German Chancellor Angela Merkel has rejected accusations that she had lobbied for the insolvent tech company Wirecard.
Merkel was summoned by a parliamentary investigation committee in Berlin after allegations that she had spoken up for Wirecard during a trip to China in 2019.
But the German Chancellor defended her comments and said the company had received no special treatment.
Merkel said Wirecard’s aim of entering the Chinese market overlapped with the best interests of the German economy.
The financial services company later collapsed in an accounting scandal in June 2020, less than a year after Merkel’s visit to China.
Wirecard filed for bankruptcy after admitting that €1.9 billion euros supposedly held in trust accounts in the Philippines probably didn’t exist.
“Despite all the press reports, there was no reason to assume serious irregularities at Wirecard,” Merkel told the committee.
“I was accompanied by 30 companies [during the trip to China in September 2019],” she added. “Wirecard AG was not a member of the trade delegation.”
Some German lawmakers have accused authorities of ignoring Wirecard’s alleged wrongdoing despite five years of reported financial irregularities.
Merkel has also played down the significance of a meeting with her former defence minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, then a lobbyist for Wirecard, shortly before the trip.
The meeting had “no connection with my trip to China, and I don’t remember Mr Guttenberg mentioning Wirecard,” Merkel said, but added that she “couldn’t rule it out”.
Germany’s Finance Minister Olaf Scholz had appeared before the committee on Thursday and denied any responsibility on his or the government’s part for failures of oversight.
Scholz, a Social Democrat candidate in September’s parliamentary elections, did however concede that the regulatory structure had not been set up well enough for the “biggest financial scandal” ever to hit Germany.
Prosecutors in Munich are investigating Wirecard’s former chief executive, Markus Braun, on suspicion of criminal fraud.