The Wirecard logo at the headquarters of the payment service provider. Photo: AFP/Sven Hoppe/dpa

Stricken payments provider Wirecard said Thursday it was filing for insolvency, days after the high-profile German company admitted that 1.9 billion euros ($2.1 billion) were missing from its accounts.

It comes shortly after ex-CEO Markus Braun was detained before being freed on bail. He stands accused of market manipulation and falsifying the company’s accounts, in what is becoming one of Germany’s biggest financial scandals.

“The management board of Wirecard AG has decided today to file an application for the opening of insolvency proceedings for Wirecard AG with the competent district court of Munich due to impending insolvency and over-indebtedness,” the company said in a statement.

Trading in the group’s shares was immediately halted by the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, leaving them blocked at 10.74 euros, down 12.7% from Wednesday’s close.

Founded in 1999, the Bavarian startup had gone from a company piping cash to porn and gambling sites to a respectable electronic payments provider in the DAX 30 index. 

Once held up as an example of an innovative, nimble company outsmarting lumbering banking giants at their own game, Wirecard’s fall from grace began in January 2019 when questions emerged about accounting irregularities in its Asian division.

But the final nail in the coffin came last week when auditors Ernst & Young said they were unable to find 1.9 billion euros of cash in the company’s accounts.

The missing cash was held to cover risks in trading supposedly carried out by third parties on Wirecard’s behalf and was meant to be sitting in trust accounts at two Philippine banks.

But the Philippines’ central bank said the cash never entered its monetary system and both Asian banks, BDO and BPI, denied having a relationship with Wirecard.

The company, which employs nearly 6,000 people, admitted on Monday that the funds likely “do not exist.”

The group’s former chief executive Braun turned himself in that evening before being bailed for five million euros the following day.

The scandal has stunned Germany and comes at a time when Europe’s biggest economy is already grappling with the deepest recession since World War II because of the coronavirus pandemic.

German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier has called for a thorough investigation and warned that the controversy could erode confidence in the country’s finance sector.

Banking supervision chief Feliz Hufeld has also admitted that the watchdog Bafin “had not been effective enough to prevent something like this from happening.”

AFP

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