Spying claims latest twist in Wirecard thriller

BERLIN (AFP) – The plot thickens in the spectacular collapse of payment provider Wirecard: the Austrian man at large over Germany’s worst financial fraud scandal may also have had links to secret services.

Jan Marsalek, Wirecard’s former chief operating officer, has vanished since the technology company was busted for what accountants described as an “elaborate and sophisticated fraud”.

Once a darling of the fintech scene, the payments provider filed for insolvency in June after being forced to admit that EUR1.9 billion (USD2.1 billion) missing from its accounts likely did not exist.

Wirecard’s former chief executive and founder Markus Braun turned himself in to police, but Marsalek remains at large.

On Friday, the Financial Times (FT) and Austrian daily Die Presse in separate reports said Marsalek had access to highly confidential information, suggesting he had links to secret services.

Logo of German payments provider Wirecard is seen in Aschheim near Munich, southern Germany. PHOTO: AFP

Marsalek passed on confidential information from Austria’s secret services and interior ministry to the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), said Die Presse. The information allegedly fuelled the FPOe’s mistrust of its then coalition partner, culminating in controversial police raids of the intelligence services in 2018.

Marsalek also flaunted his access to secret information in Britain, according to a report in the Financial Times. In an attempt to impress business associates, he is said to have shown them documents containing the recipe for the nerve agent Novichok, used to poison Russian-born ex-double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Britain in 2018.

According to the FT, Marsalek bragged about his links to secret services in a bid to impress members of the London financial services sector – possibly part of efforts to identify speculators betting against the Wirecard share price.

Sources interviewed by the FT said Marsalek had an association with individuals or networks linked to Russia’s military intelligence directorate, the GRU, which Britain has blamed for the poison attack.

Also in 2018, Marsalek is said to have unveiled a plan at his lavish home in Munich to recruit 15,000 Libyan militiamen – in a country under growing influence from Russia and the GRU.

This project apparently had a humanitarian pretext, but its true purpose remains unclear, according to sources cited by the FT.