The business press has seen no shortage of alleged white collar criminals fleeing to international jurisdiction where apprehension is highly improbable. Jho Low, the financier and criminal mastermind who siphoned more than $4.5 billion from 1MDB (according to the DoJ), a sovereign wealth fund backed by Malaysian government funds, has fled to China, where he reportedly enjoys the protection of the CCP. In fact. Low is protected to such an intense degree that Chinese government spooks tried to intimidate some WSJ reporters who reported on 1MDB from Hong Kong, including surveillance.
More recently, former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn escaped the clutches of Japanese law enforcement (he was being held under house arrest in Tokyo after spending months in prison with little contact with the outside world) and fled to Beirut, where he remains, while several of the operatives who purportedly helped with the "great escape" have been arrested in foreign locales.
And now, while former Wirecard CEO Markus Braun remains free on bail, his erstwhile No. 2, former Wirecard COO Jans Marsalek, has reportedly settled down in Russia, beyond the clutches of Interpol and the EU.
Marsalek's whereabouts have been the subject of intense speculation since Wirecard's collapse and his former boss's arrest.
Nearly one month later, German newsmagazine Handelsblatt is reporting that not only is Marsalek in Russia, he's also enjoying the protection of the GRU, Russia' military intelligence agency, which has been blamed for everything from hacking the 2016 election to the Skripal poisoning.
How was Marsalek able to pull off such a daring escape while retaining so much of his wealth? Well, from the looks of it, Marsalek anticipated Wirecard's impending collapse (as did many shortsellers) and started moving his wealth to Dubai in the form of bitcoins.
Handelsblatt learned this from the circles of entrepreneurs, judges and diplomats. Previously, Marsalek is said to have brought significant sums to Russia in the form of bitcoins from Dubai, where Wirecard had operated dubious operations.
At the weekend, had the magazine "Der Spiegel" in cooperation with the renowned investigative platform Eliot Higgins, who had revealed the launch of the Malaysian civil machine with the flight number MH17 also the real name of Russian hit man who lives in England double agent Sergei Skripal and Russian backers over Marsalek's flight to Belarus reports.
On the day of his release, June 18, Marsalek is said to have flown from Klagenfurt via the Estonian capital Tallinn to the Belarusian capital Minsk in a chartered Embraer 650 Legacy. Because of the political conflict between the Russian leadership and Belarus dictator Alexander Lukashenko, it was probably too risky for the GRU to leave Marsalek in the neighboring country. So it was better to get him to Russia.
In talks and chats, Marsalek has often stylized himself as a secret agent and must have worked closely with the GRU on visits to Palmyra, Syria, and investments in Libya that he indicated. During his frequent trips to Russia alone, the 40-year-old used six passports.
In recent weeks, Germany's intelligence services have learned a lot about Marsalek. Possessor of 6 passports, he was allegedly in charge of black-ops investments in Syria and Libya. Was he acting as a front for the Russian government? We suspect the EU will see it that way. The FSB has been monitoring his movements for years. Born in Austria, Marsalek is technically a foreigner in Germany.
"He has made over 60 trips to the country in the past ten years," write the Bellingcat researchers. “His immigration file is 597 pages long. That is far more than any foreigner we have encountered in the five years of such investigations."
Marsalek is also said to have been frequently in Chechnya, the former Russian civil war republic notorious for crime and money laundering. According to Bellingcat, Marsalek was said to have been refused exit in 2017 by the Russian domestic intelligence agency FSB, which monitored all of the Austrian's travels.
The German opposition is using this story as yet another excuse to hammer Angela Merkel and her ruling coalition. Lawmakers have been calling for the equivalent of a Congressional investigation to determine whether Merkel's government actively intervened on Wirecard's behalf as it expanded its (mostly fraudulent) operations in Asia.
There's a lot going on with the Wirecard story. So far, the only thing we really know is that the bulk of Wirecard's profits were fraudulent. But there's another undercurrent here: we call it, the Russia factor.
After all, all those hundreds of billions of euros washed via Danske bank and the other Scandinavian and Central European banks who touched the suspect money - that money was all purportedly traced back to criminals in Russia and elsewhere in the CIS. There were even (vaguely sourced) reports that some of the money may have belonged to the Putin family.
As Germany's leaders panic about being blamed for allowing the Wirecard fraud to expand unimpeded (remember, German regulators even took steps to protect their 'fintech champion' when skeptics came knocking) we suspect that Russia is looking like an increasingly appealing scapegoat.