German lawmakers seek to grill Merkel over Wirecard scandal

BERLIN — German lawmakers say they plan to question Chancellor Angela Merkel and her deputy, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, about their involvement with the collapsed payment systems provider Wirecard next month.

Members of the parliamentary committee set up to investigate the Wirecard scandal said Wednesday that the long-time chancellor will be summoned to testify on April 23, a day after Scholz, the center-left Social Democrats’ candidate to succeed Merkel in this fall’s national election.

Wirecard filed for protection from creditors through insolvency proceedings in June after admitting that 1.9 billion euros ($2.3 billion) supposedly held in trust accounts in the Philippines probably didn’t exist.

Opposition lawmaker accused authorities — from financial supervisors to prosecutors and auditors — of looking the other way despite reports of irregularities at Wirecard dating back at least five years.

“We in Germany have a culture of non-responsibility, of looking mainly at who has jurisdiction and who doesn’t have jurisdiction, and not thinking enough about the bigger picture,” said Florian Toncar, a lawmaker for the pro-business Free Democratic Party. “Our impression, by the way, is that it gets worse the higher up the hierarchy you go.”

Merkel will face questions about her lobbying for Wirecard’s entry into the Chinese market during a 2019 trip to China.

Toncar said Scholz, who has pledged to reform Germany’s financial supervisory agency, BaFin, should publicly apologize to Financial Times journalist Dan McCrum, who played a key role in exposing the company’s questionable accounting but himself was investigated on suspicion of violating securities laws until prosecutors dropped the probe.

Left Party lawmaker Fabio De Masi said the government also faces questions over the involvement of former Austrian and German intelligence officials in the case.

The fugitive former chief operating officer of Wirecard, Jan Marsalek, was reported to have been an informant for Austrian intelligence agency BVT and may have received help from former spies in fleeing to Belarus.

Interpol issued a so-called red notice for Marsalek last year on allegations of “violations of the German duty on securities act and the securities trading act, criminal breach of trust (and) especially serious case of fraud.”