German lawmakers to grill Scholz over anti-money laundering probe days before election

·2 min read
Televised debate of the candidates to succeed Germany's Merkel

BERLIN (Reuters) - German lawmakers will question Finance Minister Olaf Scholz over suspected failings at the government anti-money laundering agency next Monday, only days before a federal election which his party is projected to win.

Scholz will answer questions at a special meeting of the lower house of parliament's finance committee on Sept. 20, though it is unclear if he will take part in person or join remotely via video link, lawmakers said on Wednesday.

Opinion polls suggest Scholz has a good chance of becoming chancellor in the Sept. 26 vote, replacing Angela Merkel who is standing down after 16 years at the helm of Europe's largest economy.

Armin Laschet, the top candidate of the centre-right CDU/CSU bloc, so far has failed to translate Merkel's high approval ratings into continued support for their party, with all polls seeing Scholz's SPD comfortably in the lead.

Prosecutors raided the finance ministry in Berlin last Thursday as part of an investigation into why officials at the Cologne-based anti-money laundering agency FIU did not follow up on certain leads, putting a spotlight on Germany's failings in tackling financial crime.

The finance ministry has said the investigation is focused on still unknown suspects at the FIU in Cologne and not on members of the ministry itself, adding that the raid's goal was to gather information about certain decisions of FIU officials.

The timing of the raid - less than three weeks before the election - has fuelled speculation about a political motivation.

The finance ministry oversees the FIU, though the agency is independent from political influence in its daily decisions.

Scholz himself has tried to play down the raid, saying prosecutors could also have requested the information in written form and that everybody could draw their own conclusion about why there was a decision to search the finance ministry.

This has prompted Laschet to demand an apology from Scholz for criticising the prosecutor's decision. Laschet also accused his political rival of undermining the rule of law and helping populists.

(Reporting by Holger Hansen and Michael Nienaber; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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