Wolfgang Schaeuble

German Finance Minister Says No One Needs to Be Thrown Under the Bus for ‘Annoying’ 55 Billion Euro Glitch

Yesterday we learned that officials in the German government were a little surprised that a 55 billion euro accounting error wasn’t discovered by a “certified audit.” They’ve been quite the laughingstock in the German press, so they done their damnedest to find someone to throw under der bus. Well, today German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble basically put everyone at ease – there’s no one to blame!

The Finance Ministry knew “with certainty” on Oct. 13 that an accounting error had occurred after receiving notifications on Oct. 4, Schaeuble said at a press conference in Berlin today, adding the error is “annoying” because its magnitude can unsettle the public. “Here raves the lake and wants to have its victim,” Schaeuble said, citing from Friedrich Schiller’s drama William Tell. “That’s not my understanding” of how the biggest accounting error in Germany’s post-World War II history should be sanctioned, he said.

So rest easy, PwC. You’re off the hook for this one.

Schaeuble Says 55.5 Billion Euro Accounting Error Was a Glitch [Bloomberg]

German Government Was Under the Impression That a ‘Certified Audit’ Would Find a 55 Billion Euro Accounting Error

Most people are of the opinion that government can’t do anything right. Education? Bah. Economies? Duh. Wars? YEESH. Oddly, politicians are quite fond of mocking the inefficiencies and mistakes of government to better relate to the common folk who don’t put much stock in the government’s operations. This means that politicians must find other people to hold responsible for the mistakes that are happening all around them. This also means that the art of blamestorming is the most coveted skill in all of politics (well, maybe after being able to lie through your teeth). Do things right and you live to fight another day. Do things wrong and you just look like an ass and then have to weather repeated calls for your resignation.

The German government is taking a fair amount of shit for missing a 55 billion euro accounting mistake. This size of a boo-boo can’t really be swept under the rug so, right on cue, the finance minister has turned on the blamethrower full blast:

Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has summoned executives from the nationalized mortgage bank Hypo Real Estate (HRE) to explain how they made a simple accounting error that ended up raising Germany’s total debt load by 55 billion euros.Schaeuble, in the awkward situation of being humiliated by the windfall that will cut Germany’s debt levels, will also demand answers at a Wednesday meeting from the PwC accountancy firm that signed off on the report.

Schaeuble’s spokesman Martin Kotthaus tried to deflect any blame, saying the ministry received a certified statement from auditors that the balance sheets had been checked and approved. He said it was too early to tell exactly who messed up.

“It’s annoying, to put it diplomatically, when corrections of this dimension are necessary,” said Kotthaus, who was grilled at a news conference. “We had a certified audit of the annual accounts for 2010 and it said everything was in order.”

Right! A certified audit! If there’s anything we’ve all learned, it’s that audits are the one infallible stamp of approval that we can always turn to for confidence. Just ask Lehman Brothers. Or Satyam. Or Li & Fung. Or MF Global. Or Taylor, Bean & Whitaker. Or Koss. Or Countrywide. [breathe, breathe] Or World Capital Group. Or Sino-Forest. Or Colonial Bank. But aside from those, yeah, audits. Those things are solid.

Germany mocked for 55-billion euro bank accounts error [Reuters]