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CORRUPTION

Berlin minister resigns after 11 days in office

Berlin’s newly sworn-in Justice and Consumer Affairs Minister Michael Braun has been forced to step down following revelations about bad property deals during his previous job as notary.

Berlin minister resigns after 11 days in office
Photo: DPA

Braun, a member of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), came under fire from consumer protection lawyers as soon as he was sworn in on December 1. They accused him of certifying property deals during his work as notary even though he knew that the properties were of sub-standard quality.

More and more accusations from buyers who used Braun’s services were made public over the weekend, putting the Berlin CDU under considerable pressure, particularly because it was a banking scandal involving property deals that brought down the CDU the last time it was part of the Berlin city government in 2001.

“It is the correct decision,” said Klaus Wowereit, Berlin’s Social Democratic (SPD) mayor, on Monday. “We imagined our (coalition’s) start differently.”

The opposition was quick to make the connection. “It gives the impression that the SPD-CDU is picking up where it left off in the 1990s, when they mixed politics with the real estate business,” said Ramona Pop, Green party faction leader in the Tagesspiegel newspaper.

Braun received support from CDU party leader Frank Henkel on Monday morning, who initially tried to keep him in the post of justice minister while dropping him from the role of consumer affairs minister. Apparently, though, the political damage was deemed too great.

“The members of the CDU executive committee have offered Braun their full support,” Henkel said. “The numerous arguments from Michael Braun were unfortunately never recognized publicly. Nevertheless, Braun has told us he will be asking Berlin’s Mayor Klaus Wowereit to accept his resignation because of the one-sided reporting – for the good of the city and to avert damage to his office.”

As a notary, Braun is thought to have processed more than 700 property deals between June 2010 and November 2011. Several of his former clients have complained that he did not adequately assess the properties, and they were consequently ripped off by the sellers.

The Local/DPA/bk

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PROPERTY

Why Germany is mulling an extension to property tax deadline

Federal Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP) is seeking talks with state leaders to arrange a possible extension to the deadline for submitting the new property tax declaration. Here's what's going on.

Why Germany is mulling an extension to property tax deadline

Under plans to reform how property tax is calculated, around 36 million homeowners in Germany have been asked to fill in a tax declaration this year. 

The deadline for submitting the new declaration is currently set to expire at the end of October. But according to Finance Minister Lindner, just a quarter to a third of property owners have completed their tax return so far. 

Speaking on the RTL/ntv programme Frühstart, the FDP politician said he would arrange talks with the state premiers this week in order to pitch a deadline extension of at least a few months. 

“My offer: we extend the deadline for submitting the property tax return by a manageable period of time,” he said.

Lindner said it was important to be “realistic” about the fact that some citizens, especially older property owners and pensioners, felt overwhelmed with the tax return. 

He also acknowledged that there had been problems with the software for submitting tax returns, which had added to homeowners’ woes. 

Reform has faced numerous hurdles

The new system will primarily calculate the tax rate using land value and rent, though states will be able to introduce other regulations.

Advocates of the change say the new system is fairer than the current one that bases the tax rate on the (often outdated) value of the property. 

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However, attempts to carry out the largest tax reform since the Second World War have hit numerous hurdles along the way, with property owners complaining of difficulties filling in and submitting the declaration.

There were also issues affecting the government’s Elster tax portal, which was overloaded with users in July after the tax offices started accepting property tax declarations. 

The problems have led to growing calls to extend the deadline until at least January 31st, 2023. 

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