmaier that Bose had sold its shares on the very day when he wanted to talk to the financial supervisory authority Bafin about the allegations against Wirecard.

"Can you rule out that inside knowledge played a role?" He asked Altmaier.

His answer showed that Toncar had hit a sore spot.

"Can I rule out the possibility of life on Mars?" Snapped Altmaier back.

But Toncar parried.

"Did you have it checked for a conflict of interest?" He asked back casually.

Altmaier evaded.

Toncar asked: "It was also about reputational damage to your house."

Altmaier rose from his chair and fell down again.

Then he admitted that he had not issued any written instructions to resolve the issue.

He offered to check with his officers to see if Bose had been asked about a conflict of interest and would like to "return the answer in a day or two."

His ignorance becomes a problem for Altmaier

His ignorance, which he revealed to the committee, doesn't make him look good.

It also raises considerable doubts about the absolution he had issued in his opening statement to Apas in the Wirecard case.

The Apas did not act too late.

In view of media reports on accounting inconsistencies at Wirecard, a preliminary investigation was initiated as early as 2019, said Altmaier.

Altmaier also stated that he was working on stricter compliance rules for Apas.

The draft for a corresponding regulation is ready and only needs to be signed, said the CDU politician in the investigation committee.

He had the impression that Parliament did not insist on statutory regulation, but that a regulation would suffice.

The payment processor Wirecard went bankrupt in June 2020 after billions in air bookings became known.

The Munich public prosecutor's office is investigating balance sheet falsification, fraud, market manipulation and money laundering.

Several ex-board members are in custody or are on the run.

The auditor EY, who has audited Wirecard's balance sheets for years, is also criticized.

In the course of the week, more high-profile witnesses are expected in the investigative committee, including Olaf Scholz on Thursday and Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday.

kim / dpa / Reuters

Source: spiegel

All business articles on 2021-04-20

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