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UK suspects Wirecard's Jan Marsalek of spying for Russia

September 26, 2023

The fugitive former manager of German financial services firm Wirecard has been accused by British prosecutors of involvement in conducting espionage on Russia's behalf. He's already being tried in absentia in Germany.

An image of a German wanted poster with two pictures of Jan Marsalek — one clean shaven and one with a long beard — on display at passport control a Munich Airport. Undated archive photo.
Marsalek is already wanted, and being tried in absentia, in Germany, but is now also on the radar of British prosecutorsImage: Frank Hoermann/SVEN SIMON/picture alliance

The public prosecutor's office in London on Tuesday accused former Wirecard chief operating officer Jan Marsalek of involvement in a spying network for Russia. 

Marsalek is named as part of a case against five Bulgarian nationals in the UK that was made public last week. The Austrian businessman is said to have been a contact person for the oldest of the five people arrested, who is accused of organizing and managing the cell's operations.

The cell is accused of surveilling and reporting on people and places of interest to Russia within the UK. 

However, Marsalek is not charged as part of the case.

The Bulgarian suspects appeared via video link in a hearing at Westminster Crown Court in London on Tuesday.

What else did UK prosecutors say? 

Marsalek's communications with the 45-year-old man were said to concern obtaining military equipment on behalf of Russia, the provision of espionage tools, communication interception and "arranging physical surveillance and hostile activity against targets of the Russian state," according to the prosecution. 

He further tasked the group with "surveillance against locations of relevance to Russia including a NATO base in Germany." There are dozens of US military bases in Germany, an indirect result of World War II and the period when defeated Germany was occupied by the major powers that defeated it.

The Bulgarian suspects, three men and two women aged between 45 and 29, were arrested in February, but the case against them was made public last week. They all lived in southeast England, either in  London or Norfolk. Though their names are in the public domain, DW won't name them in this story as their identities would most likely be protected at this stage were the case being tried in Germany. 

The cell is thought to have been active from August 2020 through February 2023, a timeline that matches Marsalek's rapid flight from Germany as his Wirecard business fell apart almost exactly. 

Thought to have fled to Russia after Wirecard's collapse

Marsalek's ties to Russia were well known and German authorities, currently trying him in absentia in connection with Wirecard's collapse in 2020, believed he fled to Minsk and probably later Russia as prosecutors closed in on him that summer.

Picture taken on September 18, 2018 shows the digital credit card on a mobile phone being demonstrated in the headquarters of the technology and financial services company Wirecard in Aschheim near Munich, southern Germany.
Wirecard was a payment and banking service that rapidly went insolvent in 2020 when it became apparent it had far fewer assets than it had reportedImage: CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/Getty Images

Wirecard rapidly went insolvent in mid-2020 as a series of corrupt business practices and cases of fraudulent reporting were unearthed, showing the lender to have reported having almost €2 billion in assets that were not in fact in its possession and were "missing." 

The company had rapidly grown and risen to take a spot on Germany's DAX stock market of the country's 40 largest publicly traded blue chip companies in 2018, soon before its business model began to unravel.

Marsalek's contacts to Russia have made him a person of interest for at least three different intelligence agencies since 2020. 

He is currently being tried in absentia in Munich

msh/jcg (dpa, AP, Reuters)