A top contender for Angela Merkel’s office as chancellor will on Monday face an investigation into an anti-money laundering agency overseen by his ministry.
The appearance of Finance Minister, Olaf Scholz, the frontrunner in the race to succeed Merkel, before the German parliament’s finance committee comes less than a week before Germans go to the polls in national elections on September 26.
MPs from opposition parties will have the opportunity to ask Scholz questions via video link after the finance and justice ministries were raided by prosecutors on September 9 as part of a probe into the Cologne-based Financial Intelligence Unit.
The body, part of Germany’s customs authority tasked with tackling money laundering, is suspected of failing to report potential wrongdoing to the relevant authorities.
Merkel’s conservative bloc has seen a steady decline in opinion polls under unpopular candidate Armin Laschet, allowing Scholz’s centre-left Social Democratic Party to grab a late polling lead.
“Nerves at the SPD are shredded” at the prospect that the scandal could have an impact on the party’s poll ratings, according to German weekly Der Spiegel.
But prosecutors are also under scrutiny over the timing of their raids.
The under-pressure conservatives have seized the opportunity to attack Scholz for his involvement in the controversy.
In a televised election debate last Sunday, Laschet said the result of the finance minister’s actions was that “supervision had failed” and accused Scholz of trying to brush the issue under the carpet.
In response, Scholz distanced himself from the unit, saying the raids “had nothing to do with the ministries”, and accused Laschet of asking “dishonest” questions.
Scholz has previously been criticised for the failure of his ministry to heed early warning signs from the payments company Wirecard, which collapsed last year after acknowledging a 1.9-billion-euro ($2.2-billion) hole in its accounts.
The finance minister appeared in front of a parliamentary inquiry into Wirecard earlier this year, where he denied responsibility for the collapse of the company.
On the campaign trail, Scholz has defended his response to Wirecard, saying that he has led an effort to strengthen Germany’s financial watchdog in the aftermath.
“We did what we had to do,” Scholz said when confronted with accusations in a televised debate.
Scholz has also come under fire over Germany’s “cum-ex” tax fraud saga, a complicated share dividend scam that went on for years and is estimated to have cost the state some 5.5 billion euros.
The former mayor of Hamburg has denied putting pressure on the city’s tax authorities after meeting with the owner of a bank implicated in the scandal in 2016.
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Ex-president Jailed For Corruption
Mauritania’s former president, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, has been sentenced to five years in prison for money laundering and “illicit enrichment”.
Abdel Aziz led the West African country for a decade after coming to power in a 2008 coup and was an ally of Western powers fighting Islamist militants in the Sahel region. He had been on trial since January and denied corruption allegations.
The court found Abdel Aziz guilty of two of 10 charges late on Monday, following an inquiry into allegations of embezzlement of public property and corruption.
One of his lawyers called the ruling “a political verdict targeting a man and his family”. Prosecutors said the former head of state’s conviction was historic.
The court, which specialises in corruption and economic crimes, acquitted some of Abdel Aziz’s associates who had also been on trial, including two former prime ministers.
Abdel Aziz was succeeded in 2019 by a political ally, Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, who remains president, but Abdel Aziz’s government quickly came under scrutiny over actions including deals on offshore oil projects.
Abdel Aziz has the option of appealing his sentence at the Supreme Court.
Israel-Hamas Truce To Begin At 7am On Friday With First Hostages To Be Freed, Says Qatar
Thirteen women and children being held hostage by fighters in Gaza will be the first to be released – as the temporary truce in Gaza between Israel and Hamas begins at 7am local time (5am UK time) on Friday, Qatar has said.
Dr Majed al Ansari, spokesperson for Qatar’s foreign ministry, said it had received a list of the civilians to be freed around 4pm local time (2pm UK time) tomorrow – and families would be given priority.
He said it was expected Israel would release Palestinian prisoners in return as part of the deal.
“We are hoping that we don’t see any further delays,” he said.
“I think we have reached a point now where everything is in place, we are ready to go on the ground.”
The deal, agreed following talks mediated by Qatar, Egypt and the US, will include the Red Cross visiting the hostages and bringing medicines to them.
It would also mean hundreds of trucks carrying humanitarian, medical and fuel supplies would be allowed to enter Gaza, while Israel would halt all air missions over southern Gaza and maintain a daily six-hour daytime no-fly window in the north.
Dr al Ansari said humanitarian aid would start flowing into Gaza as soon as the truce begins, adding it was “a fraction” of what it needs.
The ceasefire had been set to take effect at 10am local time on Thursday (8am UK time) – after six weeks of fighting.
The structured agreement was reached and confirmed on Wednesday morning, but more than a day later an expected announcement of the official start time had yet to materialise.
Asked about the delay by reporters at a news conference in Doha, Dr al Ansari said discussions had been “very difficult and detailed”.
“We wanted to make sure that nothing would cause harm in the process of getting the hostages out, and the perimeters of the agreement are agreed upon in the operational sense, on both sides,” he said.
He added the temporary truce includes a comprehensive ceasefire in both north and southern Gaza – and it was hoped it will lead to a permanent truce.
Hamas has agreed to free 50 Israeli women and child hostages held by fighters in Gaza, in exchange for Israel releasing 150 Palestinian women and children from Israeli jails.
Israel had said the truce could last beyond the initial four days as long as the fighters free at least 10 hostages per day.
A Palestinian source has told the Reuters news agency a second wave of releases could see as many as 100 hostages freed by the end of the month.
Both sides have said they will go back to fighting once the truce is over.
Wife Of Gabon’s Deposed Leader Ali Bongo Jailed
Sylvia Bongo Ondimba Valentin, the wife of Gabon’s deposed leader Ali Bongo has been jailed, the AFP news agency said in a post on social media platform X on Thursday, citing a lawyer.
Gabon army officers seized power on Aug. 30, annulling an election minutes after an announcement that President Ali Bongo had won, which they said was not credible. Bongo, in power since 2009, had succeeded his father Omar Bongo, who ruled for 42 years.
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