The story of Jan Marsalek, alleged fraudster and Russian spy, currently wanted by Interpol and on the run since June 2020, has recently taken a turn with police in Marsalek’s former home of Munich investigating an €80,000 payment to the landlord of Marsalek’s fiancée.
Originating in Dubai, the cash was reportedly sent with the reference “für Jan” (“on behalf of Jan”) and represents 12 months’ payment on the rental. It may provide a rare clue for investigators hunting the former Wirecard COO.
Accused of “fraud in the billions” by Munich prosecutors, the 41 year-old Marsalek has remained under the radar for 18 months now and, if reports are to be believed, has led a colourful and deceitful life including links with Russian Intelligence and to chemical weapons sales. In short, when it comes to Jan Marsalek’s escapades, you simply couldn’t make it up.
Born in 1980 in Vienna, Marsalek is thought to have founded his first e-commerce venture at the age of 19. However, it was his involvement with Wirecard – the now insolvent German payment processing firm – that would make Marsalek’s name infamous. After joining the company in 2000 due to his knowledge of WAP systems, Marsalek worked his way up through the company, becoming COO in 2010 and earning a place on the company’s board.
From there, things went downhill.
Reportedly, suspicions were raised about Wirecard’s practices back in 2008 when the head of a German shareholder association pointed out Wirecard’s balance sheet irregularities. As a result, two people were prosecuted due to insufficient disclosure of holding Wirecard’s stock. However, the Financial Times remained interested in Wirecard’s activities and launched its own report in 2015.
In 2019 the Financial Times released a series of reports consisting of whistleblower statements and internal documents obtained from Wirecard that revealed €1.9 billion was missing from the company.
According to the FT report, the findings of an internal 2018 investigation by Wirecard Singapore was covered up, despite Edo Kurniawan, head of accounting for Wirecard’s Asian-Pacific operations, being accused of artificially inflating profit. Reportedly, in one instance, €37m was moved between Wirecard subsidiaries and external businesses – a practice known as “round-tripping.” A February 2019 raid by Singaporean authorities followed, but serious action was taken against Wirecard at this time.
But Wirecard could not weather the storm forever, and filed for insolvency in June 2020. Its CEO Markus Braun resigned the same month and was arrested shortly thereafter in relation to the missing €1.9 billion. Once valued at €24bn, the crash of Wirecard is one of Europe’s largest accounting scandals of all time.
In the wake of the Wirecard fallout, questions were of course raised regarding possibly regulatory failure on the pat of Germany’s financial watchdog, the Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin). Allegations of possible malpractice were also made against Wirecard’s auditor Ernst & Young. According to a special audit by KPMG, Ernst & Young failed to verify the existence of cash reserves appearing on supposedly fraudulent bank statements.
Yet the most interesting aspect of the story remains the fate of Wirecard’s board members. Christopher Bauer, the company’s former Asia manager who was under investigation by the National Bureau of Investigation, died in of natural causes in Manila, this July. While his death may have been convenient for his former colleagues, conspiracy theorists can stand down: “His death certificate does not indicate any external cause as to the manner of death,” Philippines Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said.
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