Philippine authorities investigate transactions for links to Wirecard

Philippine authorities are probing the financial transactions of a law office and a tour operator for possible connections to Wirecard, the collapsed German payments firm, and its former chief operating officer Jan Marsalek, a government official said.

Menardo Guevarra, the Philippine justice secretary, also said on Sunday that three immigration officials were formally charged and “preventively suspended” for 90 days last month in connection with the missing Austrian executive’s travel records, which falsely showed him entering and leaving the south-east Asian country in June. 

“I confirm that our National Bureau of Investigation has been examining the financial transactions of a certain law office that appears to have provided legal services to Wirecard/Jan Marsalek, and financial records of a tour operator owned by persons with business connections with Wirecard/Marsalek,” Mr Guevarra told the Financial Times in a text message. 

Mr Guevarra said he expected the probe to be finished by the end of the year, but declined to provide the names of the companies under investigation, saying the information could compromise the probe if it was prematurely disclosed.

“We shall provide more details after the NBI has completed its ongoing investigation, with the co-operation of the [Philippines] Anti-Money Laundering Council,” Mr Guevarra said. 

Wirecard plunged into insolvency in June after acknowledging that €1.9bn was missing from its accounts, in one of Germany’s biggest business failures in decades. The company’s Asian headquarters are in Singapore, but the Philippines was a principal location for its partner businesses in the region.

The missing money was purportedly held in escrow accounts by two banks in the Philippines: BDO Unibank and Bank of the Philippine Islands. Benjamin Diokno, governor of the Philippines central bank, has said the money never entered the country while the lenders themselves said documents claiming the money was held on account with them were fraudulent.

Philippine regulators in June launched an investigation into Wirecard’s local partner businesses. It includes Centurion Online Payment International, PayEasy Solutions and ConePay International, which were among those identified in an FT investigation last year that appeared — on paper at least — to do substantial business with Wirecard.

PayEasy’s offices doubled as headquarters of Froehlich Tours, a bus and coach rental business that operates across the Philippines.

PayEasy and Froehlich were both linked to Christopher Bauer, a German former Wirecard Asia-Pacific executive who was reported dead in Manila in late July, a month after authorities announced he was under investigation over Wirecard’s collapse.

Mr Marsalek disappeared in the run-up to the company’s implosion. Interpol added the executive to its “red list” of fugitives wanted for prosecution in August to face charges of violating Germany’s securities and securities trading laws, serious fraud and breach of trust.

Philippine immigration records showed that Mr Marsalek flew to Manila on June 23, then left for China on June 24 from the central city of Cebu. However, Philippine authorities later concluded he never entered the country, after examining CCTV footage, airline manifests and other records. 

Singapore in September ordered Wirecard to cease payment services in the city state, which is probing the company and parties linked to the payments processor.

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