Clouds hung in the morning sky when the plane landed in Munich on November 5, 2019 at 7:10 a.m. with the Secretary of State on board. At 8.30 a.m., Jörg Kukies had his first appointment of the day in the suburb of Aschheim – with Markus Braun, the now imprisoned CEO of the now bankrupt Wirecard group.
Kukies, 52 years old, is both a longtime social democrat and a banker – a seldom seen station wagon. He used to be a manager at the US investment bank Goldman Sachs and is now State Secretary in the Treasury under Olaf Scholz (SPD). Why did Kukies visit Braun on this Tuesday in November 2019 for a one-on-one conversation – apparently on Kukies ‘own initiative and on Braun’s 50th birthday? This is one of the riddles that a Bundestag investigative committee is now trying to clear up.
It is about one of the biggest economic scandals in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany and the question of why German authorities had repeatedly defended Wirecard against allegations of fraud over the years – until it was too late in June of this year and investors and banks reached 20 billion Had to write off euros.
To this end, “Stern” and Personal-Financial.com were able to evaluate previously unknown internal documents from the Ministry of Finance and the Bafin financial supervisory authority. The documents raise new questions, and they support a suspicion: that German supervisors touched the German company Wirecard with kid gloves – and at the same time acted with considerable severity against supposedly malicious critics abroad.
One thing is certain: when Kukies met Braun for a one-hour conversation on November 5, 2019, the evidence against the Wirecard Group actually seemed overwhelming. To this day, he rejects all allegations against himself. But as early as October 15, 2019, the British business newspaper “Financial Times” reported on concrete evidence based on internal documents that half of Wirecard’s sales and a large part of its profit could have been deceived.
Nevertheless, as the Ministry of Finance says, Kukies wants to have discussed a multitude of rather harmless topics with Braun in November 2019: about the business models of various payment service providers, from Wirecard to PayPal, about cryptocurrencies and debt capital for start-up companies. And yes, the fraud allegations against Wirecard were also an issue, as was the special investigation that the auditing company KPMG had just started. This is how the Ministry of Finance presents it.
But if you follow the internal documents that are available to “Stern” and Personal-Financial.com, then the allegations of manipulation are likely to have been much more in the foreground than the State Secretary wants to believe today.
Discreet appointment preparation
In any case, on October 31, 2019 – a Thursday – an employee of the ministry informed the responsible department for stock exchange and securities that the State Secretary would need written preparation before the end of work on November 4 for his discussion with the Wirecard boss. It should “only concern the investigation and the special audit of the Bafin because of the known allegations with regard to possible market manipulation”. Also conspicuous: Kukies ‘office manager had expressly only passed on the request orally. The “preparatory documents” had been “treated with the utmost confidentiality”, stated a ministerial in August this year.
A secret fraud? Dan McCrum, the journalist for the “Financial Times”, who ultimately brought the company down with his research, had actually expected something else at the time: namely that after its publication on October 15, 2019, the police would march into Wirecard. “Why wasn’t Wirecard searched the very next day?” Asked McCrum during a witness hearing in the investigative committee in early November. Why was the company given more time to “examine itself” and then commission the auditing company KPMG to carry out a special investigation?
In fact, it must have dawned on the responsible employees at the Bafin, which reports to Scholz, that the situation at Wirecard could be more serious than previously thought. The files also show that. On October 25th – still ten days after McCrum’s revelation – the Treasury Department’s stock exchange department ordered an assessment of the newspaper research from the Bafin – triggered by a request from a citizen who was worried about his investment at Wirecard.
Almost three weeks later – on November 15 – the Bafin replied to the ministry. The supervisory authority confirmed that the new FT allegations affected “a significantly larger proportion of Wirecard’s sales” than was the case with earlier publications by the newspaper. The Bafin experts also noticed that Wirecard was offering changing explanations for apparent irregularities – sometimes documents were allegedly falsified, then apparently genuine. Here “a violation of the ban on market manipulation through false or misleading information in the context of financial reporting”, noted the Bafin people. Market manipulation is a criminal offense that the Bafin has to report to the public prosecutor’s office according to the law – if “there are facts that justify the initial suspicion of a criminal offense according to criminal experience”, says the Cologne accounting lawyer Martin Waßmer.