Wirecard exec accused of being Russian spy by Western officials: WSJ

Western intelligence and security agencies say Wirecard’s former chief operating officer Jan Marsalek was likely a Russian spy for nearly a decade, according to reporting by the Wall Street Journal.

Payment processor Wirecard was found to be a fraud in 2020, when nearly $2 billion on its books went unaccounted for. Marsalek, now one of the most wanted men in Germany, is accused of enabling Russian spy agencies to fund covert operations across the world.

According to British prosecutors, Marsalek directed a ring of five UK-based Bulgarians thought to be Russian spies. They say that from 2020 to 2023, Marsalek acted as a middleman and directed them to gather information on people targeted by the Kremlin in order to make it easier to kidnap them.

During his time at Wirecard, Marsalek also helped Russia’s military intelligence directorate, the GRU, and major spying organization, the SVR, pay their spies and informants and transfer money into war zones in the Middle East and Africa, Western officials say.

At its peak, Wirecard handled bank transfers for Germany’s main intelligence agency. Western officials say that Marsalek likely forwarded this financial information to Moscow, which forced the agency to relocate some of its spies for their own safety.

Jan Marsalek showed off classified Russian info during Wirecard role

Officials have long suspected that Marsalek was a Russian spy. In March, newly unsealed archival documents in Austria revealed how his grandfather Hans Marsalek was suspected of being a Russian spy himself.

Hans served as an anti-Nazi resistance fighter in the second world war. He was arrested and held in Mauthausen concentration camp. After the war, he hunted Nazi war criminals as a high-ranking officer of Vienna state police.

However, Austrian authorities say Hans’ socialist beliefs eventually swayed him to work for Russia during the cold war. An unsealed letter from the head of Vienna’s political police to the city prosecutor said Hans was suspected of helping the Soviets kidnap at least four people and illegally transfer them to Moscow — where they were tortured, interrogated, and imprisoned. One person he allegedly helped kidnap was an American intelligence agent.

Hans denied the claims until his death in December 2011 — one year after Jan started his role as Wirecard’s COO.

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If Marsalek was a spy like his grandfather, he’s perhaps the most candid spy to ever exist. According to those who worked with him, who remain anonymous for their safety, “The only thing he seemed to like more than having secrets and being involved in all of these surreptitious things, was letting you know it.”

In 2018, for example, Marsalek brazenly shared highly classified reports from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) that contained analysis of Russia’s botched assassination attempt of GRU defector Sergei Skripal. In the files somehow found in Marsalek’s possession was the precise formula for novichok, the deadly nerve agent used in the murder plot.

Wirecard’s former chief Markus Braun is currently on trial, along with two former executives. He has pled not guilty. The defunct firm’s former chief financial officer Burkhard Ley was charged by Munich prosecutors last week.

Marsalek’s exact whereabouts remain unknown. When Wirecard collapsed, he boarded a plane bound for Minsk, Belarus and is now suspected to be in Moscow. Marsalek is wanted internationally on suspicion of violating securities law and fraud.

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