Wirecard employees removed millions in cash using shopping bags

Wirecard employees have pulled millions of euros in cash from the group’s Munich headquarters in plastic bags over the years, according to former employees, suggesting the pay company was robbed even more brazenly than previously known.

The once high-flying fintech, which peaked at € 24 billion, failed last summer in one of Germany’s biggest accounting scams. It failed after discovering that there is no 1.9 billion euro cash of the company and that parts of its business in Asia are fake.

Former employees told Munich police investigating the fraud that staff had repeatedly removed large amounts of cash from Wirecard’s headquarters, people who know directly about it told the Financial Times.

The practice began as early as 2012, and six-figure amounts of banknotes were often moved into Aldi and Lidl plastic bags, former employees told police. The total amount, current residence of the cash and the purpose of removal from the building are not clear.

Wirecard, whose main activity was processing payments for merchants, owned its own bank but had no subsidiaries. As the demand for cash grew over time, Wirecard Bank bought a safe located at the group’s headquarters in the Munich suburbs.

At one point in May 2017, € 500,000 in cash was delivered at a time when the safe was full, according to emails seen by FT and a person who knew about the transaction. Some of the money was to be hidden somewhere else in the offices.

“From an insurance standpoint, that sucks,” a Wirecard employee wrote in an internal email seen by the FT, urging that cash delivery and collection should be arranged on the same day.

The employee, who worked at the headquarters for almost two years until 2018, told police that amounts of 200,000 to 700,000 euros were often removed, sometimes several times a week, say people familiar with the investigation.

This suggests that more than 100m euros could have been removed. However, bank records seized by police only document a cash withdrawal of about 6m euros, the people added.

Wirecard Bank customers noted that they raised at least part of the cash, including suspicious business partners, such as PayEasy based in the Philippines, which prosecutors claim is one of the entities at the heart of the fraud.

Former employees told police that many of the withdrawals were made by an assistant senior manager of Wirecard, who was in charge of the Dubai-based subsidiary. She has at least on some occasions brought plastic bags of cash to Munich airport, where she has handed them over to strangers, according to people familiar with police testimony from former employees.

In one case, the six-figure sum was allegedly earmarked for Christopher Bauer of Manila, a former Wirecard employee in charge of PayEasy who generated hundreds of millions of euros in fake Wirecard revenue. Bauer was reported dead shortly after Wirecard collapsed.

The senior manager of Wirecard, who told prosecutors that he transferred 4.5 million euros of Wirecard funds to a hidden personal foundation in Liechtenstein, also faces issues of up to 15 million euros that were transferred from accounts in Wirecard Bank to accounts in the Caribbean island of Antigua, offshore tax haven.

The accounts from which 15 million euros were withdrawn were held on behalf of the companies in Antigua, and they were opened by the citizens of Costa Rica, Antigua and the Philippines, according to the documents seen by the FT. One of the account holders is also mentioned in Panama Papers as the owner of a shellfish company based in the British Virgin Islands.

The senior manager of Wirecard oversaw the opening of suspicious accounts at Wirecard Bank, some of which were opened just months before the group’s collapse in 2020. saw FT.

The origin of the € 15 million transferred to Antigua, as well as the cash withdrawn, is not clear. A person familiar with the investigation said the documents suggest the money could have been generated by Wirecard in Asia before it was drawn.

Munich police have arrested several former senior managers of Wirecard, including former CEO Marcus Brown. State prosecutors accuse Brown of being the organizer of a “criminal racket” that is responsible for “billions of frauds”. The testimony of the former Dubai manager is key evidence.

Brown denies any wrongdoing. His lawyer also told FT that he was not aware of the large cash withdrawals by Wirecard Bank customers and suspicious bank accounts.

Munich prosecutors declined to comment.