How often and when representatives of the payment service provider Wirecard met with leading politicians and top officials at the federal level in the past few years is now largely documented – including the pullers who helped initiate the process. It is also known that the former Dax group has sought a major order from the federal states as a state-licensed payment processor for online gaming offers, as Personal-Financial.com revealed in August. But almost nothing is known to this day about the contacts of the company from Aschheim near Munich and its top managers in the Bavarian state government.
Here, too, it is worth taking a closer look at the connections between politics and the corporation. According to the state government, there have been only four direct contacts between Wirecard representatives and Bavarian ministers since 2013, as a response to the FDP state parliament member Helmut Kaltenhauser shows. Personal-Financial.com has the answer. However, this included a meeting between two top representatives from Wirecard and the head of the State Chancellery, Florian Herrmann, in the government headquarters in November 2019 – under circumstances that raise questions.
As the Bavarian Ministry of the Interior explains in its answer, Prime Minister Markus Söder’s (CSU) head of the state chancellery met with the then Wirecard CFO Alexander von Knoop and his predecessor Burkhard Ley on November 20. Since leaving the board of directors, Ley served as the group’s special representative and was also in charge of political contacts in the federal and state levels. Ley has been in custody since July because the Munich I public prosecutor’s office accused him of participating in Wirecard’s longstanding fraud system during his time as CFO. Ley denies all allegations.
What is remarkable about the date is how it came about: According to the state government, the meeting for Wirecard was “initiated” by the former Bavarian state police chief Waldemar Kindler. The former senior security officer also took part in the conversation itself. Topic: a “general getting to know each other”. Von Knoop and Ley had “introduced Wirecard AG as a new DAX company,” writes the state government. “Specific concerns were not raised.”
In November, Wirecard had been a member of the most important German stock market index for more than a year. In addition, the Aschheim-based company was already well known in Bavaria before it was promoted to the Dax in September 2018. In addition, the question arises why a former security officer who, after a time as Vice President of the LKA, moved to the Bavarian Ministry of the Interior and was the highest police officer in Bavaria between 2007 and 2013, organized and accompanied a conversation in which the group met the boss of Government headquarters introduces.
Organized Crime Expert
Kindler is a proven expert on organized crime, for years he headed the federal-state police working group. He also has good connections to international security authorities. In 2012, Kindler gave a lecture at a symposium on organized crime and corruption in Moscow. After leaving the service the following year, he advised the Federal Ministry of the Interior on “police reconstruction aid in North Africa”, according to Bundestag documents. In addition, Kindler accompanied police reforms in Thuringia, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Baden-Württemberg – and obviously worked for Wirecard.
The role of Kindler raises two questions, the MP Kaltenhauser told Personal-Financial.com: “What topics was it really about, and why does a former state police chief take part in a conversation with a company whose business purpose is the processing of financial services?” The spokesman for The budget and finances of the FDP state parliamentary group referred to the fact that at the time of the conversation with the head of the state chancellery in November 2019 there were serious allegations against Wirecard. In the course of the past year, the “Financial Times” revealed balance sheet tricks in the Wirecard branch in Singapore as well as inconsistencies in the allegedly profitable third-party business in Asia. In October 2019, the Wirecard Supervisory Board therefore commissioned a special audit from the auditing company KPMG at pressure from investors. It was “hardly imaginable” that in this timeframe the public allegations should not have been an essential part of the conversation with Söder’s head of state chancellery, said Kaltenhauser.
When asked by Personal-Financial.com about the background and topics of the conversation, a spokeswoman for the State Chancellery confirmed that the appointment was a “purely introductory meeting without specific concerns”. Kindler conveyed the conversation and therefore also took part in it. “The state government was not aware of the connections between Mr. Kindler and Wirecard,” emphasized the spokeswoman. Prime Minister Söder was also not informed of the date.
What is striking, however, is the proximity to another meeting a few weeks earlier, which Knoop and Ley had held at another government headquarters – also mediated by a former security officer. On September 11, 2019, the two top Wirecard representatives met the economic advisor to Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU), Lars-Hendrik Röller, in the Berlin Chancellery. The appointment was organized and accompanied by Klaus-Dieter Fritsche, who in his career was Deputy Chief of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, State Security Secretary in the Federal Ministry of the Interior and most recently, until the beginning of 2018, the secret service officer in the Chancellery.
CSU member Fritsche also became active as a consultant after his retirement – for example for the Austrian Ministry of the Interior, which is governed by the FPÖ, in the reform of the domestic secret service BVT. The former Wirecard board member Jan Marsalek, who went into hiding shortly before the bankruptcy of the group, also maintained contacts with the BVT, but also with North Africa. Marsalek is rumored to be under the care of Russian intelligence services near Moscow today.
Contacts with other ministers too
The initiation and accompaniment of the conversation with the Bavarian State Chancellery and Federal Council Minister Herrmann by ex-Police President Kindler also raises questions because Wirecard also had contacts with the state government in other ways. In addition, if necessary, the group could have drawn on the help of ex-Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, who with his consulting firm Spitzberg Partners was helping Wirecard with other projects as a door opener into politics at the time. As the former general secretary of the CSU, Guttenberg is well connected in the ruling party and in Bavarian politics.
In fact, there was also a direct exchange between some Bavarian state ministries and the Aschheim payment processor, as the list of the interior ministry shows. Accordingly, in 2016 the head of Wirecard Central Eastern Europe traveled to Poland as part of a business delegation with the then Minister of Economic Affairs Ilse Aigner (CSU). In July 2017, a manager and a manager from the Brazilian Wirecard subsidiary accompanied the then European Minister Beate Merk (CSU) on individual appointments as part of a trip to Sao Paulo. In general, however, the state government did not “support the expansion of Wirecard AG abroad”, emphasized the interior ministry.
In July 2014, Bavaria’s Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann (CSU) also received the then Wirecard CFO Ley for an interview. Door opener at that time, according to the state government: the former Schleswig-Holstein Prime Minister Peter-Harry Carstensen (CDU). In the conversation with Ley and a Munich lawyer who also works for many gambling providers, it was about gambling and addiction prevention, according to the state government’s answer. There was another point of contact with the Ministry of Economic Affairs this year when Wirecard voluntarily offered to digitize applications for Corona emergency aid free of charge as part of a “sponsorship”. In addition, the wife of long-time Wirecard boss Markus Braun, who temporarily worked as the company’s marketing director, was appointed to the jury of a digital prize by the Ministry of Economic Affairs in 2014.
Another ministry, on the other hand, did not report a single contact with top representatives of the payment service provider at the request of MP Kaltenhauser: the finance department, which was led from 2011 to 2018 by the current Prime Minister and potential Union Chancellor candidate Söder. It is difficult to believe that the Bavarian Ministry of Finance has had no contact with Wirecard for years, neither under Söder nor under today’s Minister Albert Füracker (CSU), said Kaltenhauser. “Especially in Bavaria, which is particularly business-friendly, it seems unusual that there should have been neither interest nor need to talk to the financial company Wirecard.”
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