Selective memory poses problems for Olaf Scholz

German chancellor rejects claims his intervention helped Warburg bank shrug off €47m tax demand

When chancellor Angela Merkel presented Wolfgang Schäuble as her finance minister at a 2009 press conference, some wondered aloud how suited he was for the job.

A Dutch journalist reminded the chancellor how Schäuble had in 1994 “forgotten having 100,000 Deutschmarks lying around in a drawer” – a gift from an arms lobbyist.

The secret donation came to light six years later, cost Schäuble his job as chairman of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) – and his dreams of becoming chancellor.

On Friday, chancellor Olaf Scholz – Schäuble’s successor as finance minister – was questioned again about Hamburg’s Warburg private bank.


Like Schäuble, Scholz is a trained lawyer with a sharp mind for detail, yet – similar to the CDU 1994 donation investigation – the chancellor says he cannot remember key details.

Scholz rejects claims his intervention as Hamburg mayor helped Warburg shrug off a €47 million tax demand.

Cum-Ex deals

The bank helped large German firms secure tax rebates worth €169 million, money the firms had never paid, as part of the so-called Cum-Ex deals, the largest tax fraud in German history.

When the fraud became public in 2016, investigators raided Warburg’s headquarters in Hamburg and the tax authorities soon followed.

At two 2016 meetings with then Mayor Scholz, Warburg’s supervisory board chief Christian Olearius argued that a €47 million tax demand linked to Cum-Ex threatened the future of the bank, founded in 1798.

On Friday, Scholz repeated he had little or no memory of his Warburg meetings. That is in contrast to testimony before a July 2020 closed-door Bundestag meeting during which, according to those present, Scholz was still able to describe the 2016 conversations in detail.

Like Schäuble, who forgot a second meeting with his arms dealer donor until he was found out, Scholz only recalled a third meeting with Warburg executives after evidence was found.

As for the Scholz claim that he exerted no influence on Hamburg tax authorities after the meetings with Warburg, his critics wonder how, given his poor memory, he can be so sure.

Though Hamburg MPs in the parliamentary inquiry are critical of Scholz’s “selective, local amnesia”, after more than two years of investigations neither they nor prosecutors have backed up with evidence their accusations that Scholz intervened in the Warburg tax investigation.

The German chancellor is increasingly irritated that Warburg has followed him from Hamburg to Berlin. But it is his selective memory that has stoked up the speculation about his character he is so anxious to end.