Status: 09.09.2021 01:04 p.m.
Serious suspicion against a special customs unit: Investigators from the public prosecutor’s office and police have searched the Federal Ministry of Finance and Justice. The unit is said to have not passed on evidence of money laundering.
The public prosecutor’s office and the police searched the offices of the Federal Ministry of Finance and the Federal Ministry of Justice in Berlin. The background to this is the investigation by the Osnabrück public prosecutor’s office against those responsible for the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) located at customs. “Spiegel” was the first to report on this.
As the central office for financial transaction investigations, the FIU collects and analyzes suspicious activity reports under the Money Laundering Act. In the previous electoral term, under the then Federal Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, it had been transferred from the Federal Criminal Police Office to Customs.
Employees should not have forwarded information
Since last year, the public prosecutors have been investigating a suspicion of thwarting punishment in office by the FIU. FIU employees are said to have not passed on information from banks about money laundering “in the millions” to the police and the judiciary.
In addition, it will be examined why the number of suspicious transaction reports has decreased to a fraction since the FIU took over the money laundering control in 2017.
According to the public prosecutor’s office, the beginning of the investigation, which has been ongoing since 2020, was a suspicious payment of more than one million euros to Africa from 2018, in which a bank saw a possible connection to arms and drug trafficking as well as terrorist financing.
The FIU took note of the bank’s report, but did not forward it to German law enforcement authorities. So there was no longer any possibility of stopping the payments.
Scholz is upset
Federal Finance Minister Olaf Scholz reacted disgruntled to the searches. The authority had questions to the finance and justice ministries. “That could have been put in writing,” said Scholz. Everyone can evaluate that for themselves. The staff of the anti-money laundering unit FIU has already been increased significantly and will be further expanded, said the SPD candidate for chancellor.
Tom Schneider, ARD Berlin, with background information about the investigation against the customs special unit
daily news 5:00 p.m., 9.9.2021
“Extensive communication” between FIU and ministries
Even before the raid in Berlin, the Osnabrück public prosecutor had the Federal Customs Administration searched. In the process, documents were secured from which findings about “extensive communication” between the FIU and the two federal ministries emerged. The Osnabrück public prosecutor’s office justified the searches in the two ministries.
One now wants to investigate whether and, if so, to what extent the management, those responsible for the ministries and higher-level departments were involved in the decisions of the FIU. The public prosecutor emphasized, however, that investigations are currently being carried out “in all directions”. The evaluation of the files will take several weeks.
Ministries promise full cooperation
On the part of the Federal Ministry of Finance, it was said that “the authorities are of course fully supported”. The underlying suspicion is “expressly not directed against employees” of the ministry, but against unknown employees of the FIU at its headquarters in Cologne.
The public prosecutor’s office is primarily concerned with the identification of employees of the FIU and information on the extent to which their approach to classifying suspicious transaction reports has been legally discussed and secured.
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Justice also said that her house was cooperating “to the fullest” with the investigators. She also pointed out that the suspicions were not directed against employees of the ministry.
Focused on the Wirecard scandal
The FIU came into focus last year in the wake of the Wirecard scandal. The head of Christof Schulte had to testify before the parliamentary committee of inquiry because of the scandal at the payment service provider Wirecard. The authority is accused of investigating suspicious transaction reports regarding Wirecard too late.
According to the Federal Ministry of Finance, under the current Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, the FIU had increased its staff from an initial 165 employees to 469; the previous head had been replaced in 2018.
According to its annual report, the FIU received a total of 144,005 suspicious transaction reports in 2020. Compared to 2019, this is an increase of around 25 percent. The annual number of reports has increased more than twelve-fold over the past ten years. The majority of the reports come from the financial sector.
In the past year, a total of 3,600 suspicious transaction reports were received that were potentially related to the financing of terrorism and crime related to state security. This is a share of around two percent compared to the total volume.