Three former Wirecard executives have gone on trial in Germany over the country’s biggest post-war fraud scandal.
Ex-CEO Markus Braun and two other former high-ranking managers are facing a number of charges, including fraud and market manipulation.
The trial in Munich takes place two years after the blue-chip payments company collapsed, sending shockwaves through German politics.
Prosecutors have accused Wirecard’s executives of inventing vast sums of revenue and inflating financial statements to mislead investors and creditors.
Braun — an Austrian national — could be jailed for up to 15 years if convicted. He has denied the charges and says other Wirecard managers were running shadow business without his knowledge.
Co-defendant Oliver Bellenhaus, the former head of Wirecard’s subsidiary in Dubai, turned himself into the German authorities in 2020. The third suspect, Stephan von Erffa, has expressed regret about Wirecard’s actions but denies wrongdoing.
The former director of operations of the Bavarian company, Jan Marsalek, has been on the run from Interpol since 2020.
A verdict in the landmark is not expected until 2024.
What happened to Wirecard?
The payments company was founded in Munich in 1999, initially processing payments for pornography and online gambling.
It soon became popular with emerging tech companies in Germany and rose to a market capitalisation of close to €25 billion.
Amid reports of financial wrongdoing, Wirecard dismissed allegations and lobbied German authorities to investigate any suspicious investors or journalists.
But in June 2020, the company admitted that €1.9 billion was missing from its balance sheet between 2015 and 2018.
Angela Merkel’s government initially considered bailing out the company, but Wirecard soon filed for insolvency. The fraud cost banks an estimated €3.1 billion in loans and writedowns, according to prosecutors.
Merkel — and her successor Olaf Scholz — have been criticised for their response to the scandal, which led to resignations within Germany’s financial market regulator (BaFin).
Munich prosecutors searched more than 40 properties as part of the investigation into Wirecard, with support from Austria, Russia, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom