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German payments firm Wirecard and its missing billions

(Reuters) - Billions of euros of loans to Wirecard could be called in as early as Friday after the German payments company said its auditor had refused to sign off on its 2019 accounts, knocking more than half the value off its shares on Thursday.

Wirecard said that its auditor EY had informed it that sufficient evidence could not be found for 1.9 billion euros ($2.1 billion) in cash balances on trust accounts - or around a quarter of its balance sheet total.

Following are some key facts about the company and pivotal dates in its recent history:

* Founded in 1999, Munich-based Wirecard has 5,800 employees in 26 countries around the world. It processes digital payments for both consumers and businesses and reported revenues of more than 2 billion euros ($2.3 billion) in 2018, more than triple the figure in 2014.

* Wirecard’s expansion was driven by its chief executive and leading shareholder Markus Braun, an Austrian who has led the company since 2002. It was promoted to Germany’s blue chip index in September 2018 when it ousted Commerzbank.

* In Feb. 2019, Singapore police said they were looking into reports by the Financial Times of alleged financial irregularities at Wirecard’s local office, allegations that had driven its shares sharply lower.

* In Oct. 2019, Wirecard rejected any impropriety after the Financial Times published documents on the company’s accounting practices which it said appeared to indicate an effort to inflate sales and profits.

* An independent investigation by auditor KPMG published in April this year found Wirecard did not provide sufficient documentation to address all allegations of accounting irregularities made by the Financial Times.

Wirecard said the KPMG audit had not uncovered any incriminating evidence to support allegations it manipulated its accounts and it would not restate its accounts for the years 2016 through 2018.

* On June 5, Munich prosecutors said they had searched Wirecard’s headquarters and opened proceedings against the payment company’s management board as part of a market manipulation probe initiated by financial regulator BaFin.

Prosecutors said the company was suspected of having issued misleading information which may have impacted Wirecard’s share price between March 12 and April 22.

($1 = 0.8885 euros)

Editing by Keith Weir and Alexander Smith