MUNICH: Germany’s mammoth Wirecard fraud trial opened on Thursday (Dec 8), with ex-CEO Markus Braun and two former executives within the dock over their roles within the nation’s biggest-ever accounting scandal.
The trial in Munich comes two and a half years after digital payments agency Wirecard collapsed in spectacular style after admitting that 1.9 billion euros (US$2 billion) lacking from its accounts did not truly exist.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who was finance minister on the time of Wirecard’s implosion, described the scandal as “unparalleled” in Germany’s post-war historical past.
The primary day of the high-profile trial, held in a high-security courtroom inside Munich’s sprawling Stadelheim jail advanced, will primarily encompass prosecutors studying out the 90-page indictment.
Notably absent from the trial will probably be Wirecard’s former chief working officer Jan Marsalek, a shadowy determine with ties to overseas intelligence businesses.
Marsalek evaded arrest in 2020 by staging a daring escape from Austria by personal jet. He was reported earlier this yr to be hiding out in Russia.
Wirecard’s veteran CEO Braun, in custody since July 2020, faces expenses of business gang fraud, breach of belief, accounting fraud and market manipulation.
The 53-year-old denies the allegations and claims to be a victim of the fraud, portray Marsalek because the mastermind.
His co-accused are ex-accounting boss Stephan von Erffa and Oliver Bellenhaus, the previous head of Wirecard’s Dubai subsidiary.
Bellenhaus has admitted wrongdoing and can act as a key witness for the prosecution.
If discovered responsible, the trio danger prolonged jail sentences.
The court docket has scheduled 100 trial dates for the advanced case.
The prosecution’s case centres across the declare that Wirecard executives inflated the corporate’s earnings, beginning at the very least way back to 2015, by inventing income streams from transactions with an online of associate firms.
These so-called Third Occasion Acquirer (TPA) firms in Dubai, the Philippines and Singapore accounted for an enormous chunk of Wirecard’s gross sales and earnings in keeping with its books.
However “all of the accused knew” that the revenues from these TPA companies “did not exist”, the indictment reads, including that the defendants used solid paperwork to cover the trickery.
The purpose was “to extend the corporate’s monetary energy and make it extra enticing to buyers and prospects”, prosecutors allege.
Based in 1999 as an outfit processing bank card funds for porn and playing web sites, Wirecard rose to turn out to be a good participant within the booming “fintech” (monetary know-how) sector.
A favorite with buyers, it entered Germany’s blue-chip DAX index in 2018 and at its peak was valued at greater than 24 billion euros, outweighing large Deutsche Financial institution.
Regardless of occasional hypothesis of wrongdoing on the firm, Wirecard continued its meteoric rise.
However its troubles started in earnest in 2019 when the Monetary Instances revealed a sequence of explosive articles detailing accounting irregularities.
The rip-off lastly unravelled when long-time auditor EY uncovered a 1.9-billion-euro gap in its accounts in June 2020.
The money, which made up 1 / 4 of Wirecard’s stability sheet, was meant to be sitting in trustee accounts at two banks within the Philippines.
However the Philippines’ central financial institution has stated the money by no means entered its financial system and each Asian banks, BDO and BPI, denied having a relationship with Wirecard.
Wirecard’s share worth tanked and it filed for insolvency quickly after, forsaking three billion euros in debt that collectors are unlikely to get better.
The corporate’s downfall despatched shockwaves by Germany and prompted an overhaul of finance watchdog Bafin, which was closely criticised for ignoring early warnings about Wirecard.
Many individuals merely “did not wish to imagine that fraudsters had been at work” at an organization lengthy hailed as a German champion, stated Volker Bruehl, a professor on the Middle for Monetary Research in Frankfurt.
“The Wirecard scandal has broken Germany’s status as a monetary centre.”