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Illegal political funding across Europe. Part I

The following report contains words and quotations that have been translated from German into English by Jolyon Gumbrell.

Secret political donations have allowed external actors to interfere with elections and referendums in EU member states, which is damaging the democratic process across Europe. Often the source of a political donation can be traced to a company or organization based in a tax haven such as the Isle of Man or Switzerland, but finding out who is really behind the source of these multi million euro or pound donations is more difficult.

In Germany an organization called the “Verein zur Erhaltung der Rechtsstaatlichkeit und der bürgerliche Freiheit” – which translates as “club for the maintenance of the rule of law and citizens freedom”, also referred to in English as the “Rights and Freedom Club” – has supported the right wing Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party in several elections. The chaiman of the AfD, Jörg Meuthen denied in “ARD-Sommerinterview” the summer television interview with ARD of July 2018, that his party had ever worked with the Rights and Freedom Club. However the chairman of the Rights and Freedom Club, David Bendels is also the publisher of Deutschland-Kurier, a political newspaper that supports the AfD.

According to email and interview evidence presentented by the German television program “ARD-Politikmagazin Panorama”: David Bendels gave1500 free copies of Deutschland-Kuriers to the AfD’s regional association in Rosenheim. The copies of the newspaper were distributed by party volunteers to local mail boxes. This happened in July 2018 three months before the state elections in Bavaria for the “Landtag”, the state parliament in Munich.

According to a legal and constitutional expert, Prof. Sophie Schönberger interviewed by ARD-Politikmagazin Panorama: “the email evidence is a comprehensive connection between the club and the AfD, which means comprehensive proof that there was an agreement for election support between the AfD and the club. And this delivers plausible clues for the first time, that it concerns a type of illegal party financing.”

The AfD should have recorded the donation of the copies of Deutschland-Kurier in their accounts of election expenses. If the AfD had published and printed its own newspaper, then 1500 copies distributed in the Rosenheim area would have probably cost the party at least €3000 to produce. However Deutschland-Kurier did not pass this cost on to the AfD, and the newspaper has also been distributed in other locations in support of AfD election candidates. If the Rights and Freedom Club is funding Deutscland-Kurier, then the members of this club are in effect AfD donors.

Under German law political donations received from countries outside of the EU are illegal, unless they come from a German or other EU citizen, or a company which has at least 50 percent of its shares in German or EU hands. Anonymous donations exceeding €500, and anonymous donations passed on from a third party are also forbidden.

According to reports in the German and Swiss press from the Süddeutsche Zeitung and the Wochenzeitung (WOZ), the secretive billionaire August von Finck is thought to be a donor to the Rights and Freedom Club. It is thought that Fink’s authorized representative Ernst Knut Stahl is one of the people behind the Rights and Freedom Club, who has in the past organized on Finck’s behalf, political donations to right wing parties and organizations.

August von Finck junior who is now 88, was heir to a fortune that came from his family’s business, the private bank Merck Finck & Co. His father also called August von Finck was the main shareholder of Merck Finck & Co., and sat on the supervisory board of several German companies in the 1930s. According to an article of 29th November 2018, published on the WOZ website entitled, “Ein schrecklich rechte Familie”, which translates as, “A right terrible family”: Finck senior was a member of a group of industrialists who met secretly with Hitler in 1933 and deceided to support the NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers’ Party) with a secret election fund of three million Reichtsmarks.

During the Nazi period Finck senior profiteered from businesses and property which had been stolen from Jews by the Nazis. He was also on the boad of trustees of “Haus der Deutschen Kunst”, an art gallery built between 1933 and 1937 in Munich, which used art for Nazi propaganda purposes. After the Second World War the Allies did not consider him as a serious Nazi War Criminal, even though he had helped fund Hitler’s rise to power. In 1949 he was able to re-establish the bank Merck Finck & Co. In 1973 Finck senior also known as “Freiherr” or Baron, bought a castle called Schloss Weinfeld in Switzerland. Finck senior died in 1980 and the castle has since then remained in the possession of his son August von Finck junior.

It has been estimated in the media, that August von Finck junior has a fortune of more than €8 billion. In 1990 he sold the bank Merck Finck & Co., to Barclays Bank PLC and moved the headquarters of his business group to Switzerland to avoid German taxes.

In 2010 Finck junior acquired the trading name of the precious metals company Degussa. This was at a time shortly after the financial crash, when gold and other precious metals were considered a safe investment option. Degussa Goldhandel retail outlets were opened in Germany, Switzerland, Spain and the United Kingdom in response to a revived interest in buying gold as an alternative investment.

If Finck had made large political donations to the AfD, then it would come as no surprise, that the AfD has a policy to reintroduce a gold standard for the Bundesbank in Germany. According to an article published in the Süddeutsche Zeitung on 24th November 2018 entitle, “Die AfD und der Geheimnisvolle Milliardär”, which translates as “The AfD and the mysterious billionaire”: Finck was supposed to have supported a policy with good will – proposed by an AfD politician called Peter Boehringer – to bring gold reserves back to the Bundesbank in Germany.

This story is to be continued . . .


©Jolyon Gumbrell 2018

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