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Wirecard executive used Bitcoin to flee to Russian hideout

On-the-run Wirecard executive Jan Marsalek used Bitcoin to fund his escape to Russia where he is under security service protection.  

On-the-run Wirecard executive Jan Marsalek (pictured) used Bitcoin to fund his escape to Russia where he is under security service protection.

Marsalek is a central figure in the collapse of the German fintech payments company, which filed for insolvency last month with debts of €4bn, after the discovery a €1.9bn accounting black hole that auditor EY said was the result of a sophisticated global fraud.

An international warrant has been issued for his arrest. German prosecutors regard him as one of the key suspects in a vast fraud that for years inflated the payment company’s balance sheet and profits and helped propel it into the prestigious Dax 30 index two years ago.

The payments firm former chief operating officer is hiding in an apartment west of Moscow with cryptocurrency funds he transferred from Dubai, Russian newspaper Kommersant reported on Monday. He is under the supervision of Russian secret service agents.

Links to Russia’s GRU

The 40-year-old Austrian is associated with individuals linked to Russia’s military intelligence directorate, the GRU — the agency blamed for the attempted assassination of ex-spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, claimed German magazine Der Spiegel on Saturday.

Marsalek was head of Wirecard’s Asian operations, and as the scandal unfolded last month, he claimed to be travelling to Asia to try and uncover the location of the missing billions.

Immigration documents showed he flew to the Philippines on 23 June and then onward to China, but these have been exposed as fake.

In fact, an investigation carried out by Bellingcat, Der Spiegel and website The Insider say he arrived in Minsk airport, in the capital of Belarus, at 2 minutes past midnight on 19 June.

From there it is thought he crossed into Russia, which has had no border controls with Belarus since 1995.

German newspaper Handelsblatt reports that Russian intelligence officers whisked him across the border.

Wirecard CEO arrested

Marsalek, who leads a complex double life with overlapping commercial and political interests, is now a person of interest to three western intelligence agencies over his links to the GRU.

They stem from his visits to warn-torn Syria, just after Russian troops had recaptured Palmyra from ISIS in March 2016, as well as investments he was planning in Libya.

The former chief executive and co-founder of Munich-based Wirecard Markus Braun was arrested by German police last month on suspicion of false accounting and market manipulation and released on €5m bail.

Braun borrowed €35m from the payment group’s banking arm in January triggering a clash with board members, reported the Financial Times last Thursday.

The former boss was the group’s single largest shareholder, holding a 7% stake worth close to €1bn at the time. The firm’s shares have crashed 98% to €1.9 over the last 12 months.

Wirecard had been fighting whistleblower allegations of accounting fraud for more than 18 months. A forensic audit by audit firm KPMG, commissioned by Wirecard’s supervisory board failed to allay concerns when its findings were published in April.

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Roger Baird

Roger Baird is News Editor at Finixio. He has worked as a financial journalist for 20 years reporting on companies, capital markets and the UK economy.