Former Wirecard chief executive charged with fraud

Wirecard’s former chief executive Markus Braun has been formally charged by Munich public prosecutors with fraud, breach of trust and accounting manipulation after a 21-month criminal investigation into the collapse of the German payments group.

Wirecard was hailed as one of Germany’s technology success stories and at its peak in 2018 worth €24bn. It crashed into insolvency in June 2020 shortly after admitting that half of its operations and €1.9bn in corporate cash did not exist. Braun, who has been in police custody since July 2020, denies any wrongdoing and claims he is a victim of the fraud, too.

If found guilty on all charges, he faces up to 15 years in jail.

Two other former senior Wirecard managers have also been charged, the prosecutors said on Monday in a statement. One is the group’s former deputy finance director and head of accounting Stephan von Erffa. The other is a former Dubai-based manager in charge of a Wirecard subsidiary, who has turned chief witness and cannot be named for legal reasons. The criminal investigation into other suspects continues.

Wirecard’s second-in-command Jan Marsalek, who is seen as one of the fraud’s central figures, has been on the run since June 2020 and cannot be charged in absence under German law. Prosecutors think that Marsalek, who was last traced in the Belarusian capital of Minsk, is most likely hiding in Russia, according to people familiar with their thoughts.

The date for the trial at Munich regional court has not yet been fixed, but people familiar with the matter told the Financial Times it was likely to start in late summer. The trial is expected to last for months if not years. The charge sheet, which is 474 pages long, has been compiled after more than 430 interviews with witnesses and suspects.

Lawyers for von Erffa, Marsalek and the Dubai-based ex-manager as well as a spokesperson for Braun did not immediately respond to the Financial Times’ requests for comment.