10 a.m., large courtroom of the Regional Court of Bonn, hearing of the 13th large criminal chamber. Several television cameras, camera lenses and numerous smartphones of the listeners are aimed at the front door. First, lawyer Peter Gauweiler enters the courtroom and greets the audience and journalists in a friendly manner. Then comes the main character that everyone is waiting for: Christian Olearius, now 81 years old and majority owner of the Hamburg-based private bank M.M. Warburg.
Editor in business.
- Follow I follow
Framed by his three other defense lawyers, the defendant makes his way to his seat. When Olearius is approached 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 replies with a short, dashing: "Yes!"
The Bonn trial is by far the most prominent-ex criminal trial of these days. Olearius is the first acting co-owner of a bank to be on trial for his involvement in-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 made, and there was no reimbursement by the tax authorities. As a result of the-ex transactions, the tax authorities suffered a tax loss of 280 million euros, according to the prosecutors.
Olearius is said to have approved the-ex proprietary trading
According to the indictment, Olearius is said to have been centrally involved in the trading strategies of Warburg Bank and to have approved the-ex proprietary trading. Olearius is said to have known all the processes and made the decisive decisions. As a member of the Executive Board, he signed the tax returns in which he is said to have deliberately concealed information on previous agreements with other participants and short sellers. In addition, Olearius himself is said to have invested in-ex deals. In addition, prosecutors accuse him of wanting to cover up the bank's involvement in the tax scandal after the start of the investigation in 2016.
If convicted, Olearius faces up to ten years in prison. As previous-ex proceedings have shown, he must also expect the confiscation of millions of euros from his private assets. Through his lawyers, he had repeatedly denied the allegations. Olearius himself remains silent at the start of the trial on Monday, during the breaks in the proceedings his lawyers shield him from curious questions and glances.
Although Olaf Scholz is neither accused in the-ex scandal nor has he yet been designated as a witness in the criminal trial against Olearius, his person is linked to the proceedings: his name can be found several times in the 371-page indictment against Olearius. When the Hamburg tax office claimed high tax refunds from the Warburg Bank in autumn 2016, the bank's shareholders Olearius and Max Warburg turned to the Hanseatic city's town hall for help.
What role did Olaf Scholz play?
Scholz ruled there as First Mayor at the time, and his Finance Senator was Peter Tschentscher (both SPD). As a result, in 2016, the Hamburg tax authorities waived an additional tax claim of 47 million euros against Warburg Bank. From the bank's point of view, everything went according to plan in 2017, but an intervention by the Federal Ministry of Finance prevented the claim from becoming statute-barred. For the prosecutors, it is clear that Olearius had built up "political pressure" to prevent a disadvantageous tax refund for the Warburg Bank.
According to Olearius' diary entries, the two bankers met with Scholz several times in 2016 and 2017, which he later initially denied and then cited memory gaps. The question of political influence by SPD politicians on the Hamburg tax administration has been occupying a committee of inquiry of the Hamburg Parliament for two and a half years. Before the Federal Constitutional Court, the CDU/CSU parliamentary group now also wants to push through a committee of inquiry in the Bundestag to shed light on Olaf Scholz's role in the-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 memory gaps and the total blockade in the investigation," said the CDU finance politician of the F.A.Z.
The trial is politically explosive
Although the political dimension of the tax affair is not at stake in Bonn, the trial is nevertheless politically explosive. "The trial could help the chancellor's memory faster 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 stage in the trial and also answer questions.
In-ex transactions, banks, brokers and short sellers moved shares with ("") and without ("ex") dividend claims around the day of a general meeting. Subsequently, a capital gains tax that had only been incurred once could be refunded several times. The proceedings will continue on Wednesday, when Olearius' lawyers will have their say (Ref. 63 KLs 1/22).