Since a report by ZEIT and ARD-Magazin panorama discusses Hamburg in the election campaign about the amazingly reserved handling of the Hamburg authorities with the private bank M.M. Warburg. As the Cologne public prosecutor determined, the Hamburg bank allegedly relieved the state of several hundred million euros in tax money with cum-ex transactions. At the same time, it is about contacts between top SPD politicians and bank owner Christian Olearius. Finally, that reported Hamburger Abendblatt about party donations that the SPD received from the bank at that time.

What is known about the behavior of the Hamburg tax authorities towards Warburg-Bank so far?

At the end of 2016, the Hamburg tax authorities expired claims for a tax payment of 47 million euros against Warburg-Bank. The following year, the statute of limitations was only stopped by an instruction from the Federal Ministry of Finance.

According to the files of the Cologne public prosecutor’s office, the auditors of the Hamburg tax office actually came to the conclusion in autumn 2016, a few months before the statute of limitations, that the Warburg Bank would ask for money back. This result was then forwarded to the higher finance authority for coordination. At that time was the current mayor Peter Tschentscher (SPD) finance senator. After the forwarding there was a limitation.

Up until autumn 2019 there were discussions about a possible partial repayment between the state of Hamburg, the Warburg-Bank and the federal government. According to information from ZEIT and panorama involved in getting back only part of the money. Officials in the Federal Ministry of Finance prevented this. The city of Hamburg has not denied this information.

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Wasn’t it already known for a long time that Hamburg had statutes of limitations?

No. It was known that at the end of 2017 the Federal Ministry of Finance issued an instruction to the Hamburg tax office not to once again limit the claims against Warburg-Bank. This was also the occasion for a meeting of the Finance Committee of the Hamburg Citizenship in February 2018, in which the topic Cum-Ex was discussed.

At the time, it was not publicly known that the Hamburg tax administration had already barred almost 47 million euros by the end of 2016, a year before the instruction from Berlin.

It was also not publicly known that the Hamburg tax authorities tried in autumn 2019 to reach an agreement with Warburg-Bank on the possible reimbursement of a partial amount of the possible damage, which would have saved the bank a lot of money again.

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Was it legally difficult for the tax office in 2016 to claim the money back?

This is the argument of the Hamburg tax authority – not directly for the Warburg case, because it does not say anything with reference to tax secrecy. But generally related to cum-ex cases.

In 2016, however, there were already extensive investigations into the transactions that had been carried out by the Warburg Bank. Deloitte’s auditors, on behalf of the banking supervisory authority Bafin, came to the conclusion in December 2016, before the statute of limitations, that the transactions were cum-ex deals. They assumed that the wrongly disbursed funds would be reclaimed from Hamburg. The Hamburg tax office also came to this conclusion. The tax authority then came to a different conclusion. It is still unclear why.

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Is it possible that the city can still get the statute-barred millions back?

Yes, that is possible. In Bonn, two British stock traders have been charged with serious tax evasion in connection with cum-ex transactions before the district court. The Economic Criminal Court included five banks in the process, including M.M. Warburg and Warburg Invest. If the defendants are convicted, the court could confiscate the profits from the business with the banks, even if they are statute-barred. So the presiding judge announced in December. He has also announced that he wants to get the money back. However, paragraph 73 of the Criminal Code, which is applicable for this purpose, has not been used in cum-ex cases.

Warburg-Bank is currently arguing in court with the statute of limitations. In order to strengthen her position, she named the head of the Hamburg tax office for large companies as a witness.

In response to the ZEIT report, Hamburg’s finance senator Andreas Dressel also refers to a decision by the Federal Fiscal Court in autumn 2018. It is currently being examined whether the funds could be retrieved on the basis of this. When the officials ran the statute of limitations in 2016, they could not count on the law change in 2017 or the judgment of 2018.

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What is known about contacts between Warburg-Bank and its boss Christian Olearius and SPD officials?

In November 2017, the then mayor Olaf Scholz (SPD) met in his office with the co-owner and then chairman of the bank’s supervisory board, Christian Olearius. Scholz has since admitted that. At that time, Olearius was under investigation for serious tax evasion, and the case was still under scrutiny by the tax authorities.

Despite this meeting, the Hamburg Senate replied to a request from the left-wing faction in November 2019 that there had been no personal discussions between members of the Senate on the Warburg Bank’s tax procedure with the bank – explicitly no discussions between the then mayor Scholz and representatives of the Bank. Scholz ’spokesman assigns responsibility to Tschentscher’s Senate: The date emerged from the calendar of the Mayor at the time, which must also be available to the Senate Chancellery.

In addition to Scholz, according to his diaries, Olearius also held talks with the SPD member of the Bundestag Johannes Kahrs and the former second mayor Alfons Pawelczyk (SPD). Kahrs has now admitted the talks. Pawelczyk did not respond to a request.

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Why is the meeting between Scholz and Olearius so explosive?

At the time Mayor Scholz’s meeting with bank owner Olearius in November 2017, Olearius and several managers of his bank were under investigation. At that time, officials at the Hamburg tax office also had to decide whether the city’s claims against the Warburg-Bank in the amount of many million euros would again expire at the end of 2017. This limitation was finally prevented by the Federal Ministry of Finance.

What is also explosive is what Olearius noted in his diary about the meeting: he reported to Scholz about the state of affairs with the tax authorities and the public prosecutor. He interprets the reaction in this way, writes Olearius, “that we don’t have to worry.”

Scholz and Olearius deny that there was political influence. Talks between politicians and business leaders are common.

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Are there other connections between the Warburg Bank and the SPD?

Several companies in the Warburg Group’s environment donated 45,500 euros to the SPD in 2017, the year after the first limitation period. That reports that Hamburger Abendblatt, 38,000 euros of the donations went directly to the Mitte district association, headed by Johannes Kahrs, member of the Bundestag. In previous years, the Warburg Bank had not donated to the SPD. However, the CDU regularly benefited from donations from the Warburg Group. Between 2009 and 2017 she received at least 245,000 euros from the companies in the Warburg area who donated to the SPD in 2017. The SPD, on the other hand, received a donation of € 50,000 from the private bank Berenberg in 2017 alone.

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Which questions are still open?

It is unclear whether there was any political influence on the decision of the tax office. All parties involved – Scholz, Tschentscher, the tax authorities and Warburg-Bank – emphasized that they had no influence, that all decisions were made on the basis of the legal assessment in the financial administration.

It is also unclear what exactly was discussed in the talks between Scholz and Olearius. In his diary, Olearius describes how he talks to Scholz about the investigation. Scholz denies that the procedure was at stake.

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