German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Thursday that he was not involved in any way in the tax fraud scandal known as “Cum-Ex” that dates to his time as mayor of Hamburg.
“An incredible number of people have been heard, an incredible number of files have been studied and if you follow the press coverage of the respective hearings, the result is always that there was no political influence,” Scholz said at a press conference in Berlin.
The chancellor’s remarks came after it became public earlier this month that police discovered €214,800 in a safe deposit box of Johannes Kahrs, a former lawmaker from the Social Democrats (SPD), Scholz’s party, who served as an adviser to Christian Olearius, head of Hamburg-based Warburg Bank, which is at the center of the scandal, while Scholz was still mayor of Hamburg in 2016.
According to media reports, Kahrs arranged meetings between Scholz and Warburg senior executives who were trying to get out of paying back €47 million in illegal tax refunds at the time. After those meetings, Hamburg tax officials revoked their demand that the bank pay back the money on the grounds that the statute of limitations had expired. A German court later reversed that decision and the bank has since repaid the funds.
Scholz, who is due to testify on the issue at a hearing in Hamburg on August 19, maintains that he does not recollect what was discussed during his meetings with Warburg executives.
Asked by a journalist on Thursday whether he thought his claims were “credible,” Scholz lashed out at the reporter, saying that “first of all, it’s not credible when you mix into a question facts that are not proven.”
“It is not as you say. There is not a single indication that there was any political interference,” Scholz said.
Apart from that incident, during which he seemed at risk of losing his temper, Scholz showed himself as serene as ever, at times giving the taciturn replies people have come to expect from him.
“What do you know about the money in Johannes Kahrs’s safe deposit box?” one journalist asked. “Nothing,” Scholz said, smiling.
“I’m as curious as you are and would like to know where [the money] came from, but [Kahrs] probably won’t give me or you any information,” he told another reporter.
Despite Scholz’s insistence that nothing dodgy can be traced back to him or a decision he made, the scandal, smoldering since before he took over as chancellor, has some potential to tarnish his reputation and could become a burden on his approval ratings.
Apparently unperturbed by the prospect, Scholz said he will answer all the questions again “for many hours” at the hearing in Hamburg next Friday.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he said.