OWithout a heroic tone, there is no longer any TV reportage today, even if, like Pro Sieben some time ago, it is about peanuts: “For them, farmers risk their lives fighting people against animals.” Also the latest documentary from WDR and NDR on the fight against criminal cum-ex deals, which even in the title does not skimp on pathos – “The billion-dollar robbery. A public prosecutor chases the tax mafia ”-, begins with dramatic music, full-bodied sentences (“ a robbery in which the rich get richer and bend their laws; politics and authorities watched idly for decades ”) and pictures of a resolute stroll through the corridors or the heroine who ponders the Rhine. An “ominous closeness between the financial sector, state and politics” will be revealed, it is said. And finally: “Can the public prosecutor create justice?” High Noon in Cologne.
And to say it right away: The superlatives have rarely been as appropriate as in this case, because the cum-ex fraud that has been going on since the nineties has nothing to do with “peanuts”. In Germany’s biggest tax scandal, stock traders, including the big players in the market, had a tax that had been paid several times “refunded”, although all those involved must have been aware that the perfidious scam was making the polity scoop. The damage is said to amount to almost twelve billion euros, with around twenty more billion being added by related cum-cum deals. Bankers and consultants fight back with all their might against the investigation initiated by the Cologne chief public prosecutor Anne Brorhilker almost single-handedly.
The filmmakers Michael Wech, Massimo Bognanni and Petra Nagel thought their material was so hot that they did not post the documentary in the usual press portal, but only presented it to a small group of journalists. The film, which gives a very good overview of the various stages of the public prosecutor’s complex investigative work, is illustrated with many re-enacted scenes; underpinned with interviews – hardly any new investigative findings. And the (not yet legally binding) conviction of an ex-employee of the Hamburg Warburg Bank to a prison sentence of several years by the Bonn Regional Court last week could not even be taken into account. You were already there, said Bognanni, working on the final mix. A table may be added. Nevertheless, the documentation is a little scoop, because Brorhilker has not yet expressed himself publicly in such detail. What is impressive is how unpretentious it is. Almost amused, she tells how some big banks tried to intimidate her with as many as fifty lawyers.
The now over a thousand accused should not like the film, but the audience even more, because it tells a rare success story. The investigations were started in 2013 – and from then on at least passively slowed down by the authorities. For example, the Federal Central Tax Office (BZSt) did not hand over a list of the crooked business that had been kept since 2009. She couldn’t explain that either, says Brorhilker. Your team had to reconstruct each case themselves. The financial supervisory authority Bafin had also been informed early on by a tip, as early as 2007, but it believed the dissuasive statements of the banks involved and did not take action: perhaps the most important new finding. “A total failure,” it says in the film. The role of the Federal Ministry of Finance was already the subject of a committee of inquiry, which determined in 2017 that there had been no official failure. The fact that a speaker (later paid by the banking associations) was able to incorporate a lobby proposal almost verbatim into a containment bill in 2007 seems bizarre. The cum-ex transactions abroad, which were thereby exempted from the law, appeared to be legal – as many participants later referred to. The real boom was only just beginning.
As certain as Brorhilker was from the start that “this cannot be legitimate”, it was just as difficult to prove that not only existing loopholes in the law had been exploited, but that agreements had been made. With the help of key witnesses and global raids, this succeeded: In 2020, the regional court ruled for the first time in a groundbreaking ruling that cum-ex transactions are illegal.
Even if you will not get all the money back and much more complicated tax fraud models have existed for a long time, this documentation shows what a difference a single, resolutely morally acting public prosecutor can make. She persisted in ensuring that organized financial crime is punished with heavy prison sentences in Germany as well. Unscrupulous magnates of high finance, even if they have got politicians on their side and let professors write friendly reports, can no longer duck back. This is, as this “story in the first” rightly ends, a service to democracy.
The billion-dollar robbery: a public prosecutor chases the tax mafia, on Monday, June 7th, at 10:50 p.m. on Das Erste.