Former Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg and his lobbying firm also lobbied the German ambassador in Beijing for the now insolvent payment service provider Wirecard. The embassy finally contacted the authorities in Beijing to support Wirecard in entering the Chinese market. This is shown by internal Mails that we are now publishing for the first time.
In autumn 2019, long before former Defence Minister Guttenberg supported Chancellor Angela Merkel for the payment service provider Wirecard, his lobbying firm Spitzberg Partners went to the German ambassador in Beijing to clean Klinken. The aim was to support the market entry of Wirecard in the Middle Kingdom.
internal documents show how intensively Guttenberg’s lobbying firm used contacts with the German ambassador in China to arrange phone calls and meetings with the top diplomat for Wirecard. This is the result of correspondence which the federal government has now received at the request of abgeordnetenwatch.de according to the freedom of Information Act.
The contact initiation was slow at first. In the autumn of 2018, Guttenberg’s company, which wanted to arrange a meeting between its client Wirecard and the new German ambassador in Beijing, initially received a rebuff. Although he would like to meet, the top Diplomat wrote in an email dated 5 September 2018 to a high-ranking representative of Spitzberg Partners. However, in view of numerous inaugural visits shortly after his entry into service in Beijing, he “unfortunately will not make it with the best will.“But he is looking forward to another opportunity to see you.”
“Many thanks for the invitation to your very cozy home”
The Wirecard managers therefore had to make do with embassy staff at the meeting, which took place on 29 October 2018 at the German representation in Beijing.
A few weeks later another meeting took place, this time in a private atmosphere. Afterwards, one of the Wirecard representatives thanked the host embassy employee by e-mail on 17 December 2018: “once again, many thanks to you and your wife for inviting us to your very comfortable home. “He was able to have” good conversations " with some of the other guests.
At the beginning of 2019, Spitzberg Partners finally managed to arrange the hoped-for personal meeting with the German ambassador in Beijing for Wirecard. There is no detailed information on the meeting itself, which took place at the embassy on 23 January 2019, in the internal documents submitted by the Federal Foreign Office to abgeordnetenwatch.de published.
In the following months, the correspondence between Spitzberg Partners and the German embassy in the Wirecard Causa became fewer, at least this is the impression that can be gained from the ministerial documents.
Lobbying activities shifted to Berlin
Instead, the Guttenberg company stepped up its lobbying efforts for Wirecard in a completely different location: in Berlin. As the SPIEGEL recently reported, Spitzberg Partners contacted the Federal Ministry of Finance several times in mid-2019 and asked to convey the Wirecard interest to the government in Beijing for market entry in China. In June 2019, a Secretary of State for Finance did just that. A few months later, on 3 September 2019, Spitzberg CEO Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg spoke to Chancellor Merkel personally in the Chancellery – apparently with success: During Merkel’s trip to China a few days later, Wirecard’s ambitions towards the Chinese hosts were discussed, according to SPIEGEL.
In autumn 2019, the exchange between Spitzberg Partners and the German embassy also resumed, according to the ministry documents. On 14 November, the Guttenberg company managed to arrange a short-term telephone call with the German ambassador. The reason was the “planned market entry of Wirecard in China - which my company Spitzberg Partners as a strategic advisor has been preparing specifically since the beginning of 2018,” according to an email to the ambassador the day before the meeting. “I would like to … Their political assessments relate to [..]” wrote the representative of Spitzberg Partners, whose name is blackened in the documents.
“In the 3rd step, Wirecard could visit Beijing”
During the telephone call with the Wirecard managers on 14 November, the German ambassador outlined, according to the ministry documents, how wirecard’s market entry with the Chinese authorities could be supported: first at the working level, in a second step - “depending on the state of affairs” - during an upcoming visit to Beijing by a state secretary of the Federal Ministry of Finance in January 2020 also at the “political level”. Depending on the outcome of these talks,‘in the 3rd step in March/April 2020 Wirecard could visit Beijing and … the urgency of the approval.’ This involved Wirecard’s acquisition of the Chinese payment processor AllScore Payment Services.
However, the ambassador initially urged an “rather restrained approach” to the Dax Group, as “Wirecard has so far been accused of falsifying the balance sheet and clarifying … is not due until early next year,” reads an internal message from 14 November 2019, a few hours after the phone call with the Wirecard managers.
Eight days later, all alarm bells were ringing at the German representation in Beijing. A diplomat emailed the ambassador on 22 November, saying that “new inconsistencies have now emerged in connection with alleged balance sheet falsifications at Wirecard”: the Group’s Singapore subsidiary has been refused the audit certificate for the 2017 financial year, and there has been no test for 2018. Asked about the lack of a report, a Wirecard representative told the media that, with the exception of India and Singapore, there were no restrictions on testing. This, according to the embassy employee, “is to be seen as an outrageous process, especially since this is a Dax company.” As long as the allegations have not been fully investigated, he recommends that “the approval process should only be further advanced at the working level”.
The Foreign Office stated on 10 September that the contact of the German embassy with the Chinese authorities had “not gone beyond an exchange of information”, a ministry spokesman told the SPIEGEL, to which we provided the internal documents in advance.