Former Wirecard COO on Interpol’s Most Wanted9th September 2020 |
Payment provider Wirebet has been accused of helping Italian mafia group ‘Ndrangheta launder hundreds of millions of euros and the company’s former COO Jan Marsalek is currently hunted by Interpol. The 40-year-old Austrian is believed to be hiding in Belarus as he is wanted by at least three western intelligence agencies.
The ‘Ndrangheta is present in 100 countries and has annual revenues estimated as high as $100 billion. They control roughly 70 per cent of the cocaine trade in Europe and are suspected of illegal arms trade around the world, including selling weapons to both sides of the conflict in Syria.
An investigation spearheaded by Italian prosecutors have lead them to conclude that many of organized crime families in the south of the country have formed a loose alliance and between them they own and operate a huge network of businesses, laundering money for each other.
Wirecard handled payments for Centurionbet until 2017 when its Maltese gaming license was revoked. It is not clear whether Wirecard employees knew about Centuriobet’s ties to the Italian mob, but it “raises questions about Wirecard’s checks and balances and its anti-money-laundering protocols,” according to the prosecutors.
Most wanted in the world
When Centurionbet’s assest were frozen in 2018, Wirecard was the best performing company in the German fintech industry with a market cap of more than $25 billion. Auditors from Ernst and Young discovered that summer that about $2.2 billion was “missing” from the company books.
Later, the board of Wirecard admitted that the missing money “in all likelihood” never even existed and that accounts had been falsified to inflate the company’s assets and sales.
Since then, the top brass of Wirecard, including its former CEO Markus Braun have been arrested while Marsalek slipped through the net. It was believed that he fled to China via the Philippines, but evidence suggest that this information was false and that he instead has sought refuge in Minsk. He is now on the list of the world’s most wanted men.
Interest beyond unorthodox accounting
Pieces of Marsalek’s personal interests and investments have slowly begun to surface. First-hand witnesses in Germany describe a man who led multiple lives with complicated commercial and political interests.
At times his interests coincided with Wirecard’s, other times they were of a personal nature, but there were times when they were tied to Russian intelligence agencies like the GRU. Former colleagues of Marsalek have been coming out the woodwork and spoken about him anonymously as they fear for their safety and livelihoods.
“In general, Marsalek is a very strange character: he has an extreme affinity for security and is very mysterious,” said one of those who worked with him. “I could never tell if it was real or staged.”
Western intelligence agencies are mostly interested in Marsalek’s connection with Russian armed forces in Syria.
Online gambling and money laundering
It is not clear how much of Wirecard’s online gambling money laundering was connected with Marsalek, but it is no secret that organized crime have shown an interest in funnelling their ill-gotten gains through online casinos and sportsbooks.
A yet unnamed company believed to be much bigger than Centurionbet is also being investigated in connection with Wirecard. Given the complexity and vastness of the networks and accounts used, it may be years until any courts could reach any verdicts.
The only thing for certain is that Marsalek is a key suspect and possible witness to an array of criminal activities. Whoever finds him first: German, Italian or Austrian authorities, Russian, Syrian or western intelligence agencies, Marsalek will face a lot of questions.
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