Scandal in the Hamburg committee of inquiry into Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s cum-ex affair: Of all people, the chief investigator appointed by the SPD is hiding star-Information two laptops with sensitive emails. For what reason?
The most sensitive documents relating to Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s (SPD) cum-ex affair are well protected. The safe stands man-high in a windowless room, a few hundred meters from Hamburg City Hall. Only selected, security-cleared people are allowed to open the heavy doors and then take the files to the neighboring reading room, where members of the Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry and staff are allowed to view them under strict supervision.
But something has been missing from the safe since last week: two laptops with more than 700,000 emails, including from Olaf Scholz’s office manager, Hamburg’s mayor Peter Tschentscher, and numerous top officials. They were actually supposed to bring new insights into the affair in which there are so many strange gaps in memory and files. Now the emails are gone.
According to information from star and the WAZ, of all people, the chief intelligence officer from the ranks of the SPD removed the devices from the investigative committee’s security room and hid them.
Chief investigator Steffen Jänicke told the committee chairmen that he had “ordered that access to the files and the working staff with the evidence be suspended for the time being.” But not a word about him stealing the laptops from the security room.
Where are the devices?
With the research of star and WAZ, CDU chairman Richard Seelmaecker says: “We don’t know where the devices are and whether they are safe there.” The citizen’s representative convinced himself and discovered that the devices had disappeared from the security room. “The laptops were removed from the safe without consultation. We don’t know whether they were manipulated or read in the meantime.”
The two black laptops look inconspicuous, but what lies dormant on them is extremely explosive. The Cologne public prosecutor’s office confiscated the emails as part of the investigation against a Hamburg tax official and two former high-ranking SPD politicians from the city: Alfons Pawelczyk, former Interior Senator and Deputy Mayor of Hamburg, and his political foster son Johannes Kahrs, ex-Bundestag member and influential budget politician.
In the proceedings, the Cologne public prosecutor’s office is investigating the question of why the tax office in Hamburg initially refrained from reclaiming millions in loot from cum-ex transactions from the Hamburg private bank MM Warburg in 2016 – and what influence the two politicians had. They advised the bank closely during this time and opened the door for the two bank owners to Olaf Scholz, then First Mayor of Hamburg.
Pawelczyk received almost 60,000 euros for his lobbying work, in two tranches. And after Kahrs’ initiative, a total of 45,500 euros flowed from the Warburg network of companies to the Hamburg SPD, preferably to Kahrs’ constituency at the time. Scholz met with the bankers several times and spoke to them about the tax process.
Also email inboxes from Chancellor confidants in laptops
The email inboxes were confiscated shortly after the federal election in September 2021. Two days after the election there was a raid in Hamburg. In addition to the tax authority, the investigators also searched the tax officer’s home and Johannes Kahrs’ home. In addition, the investigators searched the electronic mailboxes of politicians, state councilors and civil servants for months. Those affected didn’t notice anything.
Among the mailboxes is that of Scholz’s office manager Jeanette Schwamberger, a close confidant of the current chancellor. During an initial evaluation of the email inbox, the investigators came across explosive correspondence. It was a request from the investigative committee. The MPs demand calendar entries about Scholz’s meetings and phone calls with Kahrs and Pawelczyk in connection with the Cum-Ex affair. Schwamberger suggests in emails to the current Chancellery Minister Wolfgang Schmidt: It should be “discussed with Olaf” how the appointments should be “sorted”. She puts the verb sort in quotation marks.
In August 2022 the reported star about the process. At that time, CDU man Seelmaecker came to the conclusion that he should ask the judiciary in North Rhine-Westphalia to release the seized emails. The Christian Democrat hoped to gain new insight into Olaf Scholz’s role in the Cum-Ex affair surrounding the Warburg Bank. Seelmaecker also hoped to find answers in the emails to the question of whether Scholz might have lied to the committee about his knowledge of the meetings. Scholz says today that he cannot remember the meetings with the bankers.
However, the judiciary in North Rhine-Westphalia initially did not want to hand over the emails to the investigative committee in Hamburg. Justice Minister Benjamin Limbach (Greens) had legal concerns. An argument broke out and the argument dragged on for months. Only when Seelmaecker threatened to sue did Limbach give in. At the beginning of October 2023, he had two laptops with the 700,000 emails brought to Hamburg.
Unrest in the SPD
The investigators have had access to the emails there since Friday, October 13th. But the SPD has already stopped working on it again. Two days after the delivery, on Sunday, October 15th, SPD chairman Milan Pein complained to his comrade and committee chairman Mathias Petersen that there were emails in the mailboxes that were unrelated to the investigation. This is confidential political correspondence and personal data is affected. The inspection is unlawful, possibly even criminal.
According to information from star and WAZ, in addition to internal SPD processes that the political opponent should not be aware of, there are also emails from Scholz’s confidante Schwamberger to her bank account. The Chancellor’s office manager had apparently conducted private banking transactions using her work account.
For the Hamburg comrades, this is obviously a welcome opportunity to remove all emails and therefore important evidence from circulation for the time being. Committee members and their employees should no longer have access to the laptops until the handling of the emails has been clarified.
Without waiting for a decision from the committee or its representatives, another SPD man became active: Steffen Jänicke, head of the working staff. Although numerous active and former SPD politicians are involved in the affair, due to the regulations for investigative committees in Hamburg, the SPD provides both the committee chairman and the head and deputy of the working staff, who take on or prepare many investigative tasks for the MPs.
According to information from star and the WAZ, Jänicke removed the laptops from the safe in the committee’s strictly secured file room. The file room and an adjacent reading room for the committee members were specially set up a few streets away from Hamburg City Hall so that strictly confidential documents can be worked on there under supervision.
The opposition is horrified
It is unclear where Jänicke took the laptops. The question is whether he violated the committee’s rules for maintaining secrecy, which state: “The files and other documents must be kept in file and reading rooms in the respective building to be determined by the working staff.” Jänicke’s office is in a different building and does not have the same security measures as the file room. It is also unclear why he removed the laptops from the safe – only selected members of the team have access to it anyway.
“We are extremely astonished at this handling of sensitive data,” says Left Party chairman Norbert Hackbusch. When asked, committee chairman Mathias Petersen said the laptops would be kept “in the working staff in compliance with confidentiality regulations.” However, that’s not enough for Hackbusch: “It has to be clarified now: Where are the laptops? Were they safe the whole time? And why weren’t we informed immediately?”
“Due to a lack of knowledge,” he could not answer questions about the whereabouts of the laptops, says Farid Müller from the Greens, coalition partner of the SPD in Hamburg. Müller refers to the task force. When asked, Jänicke himself said that “for legal reasons” he could “neither answer nor respond to the questions in any other way”.
AfD chairman Alexander Wolf explained: “It will be necessary to investigate whether changes have been made to the laptops mentioned or copies have been made in the meantime.”
The matter is also sensitive from the opposition’s point of view because Jänicke had already made the headlines as committee chairman: In the summer of 2022, the Hamburg State Office for the Protection of the Constitution expressed concerns about whether Jänicke was trustworthy enough to have access to top secret documents due to family connections to Russia gain weight. The SPD-run Hamburg Citizens’ Office had ignored the concerns, but even then the representatives were not initially informed.
When the matter was exposed through media reports, a compromise was agreed internally: Jänicke would be allowed to remain in office, but would not have access to sensitive data or the safe. How he got the laptops is unclear. When Seelmaecker asked him about the whereabouts of the devices, the SPD man is said to have replied: “Don’t worry, the laptops are in a suitable place.”
I have been working in the news industry for over 6 years, first as a reporter and now as an editor. I have covered politics extensively, and my work has appeared in major newspapers and online news outlets around the world. In addition to my writing, I also contribute regularly to 24 Hours World.