Wirecard's collapse was forestalled for years thanks to Germany's financial regulator BaFin, which aided the fraud by targeting journalists (most notably the FT's Dan McCrum) who sought to expose the crude shell game used by the company to mask the fact that 2/3rds of its reported profits were pure make-believe.
Two months after one of Europe's biggest accounting frauds was exposed by an "independent" report ordered by the company, Wirecard's ex-CEO is under house arrest as he awaits trial for fraud charges, while his former No. 2, ex-COO (and purported Russian intelligence asset) Jens Marsalek, remains a fugitive from justice (it's believed he's hiding in Russia). FT reporters digging into Wirecard's shady payments business have recently stumbled upon a disturbing link to one of Italy's most powerful crime syndicates: The 'Ndrangheta, a network of organized crime families based in the southern Italian region of Calabria. Apparently, a significant chunk of the "legitimate" profits that Wirecard managed to generate was tied to its work as a de-facto money laundering network for organized crime groups in Italy, Albania and Russia, the FT reports in a story entitled "Wirecard processed payments for Mafia-linked casino".
Now, one of the owners of a Wirecard "payments partner" based in Manila who received millions of euros in "inward remittances" from the company over his - and was the subject of an FT investigation more than a year ago as the paper was trying to piece together the elaborate shell game being run by the company. That trek took the paper and its reporters to the Philippines, the country where Wirecard claimed to be hiding some $2 billion in profits that auditors never bothered to check.
That man's name was Christopher Bauer. And as the FT reported Thursday, Bauer, 44, has apparently died under mysterious circumstances just weeks after Philippine authorities said they were investigating Bauer and his wife, Belinda Bauer, in a probe involving Wirecard’s partner businesses.
Bauer and his death was reported to a civil registry in Manila last week. Filipino officials repeatedly told the FT they couldn't confirm if the Bauer who died was the same one who ran a Wirecard subsidiary that was, apparently, a key player in the company's sweeping fraud.
Menardo Guevarra, the Philippine secretary of justice, told the Financial Times he had “to determine first if the deceased person is the same person subject of the ongoing investigation”. He would decide whether further investigation into Mr Bauer’s reported death was necessary after obtaining a copy of the death certificate. The Bauers — identified in an Financial Times investigation last year — owned PayEasy as of 2017, according to public filings, and have represented Centurion Online Payment International, a second partner business, in interactions with Wirecard. Mr Bauer in 2015 “reportedly received an inward remittance from Wirecard Asia for consultancy services rendered”, said Mr Guevarra without disclosing an amount.
On closer inspection, Bauer, it appears, was paid hundreds of millions of euros to bring in what appears to be laundered mafia money through digital gaming companies and other clients of PayEasy, the subsidiary that Bauer owned and ran (but was a critical node in Wirecard's network).
Bauer also appears to have been closely tied to Wirecard's fugitive COO Jan Marsalek, who is believed to be an operative working with Russian intelligence.
Mr Bauer, who told auditors from KPMG that he was a Wirecard employee before joining PayEasy some 12 years ago, also owned Froehlich Tours, a bus and coach rental business that shares an office with PayEasy in Manila.
At a meeting in Manila in March, Mr Bauer and Wirecard’s fugitive former chief operating officer Jan Marsalek briefed KPMG and EY on PayEasy’s business, telling the auditors that the company specialised in processing payments for “high-risk clients” in online gaming, gambling and porn, according to a special audit by KPMG.
The Philippine authorities are now investigating how immigration records were fabricated to show Mr Marsalek arriving in the country in June and leaving the next day for China. CCTV footage showed no such arrival.
Notices in a German newspaper appear to confirm Bauer's death, and social media posts made by family members appear to commemorate his death.
On July 27, Mrs Bauer posted an image of a black ribbon on Facebook, while her daughter posted a photo of an urn bearing her father’s name two days later. Mr Bauer’s family on August 1 published a death notice in a regional newspaper in Hesse, Germany, where his parents are living. Mr Bauer’s parents declined to comment. Mr Bauer’s lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Munich prosecutors, who are leading the criminal probe into Wirecard in Germany, said they had not received any official notice about Mr Bauer’s death. They declined to comment if an arrest warrant against him had been issued.
One shady character hanging out outside Bauer's home in Manila told a FT reporter that he had died of a "heart attack". But considering Bauer's age, that seems unlikely.
Mr Bauer’s cause of death remains unclear. The civil registry declined to comment, citing the data privacy act. A guard at the Bauers’ gated community said he had died of a heart attack. A group of men playing cards outside the Bauers’ house in Manila said the widow could not comment and suggested speaking to her lawyer, whose contact details they declined to disclose. The men were standing by the property’s gate, which was marked by the logo of a local motorcycle club called Iron Cross Sons, whose website features scantily dressed women with Nazi-themed attire.
The men who spoke to the FT reporter at Bauer's home were apparently members of a motorcycle club based in the Philippines whose members wear Nazi-inspired insignia, according to their website.
Links to Wirecard's Russian-intelligence-linked COO? Check. Gangs of Nazis bikers hanging out outside his former home to scare off journalists? Check. Evidence that Bauer was a key link between a multinational corporation once listed on the DAX 30 and organized crime syndicates willing to pay for the privilege of efficiently and safely laundering their money? Check.
We suspect that whatever caused Bauer's death, it probably wasn't natural.