June 24, 2020 / 7:33 AM / 15 days ago

Philippines to investigate Wirecard's phantom billions

MUNICH/MANILA (Reuters) - Wirecard’s missing $2.1 billion is being investigated by the Philippines, which said that the German payments firm’s former chief operating officer Jan Marsalek may be in the country.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said on Wednesday that he had told state investigators to coordinate with the Philippine central bank’s anti-money laundering council in the inquiry.

Marsalek was fired on Monday after Wirecard said that the cash, purportedly held at two Philippine banks which have denied any links with the firm, probably did not exist.

“There are some indications that he may have returned recently and may still be here,” Guevarra said in a text message to reporters, adding that immigration records showed the 40-year-old Austrian had been in the Philippines from March 3-5.

Marsalek’s lawyer could not be reached for comment.

Wirecard’s already battered shares fell a further 30% as a consortium of banks held crisis talks on how to recoup around $2 billion in loans to Wirecard, whose only listed bond crashed to 17 cents on the euro. DE205218076=

Munich prosecutors may seek Marsalek’s arrest, German business daily newspaper Handelsblatt reported. Germany has no extradition treaty with the Philippines.

The prosecutor’s office declined to comment, as did the court that would need to approve any arrest warrant.

Former chief executive Markus Braun, who was arrested in Munich on Monday on suspicion of misrepresenting Wirecard’s accounts and of market manipulation, was released on Tuesday after posting bail of 5 million euros ($5.6 million).

Although a warrant against Braun, who is also Austrian, has been lifted, he remains under investigation. Braun’s lawyer Alfred Dierlamm declined to comment.

‘CLARITY UNLIKELY’

During Braun’s 18 years as CEO, Wirecard (WDIG.DE) grew into a $28 billion ‘fintech’ firm that won a spot in 2018 in Germany’s DAX blue-chip index. It fell from grace last Thursday when auditor EY refused to sign its 2019 accounts.

Braun said Wirecard may have been a victim of fraud before he quit last Friday. The ensuing scandal has rocked Germany’s financial establishment, shown regulators to have been asleep at the wheel, and sent Wirecard shares down by nearly 90% to value the business at $1.5 billion.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch cut its share-price target to 1 euro from 14 euros, saying customers may be starting to abandon Wirecard, while banks it owes 1.75 billion euros ($1.97 billion) to may be weighing the closure of credit lines.

FILE PHOTO: Markus Braun, CEO of Wirecard AG, an independent provider of outsourcing and white label solutions for electronic payment transactions attends the company's annual news conference in Aschheim near Munich, Germany April 25, 2019. REUTERS/Michael Dalder/File Photo

“These developments may make the business unsustainable,” its analysts wrote in a note.

Payments giant Visa (V.N) said it was monitoring the situation, while Mastercard (MA.N) declined to comment. Wirecard runs real and virtual payment cards for both.

Southeast Asian ride-hailing and payments company Grab said it had put its partnership with Wirecard on hold.

The alliance, which is backed by Softbank (9984.T), was part of a broader pact in which the Japanese investor put money into Wirecard last year. A source close to Softbank said all of its group companies would probably sever ties with Wirecard.

CRISIS MANAGER

Wirecard’s new CEO James Freis, a former financial investigator at the U.S. Treasury and compliance chief at the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, is holding crisis talks with a consortium of 15 banks led by Germany’s Commerzbank (CBKG.DE).

With Wirecard having failed to file audited financials, they could call in the loans at any time.

Some creditors do not, for now, favour tipping Wirecard into insolvency. It could get a stay of execution until the end of the month, as creditors look to a July 1 deadline for extending the loan, sources familiar with the matter said.

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But with the disclosure of the financial hole wiping out a decade of cash flows, it will be tough for Wirecard to survive even with a debt restructuring as underlying profitability could be weak, said Richard Sbaschnig, a forensic accountant at CFRA.Wirecard’s potential break-up value is likely to be limited, Sbaschnig added, as earnings appear to have been negative in 2018 after stripping out the impact of the obscure third-party acquiring partners at the centre of the suspected fraud.

($1 = 0.8849 euros)

($1 = 0.8872 euros)

Additional reporting by Arno Schuetze, John O'Donnell, Hans Seidenstuecker, Simon Jessop, Anshuman Daga, Aradhana Aravindan and Noor Zainab Hussain; Writing by Douglas Busvine; Editing by Michelle Martin and Alexander Smith

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