10 a.m., large meeting room of the Bonn Regional Court, hearing of the 13th major criminal chamber. Several television cameras, camera lenses and numerous smartphones from the audience are aimed at the entrance door. First, lawyer Peter Gauweiler enters the courtroom and greets the audience and journalists in a friendly manner. Then comes the main person everyone is waiting for: Christian Olearius, now 81 years old and majority owner of the Hamburg private bank MM Warburg.
Surrounded by his three other defense attorneys, the defendant makes his way to his seat. When Olearius is addressed by the presiding judge Marion Slota-Haaf during the short round of introductions, he half rises from his chair – when the judge compares his personal details with him, he answers with a short, snappy: “Yes!”
The Bonn trial is by far the most prominent cum-ex criminal trial of these days. Olearius is the first acting co-owner of a bank to stand trial because of his involvement in cum-ex transactions. Specifically, the Cologne public prosecutor’s office accuses the Warburg banker of 14 cases of serious tax evasion between 2006 and 2020. In two cases the attempt was unsuccessful and no reimbursement was received from the tax authorities. According to prosecutors, the cum-ex transactions caused the tax authorities a tax loss of 280 million euros.
Olearius is said to have approved the Cum-ex proprietary trading
According to the indictment, Olearius is said to have been centrally involved in the Warburg Bank’s trading strategies and to have approved the cum-ex proprietary trading. Olearius is said to have known all the processes and made the key decisions. As a member of the management team, he signed the tax returns in which he is said to have deliberately concealed information about previous coordination with other parties and short sellers. In addition, Olearius himself is said to have invested in cum-ex deals. Prosecutors also accuse him of wanting to cover up the bank’s involvement in the tax scandal after the investigation began in 2016.
If convicted, Olearius faces up to ten years in prison. As previous cum-ex proceedings have shown, he also has to expect the confiscation of millions from his private assets. He had repeatedly denied the allegations through his lawyers. Olearius himself remained silent at the start of the trial on Monday; during the breaks in the negotiations, his lawyers shielded him from prying questions and looks.
Although Olaf Scholz is neither accused in the Cum-ex scandal nor is he yet scheduled to be a witness in the criminal trial against Olearius, his person is connected to the proceedings: his name can be found several times in the 371-page indictment against Olearius. When the Hamburg tax office asserted high tax refund demands from the Warburg Bank in autumn 2016, the bank shareholders Olearius and Max Warburg turned to the Hanseatic city’s town hall for help.
What role did Olaf Scholz play?
Scholz was the first mayor there at the time, and his finance senator was Peter Tschentscher (both SPD). As a result, the Hamburg tax authorities waived an additional tax claim of 47 million euros against the Warburg Bank in 2016. From the bank’s perspective, everything initially went according to plan in 2017, but an intervention by the Federal Ministry of Finance prevented the claim from becoming statute-barred. It is clear to the prosecutors: Olearius built up “political pressure” to prevent a disadvantageous tax refund for the Warburg Bank.
According to Olearius’ diary entries, both bankers met with Scholz several times in 2016 and 2017, which Scholz initially denied years later and then cited gaps in his memory. The question of political influence by SPD politicians on the Hamburg tax administration has been preoccupying an investigative committee of the Hamburg citizenship for two and a half years. Before the Federal Constitutional Court, the CDU/CSU parliamentary group now also wants to push through an investigative committee in the Bundestag to shed light on the role of Olaf Scholz in the Cum-ex affair.
“A head of government should not allow himself to be harnessed to the cart of suspected tax evaders. However, this impression is evident in the Scholz-Warburg tax affair. Olaf Scholz is making a significant contribution to this with his alleged gaps in memory and the total blockade in the investigation,” said the CDU financial politician to the FAZ
The process is politically explosive
Although it is not about the political dimension of the tax affair in Bonn, the process is nevertheless extremely politically explosive. “The process could jog the Chancellor’s memory quicker than he would like. If Christian Olearius unpacks, Scholz will have unpleasant weeks ahead of him.” Peter Gauweiler announced on Monday afternoon that his client would explain himself at a later point in the trial and also answer questions.
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In the case of cum-ex transactions, banks, brokers and short sellers moved shares with (“cum”) and without (“ex”) dividend claims around the day of a general meeting. Capital gains tax that only accrued once could then be refunded multiple times. The proceedings will continue on Wednesday, then Olearius’ lawyers will have their say (ref. 63 KLs 1/22).
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