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POLITICS

Former SPD chief Schulz to AfD’s Gauland: ‘You belong in the dung heap of German history’

The Bundestag is well known for its lengthy discussions over Germany’s hot topics. But tempers flared up to a higher level on Wednesday during a debate which covered topics including the recent right-wing riots in Germany.

Former SPD chief Schulz to AfD's Gauland: 'You belong in the dung heap of German history'
Martin Schulz receives a standing ovation in the Bundestag on Wednesday. Photo: DPA

The former Social Democrats (SPD) leader Martin Schulz verbally attacked Alternative for Germany (AfD) co-leader Alexander Gauland in an impassioned speech, saying he belonged in the “Misthaufen” – the dung heap – of German history, reports German media.

MPs were holding the fiery debate in the Bundestag in the aftermath of far-right protests in eastern Germany. In addition to immigration and far-right violence, the national budget plan was also on the agenda.

The AfD, which is the largest opposition party in the Bundestag, raised concerns over the depiction of the right-wing demonstrators who took part in protests in the eastern German city of Chemnitz, describing most of them as “concerned citizens” rather than as part of extremist mobs.

Gauland said the protestors who gave Hitler salutes, an illegal act in Germany, belong to a minority and that “the real crime was the bloody act committed by two asylum-seekers in Chemnitz”, Deutsche Welle reports.

But his speech prompted an emotional response from Schulz, who stood up to accuse the AfD of adopting “the means of fascism”, pointing to a strategy of reducing complex political problems down to one thing, “in general related to a minority in a country,” he said.

“Migrants are to blame for everything – there have been similar words in this house before,” Schulz said, referring to the time of Nazism.

“It's time for democracy to defend itself against these people,” he added.

His speech was followed by loud applause from several members of government. He was also given a standing ovation by some.

Schulz also referenced Gauland’s previous comments at the beginning of June that the Nazi era was only a “speck of bird shit” in the course of Germany's long history. Schulz said: “Mr Gauland, the amount of bird shit is a dung heap, and there is where you belong in German history.”

Schulz received a standing ovation from his fellow Social Democrats, along with politicians from the Green and Left parties.

Gauland reacted by saying what he said had “nothing to do with fascism”.

“Barricade yourself in the federal chancellery, further from reality,” he added.

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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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