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German state printer implicated via Panama Papers?

Panama Papers files seem to validate a whistleblower's tipoffs to Germany's state-owned printer, the news magazine Der Spiegel reports. Berlin has again denied ignoring warnings from the South American informant.

On Saturday, Germany's Finance Ministry denied that it or the BuDru state printing company had ignored offshore Panama deals intended for the production of Venezuelan passports in Cuba in 2007, then under embargo.

"The facts are known and were also the subject of prosecution investigations as well as external and internal inquires at the Bundesdruckerei," the ministry said, referring to the high-tech company which also has stakes in foreign firms as far afield as China.

The ministry oversees the solely public-owned printery based in Berlin.

Symbolbild Personalausweis Deutschland 26.09.2014

Sophisticated ID cards are the pride of the Bundesdruckerei

'Implausible,' says Left

Opposition Left party federal parliamentary floor leader Sahra Wagenknecht accused the German government of becoming "completely implausible in its remarks on the Panama Papers" - the past week's mass leak of documents on obscure offshore traders.

Wagenknecht, who has published a series of books on wealth and poverty, accused Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble of "ignoring" past tip-offs. Most recently, he had stated that he "wanted to crack down on tax havens," she said.

Wrongdoing 'not discernable,' says ministry

"Wrongdoing by the Federal Finance Ministry in connection with the old [and] just like the new allegations is not discernible," a ministry spokesman added.

Deutschland Schäuble PK zum Haushaltsentwurf 2017

No wrongdoing discernible, says Schäuble's ministry

The Bundesdruckerei describes itself as a "high-security printing house" which builds its business on "trust that customers place on us."

Its website also says the BuDru observes laws and compliance guidelines "in Germany and abroad" and uses ID verification methods to protect users against "forgery and manipulation."

Former executive implicated

Spiegel's latest article, based on research by a South American journalist network, contains copies of documents mostly from Panama, appearing to show that the BuDru's former foreign contracts chief had had roles in several shell firms.

Spiegel claims - contrary to past BuDru assertions that part of the print job did not transpire - that "evidently money disappeared into dark channels, possibly as bribe money in Venezuela."

Venezuela's leftist regime, then under the late Hugo Chavez, had wanted the modern passport system provided via its ally Cuba, instead of purchasing it directly from Germany, the magazine said. Cuba was on international embargo lists, so an offshore firm was "inserted" in between, Spiegel claims.

Letters sent to board

Recapping on a lengthy article it published in 2014, Spiegel said the South American informant, who over six years formerly acted for the printery in Venezuela, sent letters to BuDru supervisory board members in 2012, urging them to probe the matter, and then to Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble in 2013.

One of the board recipients was reportedly Werner Gatzer, a states secretary in Schäuble' finance ministry.

"Nobody wanted, however, to meet with him [the informant], let alone listen to his accusations," wrote Spiegel on Saturday.

The informant, who was told via legal channels not tobother the Bundesdruckerei again, subsequently sought legal redress for 833,000 euros in provisions before a Berlin court, according to Spiegel.

Saturday's Spiegel article also contains a Panama Papers document purportedly from a Swiss bank account suggesting transactions in 2007 by the former BuDr executive. He had "rigorously denied" suspicions on past occasions, Spiegel said.

And, the former executive's lawyer continued to reject all accusations, Spiegel added.

Privatized, repurchased

Initially privatized in 2000, the federal printery with 1,800 employees went through financial turbulence in 2003, before being repurchased by the federal government in 2009.

It bills itself as a key producer of high-security identification systems using digitalized passports and identification cards. In 2005, it introduced Germany's new digitalized passports that since 2007 also incorporate digitalized fingerprints.

For the introduction of the euro as cash in early 2002, the Bundesdruckerei minted German euro banknotes.

ipj/rc (dpa, Reuters)

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