Where has Jan Marsalek gone? Disappeared since mid-June, the former director of operations of the German company Wirecard is now at the heart of a global hunt, which aims to clarify the details of the supposed gigantic fraud and the leader's links with Russia. </p><div> <p>On June 18, Jan Marsalek, director of operations for German fintech giant Wirecard, specializing in online payment platforms, announced to his employees that he was leaving for the Philippines to find the missing money "to wash his last name". The 40-year-old Austrian then promised to shed light on a $ 2 billion hole in the company's accounts, revealed by the Financial Times, which would lead to one of the biggest financial scandals in recent history in Germany.
But since his departure, Jan Marsalek seems to have disappeared from the face of the Earth… just like the two billion dollars. He has become one of the world’s most wanted fugitives. The German and Austrian authorities have issued an international arrest warrant against him and “the intelligence services of three Western countries” also want to find him to learn more about potential links with the Russian secret services, says the Financial Times.
More than 60 trips to Russia
Because what started as a gigantic fraud case is turning into a spy novel on a global scale. An incredible story in which it is about the Novichok poison (used in the attempted assassination in England of the former Russian agent Sergei Skripal), armed militias in Libya and the Austrian far right. Always with this question: where is Jan Marsalek, the man who would have all the answers?
The investigative site Bellingcat, in partnership with the German magazine Der Spiegel and the Russian site The Insider, thinks it has found the answer. The ousted leader of Wirecard is said to have taken refuge in Belarus, the media revealed on Saturday (July 18th). From there he would have joined Russia, added the German daily Handelsblatt on July 19, citing diplomatic sources.
Originally, investigators believed Jan Marsalek had traveled to China via the Philippines. But the authorities in Manila discovered that the flight documents attesting to this trip were forgeries, made by customs officials who had probably been bribed by the fugitive.
In reality, the Austrian on the run arrived aboard a private jet in Minsk “in the early hours of June 19,” says Bellingcat, who was able to consult the Belarusian database of entries into the territory.
This discovery prompted Bellingcat reporters to take a closer look at Jan Marsalek’s previous trips to Russia. In ten years, he went there more than sixty times, and his “file with the immigration services contains 597 pages, which is much more than for any file of foreigner which we could consult in five years of investigations [sur la Russie, NDLR]”.
FSB, GRU ?
This businessman used a dozen different passports – always in his name – for his visits to Russia, including a diplomatic passport issued by a third country, which is not cited in the file held by the immigration services . “No European state provides this type of document to non-residents and the few countries which do so reserve it for honorary consuls,” notes the site, which suspects that it was purchased illegally.
Jan Marsalek’s name also appears in another database consulted by Bellingcat: that of the FSB, the successor to the KGB. The Russian internal security service has gone to great lengths to follow the movements of the former leader of Wirecard, listing all his trips outside Europe since 2015.
“The reasons for this interest of the FSB are not clear”, admits the Russian investigation site The Insider. The Russian spies may have regarded him as a potential recruit and wanted to learn as much as possible about him, or else Jan Marsalek was already collaborating with them, and it was a way for the Russian agents not to lose sight of him, lists the Russian site. A third hypothesis would be that the FSB was monitoring the Austrian 40-year-old because he allegedly worked for a competing Russian security service, such as the GRU (military intelligence), suggests Bellingcat.
Novichok, Libya and the Austrian far right
Jan Marsalek is, in fact, suspected of having had contact in the past with members of the GRU. It all goes back to a strange “humanitarian” project in Libya that the businessman sought to set up in 2018 alongside his activities for Wirecard, the Financial Times has discovered. He was then seeking to recruit 15,000 Libyan militiamen to officially “secure” the war-torn country and facilitate economic reconstruction.
By promoting his project to potential investors, he had repeated several times that he could get help from a certain Russian “colonel”. It was Andrei Chuprygin, an Arab specialist who long served in the Russian military in the Middle East, the Financial Times has learned. This academic “is strongly suspected of having been an agent of the GRU and of having kept close links with the agency”, explains the British daily, which questioned Western intelligence agents about Andrei Chuprygin.
Jan Marsalek also loved to brag about his knowledge of the little secrets of the espionage world. “He was into James Bond and had a fascination with intelligence,” a former colleague of the fugitive told the Süddeutsche Zeitung. In 2018, during a visit to the City of London, he showed his interlocutors top-secret documents from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons relating to the attempted assassination of the former secret agent. Russian Sergeï Skripal in Salisbury (United Kingdom) which had taken place a few months earlier.
One of these documents detailed the exact chemical formula of Novichok, the poison used by spies, suspected of belonging to the GRU, who tried to eliminate Sergei Skripal, told the Financial Times, which was able to consult these documents. It is difficult to understand how Jan Marsalek, whose job is to sell a dematerialized payment solution, came into possession of this file.
The businessman didn’t just brag about knowing a lot about spies. The Austrian authorities suspect him of having been an informant for the far-right movement Freedom Party, whose links with Vladimir Putin’s Russia are known.
All these elements do not prove that Jan Marsalek was working behind the scenes for the Russian secret services. Moscow, moreover, denied, Monday, knowing where the fugitive was. But if the ex-leader collaborated with one of the Russian pharmacies, they could potentially have access to valuable information. Wirecard had, in fact, partnerships with hundreds of companies around the world, in particular “neobanks” like Orange Bank and telecom operators such as O2. What did Jan Marsalek know about his clients that might interest Russian spies? A lot of people would probably like to know. But before that, you still have to catch it.