For Olaf Scholz, Osnabrück was an indispensable but distant memory. He was born there in 1958, but everyone knows that the Federal Minister of Finance is mainly from Hamburg. He has long been in power in Berlin and wants to become Chancellor soon, but his hometown is now uncomfortably close to him. To be precise: their parquet. It’s about a crime thriller.
The Osnabrück public prosecutor’s office carried out the search that caused a stir in the campaign final. A prosecutor presented himself on September 9 along with plainclothes police officers to the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Justice of Scholz. The action took place three days before the second triell and more than two weeks before the election, a delicate date. The SPD suspects a political maneuver, especially since the head of the authorities of Osnabrück and the Minister of Justice of Lower Saxony belong to the CDU and a press release about the search was misleadingly worded. The Osnabrück public prosecutor’s office sees it differently.
The investigations started in February 2020, a spokesperson for the authorities confirmed Süddeutsche Zeitung. There are eight reports of money laundering suspicions at three banks in the Osnabrück district from 2018 to 2020. One of the financial institutions had noticed strange transactions to Africa with a volume of 1.7 million euros, the bank suspected that arms and drug trafficking and terrorist financing the background. She reported the payments to the anti-money laundering unit FIU, the Financial Intelligence Unit, located at customs in the Federal Ministry of Finance. According to the prosecutor’s office, the FIU “did not forward the report to the German law enforcement authorities, so that there was no longer any possibility to stop the payments”.
The banks involved turned to Osnabrück. Since then they have been investigating the suspicion of thwarting punishment in the office against strangers and also want to know “why the number of reports of suspicious transactions has fallen to a fraction since the FIU took over the money laundering control”. The reason is the so-called risk-based approach, which is based on a computer program that filters suspicious transaction reports. This risk-based approach has only been a legal requirement since August 2021.
Who introduced the “risk-based approach”?
The public prosecutor would like to know who has introduced the risk-based approach before August 2021, independently of the FIU or on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Finance or with its support. Evaluated documents showed “that there was extensive communication between the FIU and the now wanted ministries”. The finding includes a letter dated 15 May 2020 in which the Federal Ministry of Justice warned the Federal Ministry of Finance that the FIU subordinate to it must comply with the requirements of the Money Laundering Act. The FIU’s approach is “incompatible from a local point of view” with the requirements of Article 32(2) of the Money Laundering Act, it says. “I would appreciate it if the above concerns could be addressed and the current FIU transfer practice could be reviewed.”
This is a clear warning to the Public Prosecution Service that the ministry under the leadership of Scholz is acting unlawfully. Investigators are now looking for the Federal Treasury’s response to the seized documents. They also investigate whether the relevant warning has been passed on to the FIU – and by whom.
Why the searches? A request to the Federal Justice Department was unsuccessful, the prosecutor says; the ministry had asked for a formal request. On August 6, the investigators therefore applied for a search warrant to the Osnabrück District Court. Why did it take so long after that? Statement from the prosecutor: The search was initially approved only for one of the ministries and only on August 26 for both. The prosecutor handling the case was on vacation in the meantime.
According to the ministry, the Minister of Justice of Lower Saxony, Barbara Havliza (CDU), received four days in advance from the Attorney General that “the federal ministries could be searched soon”. She had been aware of the investigation since the end of February 2020.
It must be investigated, among other things, “whether and if so to what extent the management and those in charge of the ministries and higher departments are involved in the decisions of the FIU”, according to the press release. It sounds as if that also applies to Scholz in theory. In the search warrant, however, the search serves to identify the FIU employees involved. With the addition, however, that it is also a matter of establishing to what extent the introduction of the risk approach has been legally discussed and guaranteed. Phrases from Osnabrück during a house search of a resident of Osnabrück.