By Andreas Rinke and Neil Jerome Morales
BERLIN/MANILA (Reuters) – Germany’s opposition called on Monday for a parliamentary inquiry into the collapse of payments firm Wirecard after a global fraud that left a gaping hole in its books went undiscovered by auditors and regulators for years.
The request for an inquiry came after Germany said it would cancel its contract with the country’s privately-run accounting watchdog FREP as a result of a scandal that financial regulator BaFin has branded a “total disaster”.
Wirecard filed for insolvency on Thursday owing creditors almost $4 billion after disclosing a 1.9 billion euro ($2.1 billion) hole in its accounts that its auditor EY said was the result of a sophisticated global fraud.
FREP President Edgar Ernst told the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper that only one employee had been tasked with looking into Wirecard after BaFin asked it to check the company’s accounts for the first half of 2018.
The FREP assessment had yet to be finalised by the time Wirecard collapsed.
Liberal member of parliament Frank Schaeffler, who also sits on Bafin’s supervisory board, asked for the parliamentary inquiry and said he believed there were both structural and personnel shortcomings at the financial regulator.
“The fact that the Bafin is waiting 15 months for a report from the FREP despite indications of irregularities is absurd”, he said. “It’s like shooting cotton balls at an elephant.”
Another BaFin board member and member of parliament said the German government should be investigated too as there had been frequent reports of problems at Wirecard.
“The role of the finance ministry must be examined, as reports of irregularities have been coming in for quite some time”, said conservative lawmaker Alexander Radwan.
“Fintechs offering financial services need appropriate oversight”, he told Reuters.
A spokesman for the justice ministry said the government was analysing the extent to which audit oversight should be reformed.
The Wirecard insolvency – the first by a member of Germany’s blue-chip DAX stock market index – is also prompting Deutsche Boerse to study possible revisions to DAX membership rules, the stock exchange operator said.
Wirecard’s implosion came seven days after EY, its auditor for over a decade, refused to sign off on the 2019 accounts, forcing out Chief Executive Markus Braun and leading the company to say that 1.9 billion euros of its cash probably didn’t exist.
EY has said it had clear indications that Wirecard was an elaborate and sophisticated fraud, involving multiple parties in different institutions around the world.
‘SWIFT AND THOROUGH’
EY said it had confirmed with officials at Philippine banks BPI and BDO – which have been named as Wirecard partners – that EY received false bank confirmations and statements for Wirecard escrow accounts.
BPI and BDO said Wirecard was not a client and documents purporting to show it had deposited funds with them were false.
The Philippines’ anti-money laundering agency said it would conduct a “swift and thorough” investigation into Wirecard. The central bank had said earlier that no money from Wirecard entered the Philippines’ financial system.
A Filipino lawyer, Mark Tolentino, who reportedly set up accounts for Wirecard, told Reuters he was surprised to be linked to the German firm and that he did not know until the scandal broke that accounts he set up were for Wirecard.
While Wirecard said on Saturday it would proceed with business activities after filing for insolvency, regulators are restricting some of its activities, forcing some financial technology firms to suspend services.
Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority said on Monday that while Wirecard was addressing its concerns, restrictions placed on some of its activities would remain in place for now.
A Munich court on Monday appointed Michael Jaffe as Wirecard’s administrator.
BaFin is also considering imposing a moratorium on Wirecard’s banking division to prevent any money flowing out, people close to the matter said, adding that no decision on such a move had yet been taken.
While former Wirecard Chief Executive Markus Braun has been released on bail following his arrest last week, former Chief Operating Officer Jan Marsalek is not planning to turn himself in, German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported.
Handelsblatt, another German newspaper, reported that German public prosecutors had issued an international arrest warrant for Marsalek.
Philippine Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told Reuters on Friday that Marsalek was in the Philippines on June 23 and immigration records showed he flew to China the next day.
Marsalek’s lawyer was not available for comment.
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(Reporting by Andreas Rinke, Christian Krämer, Patricia Uhlig, Hans Seidenstücker, Jörn Poltz, Neil Jerome Morales, Karen Lema and Joe Brock; Writing by Arno Schuetze; Editing by David Clarke)