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Aug. 13, 2020, 7:06 a.m. EDT

Germany starts hunt for ex-Wirecard exec Marsalek

By Ruth Bender

BERLIN -- German investigators are asking the public to help them find Jan Marsalek, the elusive former Wirecard AG executive who prosecutors suspect played a central role in inflating the fintech company's results by booking fake income for years.

The German payments group, which was briefly worth more than the country's largest bank, filed for insolvency in late June after disclosing that more than $2 billion of its cash supposedly held in trustee-managed bank accounts was probably fake.

German prosecutors suspect Mr. Marsalek, longtime Chief Executive Markus Braun and others colluded to inflate the company's results by booking fake income since at least 2015, which allowed Wirecard to raise EUR3.2 billion ($3.8 billion) in loans prosecutors believe are now likely lost.

But while Mr. Braun and three others have been arrested since, Mr. Marsalek has eluded authorities since the company's collapse in June.

Earlier hints about the former executive's whereabouts pointed to the Philippines and then Russia but investigators said Wednesday that an international search for him had failed so far.

Germany's Bundeskriminalamt, or BKA -- the local equivalent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation -- late Wednesday said Mr. Marsalek likely fled Germany in the days after Wirecard suspended him on June 18 and that it strongly suspected him to be abroad.

The agency distributed search posters in German and English through its website, social media and television, asking if anyone had seen him since June or knew where he was.

On the poster it said Mr. Marsalek was strongly suspected of "having committed billions in commercial gang fraud" and a "particularly serious case of embezzlement and other property and economic offenses."

Mr. Marsalek's lawyer declined to comment. Mr. Braun has consistently denied wrongdoing.

Mr. Marsalek played a material role in Wirecard's operations for years. As chief operating officer, he was in charge of all of Wirecard's operations, including its sales, BKA said.

Since 2015, he had also been primarily responsible for Wirecard's Asia business and for overseeing the company's relationships with third-party firms, BKA said. These third-party acquirers were meant to process payments for Wirecard in markets where it didn't have licenses. Revenue from those partnerships made up a big chunk of Wirecard's business, according to documents seen by The Wall Street Journal, and have become a focus of investigators.

Wirecard said in a June 22 statement that it was unsure about the nature of its business with these parties. That same day, a Munich court issued an arrest warrant for Mr. Marsalek, BKA said.

Mr. Marsalek has seemingly vanished. German public broadcaster ZDF on Wednesday also broadcast photos of Mr. Marsalek -- one of him shaven and another with a beard -- on a popular show on unsolved crimes.

--Paul J. Davies contributed to this article.

Write to Ruth Bender at Ruth.Bender@wsj.com

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