Wirecard collapsed on Thursday owing creditors almost $4 billion after disclosing a gaping hole in its books that its auditor EY said was the result of a sophisticated global fraud.
The payments company filed for insolvency at a Munich courtsaying that, with 1.3 billion euros ($1.5 billion) of loans due within a week its survival as a going concern was “not assured”.
Wirecard’s implosion came just seven days after EY, its auditor for more than a decade, refused to sign off on the 2019 accounts, forcing out Chief Executive Markus Braun and leading it to admit that $2.1 billion of its cash probably didn’t exist.
“There are clear indications that this was an elaborate and sophisticated fraud involving multiple parties around the world,” EY said in a statement.
EY said while it was completing the 2019 audit, it was provided with false confirmations with regard to escrow accounts and reported them to the relevant authorities.
Wirecard declined to comment following EY’s statement.
The financial technology company is the first member of Germany’s prestigious DAX stock index to go bust, barely two years after winning a spot among the country’s top 30 listed companies with a market valuation of $28 billion.
“The Wirecard case damages corporate Germany. It should be a wake-up call for reforms,” said Volker Potthoff, chairman of
corporate governance think-tank ArMID.
Creditors have scant hope of getting back the 3.5 billioneuros they are owed, sources familiar with the matter said. Of
that total, Wirecard has borrowed 1.75 billion from 15 banks andissued 500 million in bonds.
“The money’s gone,” said one banker. “We may recoup a feweuros in a couple of years but will write off the loan now.”
The collapse of Wirecard, once one of the hottest fintech companies in Europe, dwarfs other German corporate failures. It
has shaken the country’s financial establishment with FelixHufeld, head of regulator BaFin, calling it a “total disaster”.
German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz described the collapseas a “scandal”, acknowledging it was time to review regulation.
“We must rethink our supervisory structures,” said Scholz,adding he had asked his ministry to come up with ideas in the
next few days.
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“If legal, legislative, regulatory measures are needed, wewill embrace them and implement them,” he said. “A scandal like
Wirecard is a wake-up call that we need more monitoring andoversight than we have today,” he said.
Wirecard shares, which were suspended ahead of an earlier announcement that it would seek creditor protection, crashed 80 percent when trading resumed. They have lost 98 percent since auditor EYquestioned its accounts last Thursday.
EY, one of the world’s “Big Four” accountancy and consultingfirms, faces a wave of litigation in a debacle that has drawn comparisons with Arthur Andersen’s disastrous oversight of US energy company Enron.
German law firm Schirp & Partner said that with Wirecard noweffectively sidelined, it would file class actions against EY on behalf of shareholders and bondholders.
“It is frightening how long Wirecard AG was able to operatewithout being objected to by the auditors,” partner Wolfgang Schirp said.
Wirecard’s new management had been in crisis talks withcreditors but pulled out on Thursday morning “due to impending insolvency and over-indebtedness.”
The insolvency filing did not include its Wirecard Bank subsidiary, which holds an estimated 1.4 billion euros in deposits and is already under emergency management by BaFin.
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