Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania: “Never exerted political influence” – Politics
Heiko Geue spreads his arms, “I’m happy that I can finally report to you”. At 10:02 a.m., his finance ministry received a message releasing him from his duty of confidentiality in a tax case. This case broke political friendships in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and is increasingly developing into a political thriller.
On one side are Finance Minister Geue and Prime Minister Manuela Schwesig (both SPD), who have been wanting to end the tiresome chapter about the climate and environmental foundation MV for a year. With their help, the controversial Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea pipeline was completed. On the other hand there is the foundation with its chairman Erwin Sellering, Schwesig’s predecessor as head of state. The foundation increasingly has the impression that the way it deals with limits is being overstepped. The foundation’s board of directors released the tax authorities from tax secrecy this Tuesday morning, so that Finance Minister Geue can speak publicly about the case.
“It is important that there was never any political influence,” says Geue as a defender on his own behalf. His press conference in the state capital of Schwerin is also an attempt to get off the defensive. It’s about the suspicion that Geue could have exerted pressure. Pressure to pay a gift tax of 9.8 million euros, contrary to the line taken by the responsible Ribnitz-Damgarten tax office for months. Namely for a grant of 20 million euros North Stream 2 AG to the foundation. Behind Nord Stream 2 AG is the Russian energy group Gazprom.
The dissolution of the foundation would be in Schwesig’s interest
The gift tax assessment was issued in September 2022; the foundation paid the 9.8 million euros conditionally. If it stays that way, it could accelerate the dissolution and liquidation of the foundation. That would be very much in the spirit of Schwesig. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the foundation has become a political evil because of the Gazprom connection. The board of directors around Sellering only wants to resign and clear the way for a dissolution when everything has been clarified properly. And if the board does not have to fear recourse claims due to unexplained events.
Geue does not want to be accused of having put pressure on the responsible tax office to have the tax assessment issued against the foundation. The Treasury Secretary turns the tables. Rather, the foundation exerted pressure on the tax office so that no gift tax was due. “There was pressure for tax exemption,” says Geue.
He explains why the foundation has to pay the gift tax. There is only a draft of an agreement, but no signed declaration between the foundation and Nord Stream 2 on what the 20 million euros should be used for. Therefore, it is not clear whether the money should be used exclusively for charitable purposes of climate protection. Or whether the 20 million euros could not have been used for economic purposes in connection with the pipeline.
The four-eye conversation
With that, however, Geue could get his confidante, Prime Minister Schwesig, in trouble. Because the foundation complained to the Financial Court of Greifswald against the tax assessment for the 9.8 million. In connection with a hearing at the beginning of the year in court, reference was made to the fact that the exclusively charitable use of the 20 million euros had been agreed in a one-on-one meeting between the then Nord Stream boss Matthias Warnig and Schwesig.
The foundation is said to have demanded that Schwesig be heard as proof of this. In addition, the Nord Stream transfers to the foundation are said to have stated “Donation for environmental activities” as the subject; “Environmental Donation”. After the end of the pipeline, the foundation no longer pursues economic purposes anyway. According to the foundation, all open invoices have been settled. You have to know that there was an economic arm of the foundation. The pipeline was thus able to be completed through partner companies despite US sanctions. Climate protection projects in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania are funded through the common good part of the foundation.
Geue had been a speechwriter for Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, personal assistant to Chancellor Frank-Walter Steinmeier and campaign manager for Chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück before he passed more stations ended up in Schwerin. There he headed the State Chancellery and later the Ministry of Finance. Rarely in his career has he been under so much pressure. Geue gets caught up in contradictions at his press conference, loses the thread, his appearance doesn’t seem like a liberating blow.
CDU leader Merz speaks of “downright outrageous” events
A note that could be incriminating for him can be found in an email from the Ribnitz-Damgarten tax office on April 20, 2022. The email went to Geue’s ministry. The tax office informed the ministry about the tax status of the foundation. The office noted that the clerk responsible had informed the foundation’s tax office that he could not provide any information as to when a final decision could be expected. The clerk justified this with the words “since it is now a political decision”. What that means is so far unclear.
Months later, on September 16, 2022, the tax assessment for the 9.8 million euros followed. The tax office noted that Nord Stream 2 AG had only subsequently confirmed the “common good” purpose. That should have happened sooner; this “defect of form” can no longer be healed. Geue now argues in a similar way.
The incidents in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania will also occupy the Bundestag this Wednesday. His parliamentary group had requested a current hour for the “downright outrageous events”, said Union parliamentary group leader Friedrich Merz on Tuesday. The case is now about a dimension “that is no longer purely political,” explained the first parliamentary manager of the Union faction, Thorsten Frei. The events are “highly dubious” and he had “couldn’t have imagined something like this in Germany”. They should therefore finally be enlightened.
The fact that tax files had been burned, that the state ministries of finance and justice had known about it for a long time, that the finance minister had “obviously” said something incorrect to the state parliament and that none of this had any consequences – that breathes “the spirit of a banana republic”. If the authorities in Schwerin did not ensure clarification and transparency, one would have to ensure this in other ways.
When asked that in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania the CDU was itself in the state government until the end of 2021 and that it was Angela Merkel’s CDU state association, Frei assured that his parliamentary group still had “an unrestricted interest in complete clarification”. CSU regional group leader Alexander Dobrindt spoke on Tuesday of a “banana republic system” in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Prime Minister Schwesig is acting as if it doesn’t concern her. But now it’s about “clarifying instead of flaring up”. Dobrindt even described the climate foundation as “criminal”. When asked, however, he admitted that he had only made this assessment “as an experienced lawyer”.