First Singaporean charged in Wirecard scandal

The Wirecard scandal has continued to widen and now threatens to engulf top politicians, regulators and auditors in Germany.PHOTO: REUTERS

PUBLISHED

AUG 8, 2020, 5:00 AM SGT

Singapore has laid its first charges in the Wirecard scandal, accusing a director of Citadelle Corporate Services of falsifying accounts.

  1. Shanmugaratnam was charged with “wilfully and with intent to defraud” falsifying letters from Citadelle to Wirecard representing that the Singapore company held tens of millions in euros in escrow accounts, according to charge sheets filed last month and seen by Bloomberg News.

The 54-year-old Singaporean is the first person to be indicted here over the spectacular collapse of Wirecard.

The German digital payments company filed for bankruptcy in June after disclosing that €1.9 billion (S$3.1 billion) of cash, supposed to be in bank accounts in the Philippines, did not exist.

The first of the four charges says that in March 2017, Shanmugaratnam falsely stated that there was a balance of €177.5 million held by Citadelle in an escrow account on Dec 31, 2016. The other three charges say that in March 2016, he misrepresented that there were €66.4 million, €47 million and €30 million held by Citadelle in three escrow accounts on Dec 31, 2015.

Shanmugaratnam’s lawyer, Mr N. Sreenivasan, declined to comment.

Shanmugaratnam is out on bail of $150,000. If convicted, he could face a jail term of as long as 10 years for each charge.

Singapore is home to Wirecard’s Asia-Pacific headquarters, and the company has been expanding aggressively in the region.

Last year, Singapore police raided Wirecard’s local offices after an employee alleged that a member of the company’s finance team engaged in accounting breaches.

Last month, Singapore’s Commercial Affairs Department and the Monetary Authority of Singapore said they launched a joint investigation into Citadelle, and Senjo Group and its subsidiaries. They said the investigation related to suspected falsification of accounts and carrying on a trust business without a licence.

Citadelle is also at the heart of an investigation in the Philippines that exposed fraudulent activity at Wirecard. Two Philippine banks have said that rogue employees falsified documents that indicated they held some Wirecard funds.

Citadelle was drawn into the spotlight after a Filipino lawyer said he opened six euro bank accounts in the name of his law firm, MKT Law, on behalf of Citadelle Corporate. The accounts were supposedly for Wirecard.

Separately, the authorities in the Philippines are investigating whether a former Asian executive of Wirecard died, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said yesterday.

He said the Justice Department is verifying if the person named “Christopher Reinhard Bauer”, who reportedly died last week, is the same person as the former Wirecard official who is part of an ongoing investigation into the fraud. Also part of the investigation is to find out the cause of death, Mr Guevarra said.

He said the Justice Department has been looking at an inward remittance to Mr Bauer’s account from Wirecard Asia in 2015, without giving more details.

The Financial Times on Thursday reported on the death of Mr Bauer, linking him and his Manila-based PayEasy Solutions to a probe involving Wirecard’s partner businesses.

The Wirecard scandal has continued to widen and now threatens to engulf top politicians, regulators and auditors in Germany. Former Wirecard chief executive officer Markus Braun was re-arrested last month as German prosecutors said the company knew about massive losses as early as 2015.

Commerzbank abandoned its goal for a full-year profit after losses tied to Wirecard and the insolvency left gaping holes in the income statements of ING Groep and Credit Agricole.

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS