Germany’s finance ministry has come under fire for trying to covertly interfere with the questioning of a key witness during a parliamentary inquiry into Wirecard, a possible violation of parliamentary code of conduct.
The collapse of the former German payments company last summer shocked Germany’s financial and political elite. A painful parliamentary inquiry exposed multiple regulatory failures and led to the departures of the heads of three supervisory bodies.
Days before Friday’s final parliamentary debate on the commission’s final report, the Finance Ministry revealed that one of its top officials had tried to interfere with the investigation’s work in the run-up to the questioning of Munich’s Prosecutor General Hildegard Bummler-Hosel, a key witness. .
The government revealed this in a written response to a question posed by Fabio de Masi, an MP for the hard-left party D Link, which was seen by the Financial Times.
The ministerial official is not named, but can be identified by describing his role, as Reinhard Wolpers, head of the Financial Market Stability Division. Wolpers is one of three Treasury employees who sit on the BaFin board of directors. The Ministry of Finance declined to comment on his identity.
In the lead-up to Bäumler-Hösl’s January interrogation, Wolpers called then-Vice President of BaFin, Elisabeth Rogel, and asked her to submit questions to Bäumler-Hösl and then pass them on to MPs.
The government has no constitutional role in the investigation monitored by Parliament and has court-like powers. Furthermore, Roegele was also nominated as a witness and was not questioned by MPs at that point. The government forced her to leave her job alongside President Felix Hoffield in late January.
“Wolpers’ behavior is a clear violation of the rules,” de Masi told the Financial Times, adding that the government official showed “disrespect for the Bundestag”.
Prosecutors at BaFin and Munich have been embroiled in a blame game for the controversial 2019 short-selling ban that investors viewed as a vote of confidence in the disgraced company. BaFin imposed the ban after receiving information from Munich prosecutors about an alleged short-selling attack against Wirecard.
Several BaFin employees told MPs that Munich prosecutors had stated the information was highly credible. Bäumler-Hösl denied this and said she had just transferred it to BaFin without commenting on its validity.
The ban on short selling is potentially harmful to German Finance Minister Olaf Schulz, the Social Democrats’ candidate for chancellor in the September federal elections.
The Finance Ministry publicly rebuked the watchdog for banning short selling, saying it was based on poor and inadequate analysis.
The ministry’s response to De Masi revealed that Wolpers contacted Roegele via email and text messages days before Bäumler-Hösl’s testimony. The department said Walbers “acted on his own initiative and did not coordinate with other Treasury employees.” She added that the executive level was “at no time notified” of the behavior, but only became aware of the matter due to de Masi’s inquiry.
“Telecommunications [our] The ministry said Ms Rugeli’s employee ultimately did not get a result, as Ms Rugeli did not make such suggestions for questions, adding that “no information was passed” to members of the investigation committee from the ministry.
Green MP Lisa Bowes said the “power of the Treasury” had been misused for the political interest of the Social Democrats. “This is absolutely prohibited.”
Florian Tonkar, a lawmaker for the pro-business Liberal Democrats, said it would be “extremely surprising” if Walbers’ measures were not approved or even requested by senior department officials.
Jens Zimmermann, the SPD’s head of the investigation, said he was unable to comment on the department’s internal procedures “because I don’t have any ideas.” [into them]He added that his only contact was with the official representatives of the ministry in the committee. “I have not received any suggestions for possible questions for Mrs. Bümmler-Hosle,” Zimmermann said.
Wolpers and Roegel did not respond to Financial Times requests for comment. Munich prosecutors declined to comment.