Wirecard's former boss faces criminal complaint in Austria

VIENNA (Reuters) - An Austrian lawyer has filed a criminal complaint against Wirecard's WDIG.DE former Chief Executive Markus Braun and Chief Operating Officer Jan Marsalek at a court in Vienna, accusing them of market manipulation and serious fraud.

FILE PHOTO: Markus Braun, CEO of Wirecard AG, an independent provider of outsourcing and white label solutions for electronic payment transactions attends the company's annual news conference in Aschheim near Munich, Germany April 25, 2019. REUTERS/Michael Dalder/File Photo

The Vienna prosecutors’ office confirmed on Tuesday that it received the claim, which was first reported by Austrian newspaper Der Standard.

The lawyer, Joerg Zarbl, told Reuters on Tuesday that Braun took out a 120 million euro ($135 million) loan to buy at least 2.5 million Wirecard shares via a holding company in May after a critical audit by KPMG sent its shares crashing in late April.

Braun’s stock buys helped Wirecard’s shares recover, Zarbl said. He wants prosecutors to investigate whether Braun’s intention was to send positive signals to the market. “There is a suspicion of market manipulation here.”

Wirecard was once one of the hottest fintech firms in Europe with a market value of $28 billion at its peak. It filed for insolvency on Thursday owing creditors nearly $4 billion. Its auditor EY said a massive hole in its accounts was the result of an elaborate and sophisticated global fraud.

German prosecutors are already investigating possible criminal offences in connection with the payments firm, as is the Philippine’s anti-money laundering agency.

Braun was released on bail after being arrested in Munich last week. His lawyer was not immediately available for comment. Marsalek is missing. His law firm declined to comment.

Wirecard hired KPMG to conduct an independent audit after critical media reports about the financial technology company. KPMG said it was unable to verify 1 billion euros in cash balances and questioned Wirecard’s acquisition accounting.

The Vienna prosecutors’ office is now checking whether it is the right jurisdiction to receive the claim against the German company, a spokesman said.

Zarbl said he filed the claim in Austria as Braun and Marsalek were Austrians and his clients had bought Wirecard shares via Austrian banks.

Reporting by Alexandra Schwarz-Goerlich and Kirsti Knolle; Additional reporting by Joern Poltz; Editing by David Clarke