As Wirecard Collapsed, Key Player Fled by Private Jet to Belarus
(Bloomberg) -- A former senior executive at Wirecard AG escaped from Austria to Belarus on a private aircraft last year with the help of a secret-service agent and a far-right politician, according to an arrest warrant seen by Bloomberg.
Jan Marsalek, the German payments company’s ex-chief operating officer who is on Interpol’s most-wanted list, fled in June shortly before Wirecard filed for insolvency. Executives admitted that 1.9 billion euros in funds never existed, setting off one of Germany’s biggest accounting scandals.
The company’s implosion is the subject of a parliamentary investigation in Berlin, in which officials ranging from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief economic adviser to Deutsche Bank AG Chief Executive Officer Christian Sewing have been called to testify.
Austrian police on Friday detained a senior official from the BVT domestic intelligence service -- currently on a long-term leave of absence -- for two days before releasing him, according to Nina Bussek, a spokeswoman for the prosecutors’ office in Vienna. A former member of parliament for the far-right Freedom Party was also taken into custody in connection with the escape and remains there due to a separate matter, said Christina Salzborn, a Vienna court spokeswoman. The two men cannot be named for legal reasons.
Both have a longstanding personal and business relationship with Marsalek, emails and photos reviewed by Bloomberg News reveal. The BVT official’s name was on the door of a room in a Munich villa visited by Bloomberg that was used by Marsalek to conduct business related to Wirecard and personal matters.
Marsalek, 40, was the right-hand man of former Wirecard Chief Executive Officer Markus Braun, who is in jail in Germany. Marsalek’s current whereabouts are unknown -- media speculation ranges from a compound outside Moscow to a secret hideaway in Turkey and a tropical island.
An Austrian citizen, he is seen as a key player in a fraud scandal that has burned many investors, exposed holes in financial oversight and raised the prospect of bias by authorities.
Austrian prosecutors suspect that the two men organized Marsalek’s escape with the help of two pilots, according to the arrest warrant.
|Further details from the warrant:|
|- On June 19 last year, the pilots flew Marsalek in a private Cessna Situation Mustang 510 -- a small business jet -- from Bad Voeslau, Austria to the Belarus capital Minsk|
|- The previous day, shortly after Marsalek was suspended from Wirecard, the BVT official met him for dinner at a Munich restaurant to coordinate the escape. The official had asked the far-right politician to help organize the aircraft|
|- Marsalek took a taxi to the airport in Bad Voeslau, but arrived late as the driver had trouble finding the entrance to the building where the jet was parked. Marsalek paid for the flight in cash and was flown to Minsk|
|- The Austrian politician was detained last week, and admitted that he organized the private jet on behalf of the BVT official|
|- The BVT official knew Marsalek for many years, and prosecutors suspect he and other BVT operatives previously worked for Wirecard by helping them investigate the solvency of adult-film companies. The prosecutors have accused the official of corruption, abuse of office and favoritism|
A third person, also from the BVT, has been detained in connection with the Wirecard case and is being investigated for abuse of office, according to the prosecutors’ office in Vienna. The person isn’t suspected of aiding Marsalek’s flight.
The warrant, a redacted version of which has been published online, confirms an investigation by Bellingcat that had placed Marsalek in Belarus, as well as reporting by Austrian newspaper Die Presse.
The BVT -- which stands for Federal Office for Protecting the Constitution and Fighting Terrorism -- became the center of a power struggle inside Austria’s security apparatus during the years in which the Freedom Party governed in coalition with Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.
In early 2018, when the party was in charge of the Interior Ministry, an unprecedented police raid took place at the BVT. It was carried out following accusations of malpractice and corruption by a whistle-blower close to the Freedom Party, according to the findings of a parliamentary committee. Most of the accusations were later found by the courts to be without substance.
One of the two men detained in connection with Wirecard is suspected of being the whistle-blower behind the accusations that led to the raid, according to a person familiar with that case as well as multiple media reports. The man denied the allegation in testimony to the parliamentary committee in 2018.
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