Merkel defends lobbying for Wirecard on 2019 China visit

AP Business

German Chancellor Angela Merkel sits as a witness before the Bundestag’s investigative committee on the Wirecard AG accounting scandal in Berlin, Germany, Friday, April 23, 2021. (Michael Kappeler/dpa via AP)

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel has defended her lobbying for Wirecard during a 2019 visit to China, testifying before a parliamentary committee Friday that the payments company received no special treatment and that it was in Germany’s interest to promote its businesses.

Merkel said Wirecard’s aim of entering the Chinese market overlapped with the best interests of the German economy as a whole. The company later collapsed in an accounting scandal.

“Despite all the press reports, there was no reason to assume serious irregularities at Wirecard” at the time of the China trip, German news agency dpa quoted the chancellor as telling the committee.

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.

Some German lawmakers have 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. The committee is investigating.

Asked about a meeting ahead of the China visit with Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, a former defense minister whose firm advised Wirecard, Merkel said she could not remember if Guttenberg had specifically named Wirecard.

Prosecutors in Munich are investigating the company’s former chief executive, Markus Braun, on suspicion of criminal fraud.

Finance Minister Olaf Scholz appeared by the committee on Thursday. Scholz denied any responsibility on his or the government’s part for failures of oversight.

He also rejected suggestions that German regulators or the Finance Ministry, which oversees them, protected Wirecard. But he conceded that the regulatory structure had not been set up well enough for such a case.

Scholz is also Germany’s vice chancellor and his Social Democratic Party’s candidate for chancellor in the country’s Sept. 26 national election. Merkel is not running again and plans to leave office after almost 16 years as chancellor.

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