Wirecard says probes find no evidence of criminal misconduct

Technology

FRANKFURT/SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Wirecard and its law firm said on Monday that they had found no conclusive evidence of criminal misconduct by any employee of the company, after the Financial Times last week alleged financial wrongdoing at its Singapore office.

FILE PHOTO: People walk past the Wirecard booth at the computer games fair Gamescom in Cologne, Germany, August 22, 2018. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

The response lifted shares in the German payments firm by 15 percent at the market open, partly reversing losses of 40 percent last week that were triggered by the FT’s allegations of forgery and falsification of accounts.

Munich-based Wirecard had initially dismissed the two FT reports on Wednesday and Friday as “inaccurate, misleading and defamatory”.

It issued a more detailed response on Monday, saying that a member of its Singapore team had in April 2018 raised concerns about the alleged actions of a finance team member there.

The company then started an investigation, which found no evidence to support the allegations. “Furthermore, there were indications that the allegations could be related to personal animosity between the employees involved,” the company said.

Wirecard hired Singaporean law firm Rajah & Tann for a review which is about to be completed, but which has so far not found evidence of criminal misconduct, the electronic payments company said.

Rajah & Tann, in a statement, confirmed that it had sent a letter to Wirecard on Feb. 3 which stated that its inquiry was ongoing. “To date we have made no conclusive findings of criminal misconduct on the part of any officer or employee of the company,” said the letter, posted on Wirecard’s website.

Singaporean police on Monday said they were looking into the reports of alleged financial irregularities.

SHORT SELLERS’ FAVORITE

Wirecard, founded in 1999, has been a perennial target for speculative short sellers – market players who seek to profit from falls in a company’s share price – who have questioned its accounting methods and rapid international expansion.

These speculative attacks have caused huge volatility in Wirecard’s stock, though its share price has rebounded repeatedly, with the company last year entering the blue-chip DAX index.

These allegations have not, however, led to any investigations of the company by Germany’s financial regulator or state prosecutors. Instead, prosecutors are investigating the short sellers on suspicion of market manipulation.

The Munich state prosecutor’s office on Friday said it had found no evidence of the alleged wrongdoing reported by the FT.

Most sell-side analysts are bullish on Wirecard, with 10 out of 28 rating the stock a ‘strong buy’ and a further 13 a ‘buy’, according to Refinitiv data. Their median price target is 208 euros – 70 percent above where the stock was trading after it bounced on Monday.

Wirecard said in its statement that the allegations by the Singapore staffer related to potential compliance breaches between 2015 and 2018.

These related to revenues of 6.9 million euros ($7.9 million) and costs of 4.1 million, as well as an internal transfer of intellectual property worth 2.6 million.

Markus Braun, the CEO of Wirecard and its largest shareholder with a 7 percent stake, played down the latest allegations as a “non-story”.

“We have examined everything,” he told the Handelsblatt business daily in an interview.

“There is no risk. We did not have to make any corrections or adjustments to our accounts.”

Wirecard reported on Jan. 30 that its fourth-quarter revenues grew by 40 percent and core earnings by 37 percent, and confirmed its guidance for profits of 740 million-800 million euros ($847-$916 million) this year.

Wirecard is set to hold a conference call on Monday at 1300 CET (1200 GMT/2000 Singapore time).

($1 = 0.8735 euros)

Additional reporting by Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore and Arno Schuetze in Frankfurt; editing by Jason Neely and Keith Weir

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