A payments firm once hailed as Europe’s tech success story now stands accused of enabling Russian covert operations through nearly a decade of clandestine collaboration involving its former #2 executive, according to a report by WSJ.
Munich-based Wirecard AG operated digital financial commerce, processing card payments and providing banking services to businesses. After meteoritic growth as an innovative online transactions pioneer, the company was valued higher than major German banks and counted Fortune 500 firms among tens of thousands of customers.
This rapid ascent crashed spectacularly in 2020 upon revelations that $2 billion in cash had vanished from Wirecard’s balance sheet. The firm collapsed into insolvency, executives were charged with fraud, and COO Jan Marsalek disappeared after being tracked to Moscow on falsified documents.
Marsalek is accused of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from investors. Now investigators in several Western nations allege Wirecard covertly served Russian intelligence for years under Marsalek’s guidance. Western intelligence and security officials allege Marsalek enabled the Russian government to fund covert operations globally while operating as a Russian agent for nearly 10 years.
Marsalek vanished after Wirecard claimed in June 2020 that nearly $2 billion was missing from its balance sheet. He fled Austria on a private jet, landing in Belarus before being transported to Moscow where he obtained a Russian passport under an alias, officials say.
British prosecutors allege Marsalek directed a ring of five alleged Russian spies based in the UK between 2020 and 2023. The group allegedly gathered information to assist Russian kidnapping attempts across Europe. Officials say Marsalek acted as an intermediary between the spies and Russian intelligence services.
Marsalek also reportedly helped Russian military intelligence agency GRU and foreign intelligence service SVR pay intelligence officers and informants. Western officials say he enabled money transfers to conflict zones in the Middle East and Africa.
Marsalek has also assisted the mercenary group Wagner, led by the late warlord Yevgeny Prigozhin, and is now involved in the reconfiguration of Progozhin’s business empire in Africa on behalf of Russian officials, WSJ writes, citing Western Intelligence.
According to the report, Marsalek provided financial services through Wirecard to Russian operatives, shifting funds between Europe and conflict zones.
Two unnamed former Marsalek associates said he claimed to work for Russian and Western intelligence agencies.
Additionally, German security services including foreign intelligence agency BND admitted using Wirecard for clandestine activities. Officials say this provided Marsalek access to monitor agents’ purchases and movements, information he may have passed to Russia. However, German officials downplay potential impacts, claiming agents’ real identities weren’t compromised.
Marsalek remains one of the world’s most wanted fugitives. Despite allegations of spying, German prosecutors maintain focus on investigating the fraud accusations surrounding Wirecard’s collapse. Marsalek’s lawyer did not respond to media requests for comment.