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EURO 2012

FOOTBALL

Merkel will see Germany take on Greece

Chancellor Angela Merkel will attend the Euro 2012 quarter final between Germany and Greece on Friday, a spokesman said, a match with plenty of resonance off the field amid a crippling economic crisis.

Merkel will see Germany take on Greece
Photo: DPA

“She is hoping for an exciting and fair match,” the government’s deputy spokesman Georg Streiter told reporters at a regular news conference on Wednesday.

Merkel will fly from a crucial four-way summit with the leaders of Italy, Spain and France in Rome which jittery financial markets are watching for signs of long-term solutions to the eurozone’s debt crisis.

This meeting was brought forward at Merkel’s request, the German government said later on Wednesday, without drawing a direct link to the football.

“Chancellor Angela Merkel asked Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti to bring forward the meeting on Friday in Rome. Monti agreed and the chancellor has thanked him,” Streiter said in a written statement.

Streiter had previously told reporters it was Monti who wanted the meeting to be held earlier than planned.

Germany coach Joachim Löw has sought to play down the wider political significance of the match in the Polish city of Gdansk, telling reporters he is preparing his side for “a normal football contest.”

But with Merkel cutting an unpopular figure in Greece for her insistence on painful austerity measures as the best response to the crisis, the match has taken on an added intensity.

Nevertheless, midfielders Sami Khedira and Thomas Müller both said they were delighted Germany’s leader would be attending.

“We are also a fan of hers,” revealed Real Madrid star Khedira. “We’re happy every time she comes. She seems to us good luck. She is very friendly and very open with an interest in football.”

The German chancellor already visited the national team at their Euro 2012 base in Gdansk, Poland, just before the tournament started, and enjoys close links with the Mannschaft.

“It’s nice to feel the full support of the political world back home too,” added Bayern Munich’s Müller.

The German football association (DFB) said Merkel’s presence was sure to be a good omen for the clash.

“The last two internationals that the chancellor watched at the stadium resulted in big wins for the German team: 3-0 on October 8 against Turkey in Berlin and 4-0 in the World Cup quarter-final against Argentina in Cape Town,” the DFB said.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble turned pundit for the match, predicting a 3-1 win for the Mannschaft in an interview with the weekly Die

Zeit newspaper.

While politicians and footballers have downplayed the crisis angle, newspapers in both countries have stoked the enmity.

“Bring us Merkel,” read a headline in Goal News, while daily newspaper Bild splashed: “Poor Greeks, we’ll give you your next bankruptcy for free.”

Asked if Merkel might take advantage of the match to meet Greece’s next leader, Antonis Samaras, Streiter said the trip “was all about sport” and quipped that if there were to be such a meeting, “it might be at half-time.”

“If he is there, they will of course meet and they will greet each other warmly and then talk about football: about offsides and other such miscellaneous topics,” Streiter said, to laughter from the assembled reporters.

The announcement of Merkel’s attendance at the match in Poland came as the British government said none of its ministers will go to England’s Euro 2012 quarter-final against Italy, which takes place in co-host Ukraine.

Anger is running high across Europe over the treatment of jailed Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, and other governments have been putting mounting pressure on Ukraine.

No British ministers attended England’s three group matches – against France, Sweden and Ukraine – as they were all staged in Ukraine, though the ambassador to Kiev did go.

AFP/jcw

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POLITICS

Germany’s Scholz denies influence in tax fraud probe

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Friday denied helping a bank avoid paying back millions in tax rebates claimed under a huge fraud scam as he answered to a committee investigating the scandal.  

Germany's Scholz denies influence in tax fraud probe

The parliamentary committee in Hamburg is probing why local finance authorities in 2016 dropped a bid to claw back 47 million euros ($48 million) in taxes from private bank M. M. Warburg over so-called cum-ex trades.  

Scholz was the mayor of Hamburg from 2011 to 2018 and has struggled to shake off suspicions that he was involved in the decision to let the bank off the hook, despite repeatedly denying his involvement.  

Arriving at the hearing, the chancellor eyed the room with a grim expression on his face before swearing that he would tell the truth to the committee.  

He then reiterated his innocence, declaring: “I had no influence on the Warburg tax proceedings.”  

First exposed in 2017, the “cum-ex” scam involved numerous participants swiftly exchanging company shares amongst themselves around dividend day to claim multiple tax rebates on a single payout.  

The scam cost the government billions and has seen dozens of people indicted in Germany, including bankers, stock traders, lawyers and financial consultants.  

Warburg eventually had to pay back tens of millions of euros under pressure from Merkel’s federal government.  

READ ALSO: Germany lost €32 billion to bankers in ‘biggest ever tax scandal’

According to German media reports, investigators have examined emails from the account used by Scholz during his time as the mayor of Hamburg in connection with the scandal. 

Nothing to hide

The grilling in Hamburg comes as Scholz is already facing dismal popularity ratings after his first six months in office were tarnished by criticism over his perceived weak response to the war in Ukraine.  

More recently, the chancellor has struggled to reassure Germans over possible energy shortages this winter and the very real prospect of a recession in Europe’s biggest economy.  Scholz also this week faced a backlash over his failure to immediately condemn comments on the Holocaust made in Berlin by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.  

Scholz’s spokesman Steffen Hebestreit on Wednesday assured journalists that the chancellor would answer all of the committee’s questions and had nothing to hide.  

Asked about the scandal himself during a press conference last week, Scholz said he had “commented on these things very extensively and for many hours and will do so again”.  

“A huge number of hearings, a huge number of files have brought only one result: there are no findings that there was political influence,” he said.  

But rumours have continued to swirl, especially over an alleged conversation between Scholz and Christian Olearius, then head of the bank.  

Scholz initially admitted meeting Olearius, according to Stern magazine, but later denied having any concrete recollection of the encounter. 

Cash stash

The Bild daily on Friday published excerpts from Olearius’s diary in which the banker appeared to describe talks between him and Scholz on October 26, 2016.  

“He asks questions, listens, expresses no opinion, gives nothing away as to what he thinks or whether and how he intends to act,” Olearius reportedly wrote after the meeting.  

According to several German media reports, investigators have also seized emails from Scholz’s former office manager Jeanette Schwamberger that could bring new evidence to light.  

These emails are “potentially relevant to the evidence, as they suggest considerations around deleting data”, according to the reports.  

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung said the emails clearly “incriminate” Scholz.  Scholz and his people have “tried to provide only limited information on certain meetings or telephone conversations”, said Matthias Hauer, an opposition conservative MP.  

Johannes Kahrs, a former MP with Scholz’s Social Democrats (SPD) party, is also under investigation as part of the Hamburg probe.  

According to German media, investigators recently found around 200,000 euros in cash in a bank safe deposit box belonging to Kahrs, though it is unclear whether the find has anything to do with the cum-ex scandal. 

READ ALSO: German police make nationwide raids over tax fraud

By Sebastian Bronst with Femke Colborne in Berlin

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