Ex-CEO of Wirecard arrested in case over missing billions

BERLIN (AP) – The former CEO of German payment service provider Wirecard has been arrested, accused of inflating the company’s balance sheet in an accounting scandal that centres on a missing sum of EUR1.9 billion (USD2.1 billion), prosecutors in Munich said yesterday.

Markus Braun resigned last Friday after the company disclosed that auditors couldn’t find accounts containing the money. On Monday, Wirecard said it has concluded that the money probably doesn’t exist.

Prosecutors said a court issued an arrest warrant shortly afterward and Braun turned himself in on Monday evening.

He is accused of inflating the company’s balance sheet and revenue using sham income from business with third-party acquirers, “possibly in collaboration with further perpetrators”, to “portray the company as financially stronger and more attractive for investors and clients”, they said in a statement.

Braun was arrested on suspicion of incorrect statements of data and market manipulation.

File photo of CEO of financial services company Wirecard Markus Braun. PHOTO: AP

Wirecard AG was once regarded as a star of the growing financial technology sector, but its shares have fallen sharply after the company became the subject of multiple Financial Times reports about accounting irregularities in its Asian operations. Wirecard disputed the reports, which started in February 2019, and said it was the victim of speculators.

On Monday, the company announced the firing of Chief Operating Officer Jan Marsalek, who had been suspended from the management board last week. German news agency dpa reported that Marsalek had been in charge of overseeing daily operations including in Southeast Asia, where the possible fraud occurred.

Two Philippine banks that were said to hold the money in escrow accounts said in recent days that they had no dealings with Wirecard, and the country’s central bank chief said none of the missing money entered the Philippines’ financial system.

In the early hours of Monday, Wirecard said its management board “assesses on the basis of further examination that there is a prevailing likelihood that the bank trust account balances in the amount of EUR1.9 billion do not exist”.

Wirecard said it is in “constructive discussions” with banks on continuing credit lines, and is “assessing options for a sustainable financing strategy for the company”. It said it is examining other possible measures to keep the business going, including restructuring and disposing of business units.