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  • Red Flag: Corona Corruption Is Legal in Germany


Red Flag: Corona Corruption Is Legal in Germany

Those politicians who earned million selling overpriced masks to the state? A court has declared it legal...

Image for Red Flag: Corona Corruption Is Legal in Germany

Alfred Sauter was one of the men accused of corruption. Imago: IMAGO / Rolf Poss 

Half a year ago, we learned that members of Germany’s conservative party had taken in millions of euros from companies selling overpriced masks to the state. These politicians got “provisions” for recommending dubious merchants to their colleagues.

As Spiegel International reported in English at the time, Georg Nüßlein and Alfred Sauter of the Christian Social Union (CSU) in Bavaria were among the worst offenders. Sauter, a former justice minister and now a parliamentarian in the state, drew up contracts to get masks to the Bavaria’s health ministry. Each politician got about €1.2 million in kickbacks.

Now, an appellate court in Munich has essentially thrown out the charges, arguing that such high-priced influence-peddling is not actually illegal. Paragraph 108e of the German Criminal code does not prohibit politicians from taking bribes per se — as long as it is for services unrelated to the “exercise of their mandate.” In this case, the politicians were using their contacts for deals outside parliament.

The court, for its part, called for the law to be changed, as cases like this undermine faith in democracy. When healthcare workers in Germany were desperate for masks, numerous politicians were looking for ways to enrich themselves.

Now, Nüßlein and Sauter stand to get their money in full. The prosecutor is planning to appeal to the decision, but chances of a conviction are small. It would be up to the Bundestag to change the law. That seems even less likely. As I’ve written before, German politicians are so corrupt they would put Central Asian autocrats to shame. 

This is not just about direct payments like this. Corruption is built into the system. MdBs (members of the Bundestag) are supposed to represent the people. Yet as soon as they are elected, they get a base salary of €10,083 per month, and become wealthier than the vast majority of people in Germany. This is in addition to a monthly expense account of €4,418 and numerous other privileges, like a round-the-clock car service. Even if a politician comes from a working-class background to begin with, they immediately join a wealthy caste.

What is the justification for such obscene salaries? We’re told that politicians who are fabulously well-to-do will be less susceptible to corruption. It’s also supposed to be a difficult job. Except: MdBs are still allowed to earn unlimited amounts of money on the side — apparently the job is not full-time after all. The only requirement is they make vague declarations about their side hustles. 

Jens Spahn, our hapless health minister, has long been “representing” us in questions of healthcare while simultaneously taking money from the industry he is supposed to regulate — all completely legally. Would he have been slightly less incompetent if he was focussing on his ministerial tasks, instead of accumulating millions?

What can we call this besides completely legal corruption?

Voting for the Bundestag is supposed to be an expression of democracy or the rule of the people. But as Marx wrote, it means nothing more than “deciding once in three or six years which member of the ruling class was to misrepresent the people.” The original German is a play on words: they vertreten (represent) and zertreten (crush) the people.

We are watching this play out in Berlin right now. In September, 59.1% voted to expropriate big landlords. Yet this big majority in the city is barely represented in parliament. Instead, the new government has announced the creation of an expert commission that is supposed to “study” the problem. How is this democratic?

One can’t help but wonder: would this happen if our “representatives” earned anything like normal wages, and they were in the same housing market as the rest of us? The corruption of Nüßlein and Sauter is shocking. But it is also business as usual in a corrupt system.