The Wirecard case is the biggest economic scandal of the post-war period. For years, analysts drummed for the stock, auditors held up their hands, supervisors looked away, and politicians gave gunfire support. Felix Holtermann examined Wirecard critically at an early stage and brought explosive, previously unpublished material to light – including the latest news from Jan Marsalek, the Executive Board member on the run. And with “Ingenious scammers” he now presents a book that looks deep and mercilessly reveals the defects of the German financial world. An excerpt.
So strikingly long was the list of favors and money recipients of the group that the new – and last CEO – James Freis, who took over the helm at Wirecard after Braun’s resignation at the end of June, fell from all the clouds.
After leaving the insolvent company, Freis reported on the sheer mass of external parties on Wirecard’s payroll: consultants, lawyers, auditors and other experts, many of them “big names”: “I fired them within the first few days after I took over,” Freis said.
The costs that Wirecard has piled up over the years through its network of highly paid supporters are in the three-digit million range. A confidential list of the Group shows expenditure of almost 45 million euros for 2019 alone. And even that could not be complete. An insider reports consulting costs of a total of 120 million euros per year.
The Group list for 2019 reads like the" who’s who " of the German consulting scene. Among them: big names, including the auditors and consultants of EY, PwC and KPMG, the lawyers and tax optimizers of Fieldfisher, Gibson Dunn, Latham & Watkins, Bub Memminger and Baker Tilly as well as various PR consultants, including Hering Schuppener, WMP, Edelman and Cardo Communications.
Under the former deputy editor-in-chief of Handelsblatt Michael Inacker, WMP offered Wirecard PR activities from the end of 2016, as the star reported for a basic fee of 35,000 euros per month or 420,000 euros per year. Among other things, WMP was supposed to create a black list of apparently unwelcome journalists for Wirecard and a positively connoted white one: “IN consultation with Wirecard, WMP identifies the relevant media representatives (“black list”/“white list”),” it says in a paper. Among other things, WMP also offered a broader concept called “dragon blood”. Illustrated with a muscular Siegfried stabbing a dragon, the concept promised to “make the company invulnerable”. WMP’s work for Wirecard ended in early 2020.
Cardo boss Dirk Große-Leege also got involved. According to e-mails, the former chief communicator of VW conceived extensive press law options, background work and other measures with respect to critical journalists. In an internal email to Wirecard’s head of communications, he takes stock at the beginning of 2020: “I reviewed our work in December. The focus was on our discussion ( … ) on how we deal with the reporting in Der Spiegel and Mr. Holtermann. On the one hand, we discussed press law options. More important, however, was our background work to prevent further dissemination of the wild theses.”
Große-Leege does not want to comment on his work for the scandal group from Aschheim today, on request he declined to comment. He is in good company.
Just before the end, in 2020, Wirecard relied on more door openers, probably in a desperate attempt to turn public opinion once again. On board: former Bild editor-in-chief and current PR consultant Kai Diekmann. “Dear Dr. Braun, it is astonishing how facts and presentation of facts can fall apart. Stay strong!”, Diekmann wrote to the CEO on May 14, 2020. Six weeks later, Wirecard went bankrupt. At the beginning of 2020, Diekmann had already written to Braun: “Whenever you have something on your mind, I am always available.“With his contacts in Berlin, including with two state secretaries, Diekmann was reportedly supposed to support a renewed ban on short selling Wirecard shares by WDR, NDR and SZ.
There was no more. Shortly before the downfall, even Wirecard’s exclusive network in the leading ranks of German politics could no longer stop the course of events.