- EXCLUSIVE: Jan Marsalek, the former COO of collapsed German financial services Wirecard, likely fled to Russia, not Belarus or the Philippines, intelligence sources tell Insider.
- “It appears that Mr. Marsalek has strong ties to Russian government officials and possibly organized crime that weren’t evident before, but which have become clearer as his past travels draw. ‘under investigation,’ an Italian official told Insider.
- The Russians are not currently cooperating with a request from Europol to find Marsalek.
- Marsalek has entered Russia more than 60 times in the past decade with six Austrian passports and three “diplomatic” passports issued by another unidentified country, sources told Insider.
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Jan Marsalek, former COO of collapsed German financial services Wirecard, likely fled to Russia last month as regulators and law enforcement tried to question him about a $ 2 billion hole in the firm’s books, according to two European law enforcement officials.
Foreign intelligence sources also tell Insider they suspect Marsalek escaped “with clear Russian intelligence help.”
“What worries us all, not just law enforcement, but intelligence and counterintelligence operations as well, is that it appears that Mr. Marsalek has close ties to Russian government officials and perhaps with organized crime which was not evident before but has become clearer as his past travels are investigated, ”an Italian official told Insider.
Marsalek disappeared shortly after being sacked by Wirecard on June 18 as the extent of the company’s financial problems became clear to listeners. After telling his colleagues that he would be flying to the Philippines to find the missing money, Marsalek apparently arranged fraudulent documents showing his arrival in Manila via an international flight, but local authorities quickly determined that he did not had not entered the country.
The open-source investigation website Bellingcat, along with German and Russian media partners then determined that an Austrian citizen traveling as Jan Marsalek entered Belarus in the early hours of June 19 via a private jet. Belarus, which shares a border and close cooperation on immigration matters with Russia, has no record of Marsalek leaving the country.
“One of the databases lists all the planes – commercial and private / chartered – that arrived at Minsk airport in June,” Bellingcat reported. On June 18, 2020, only one private jet had landed: at 7:10 p.m. local time. This jet – whose identity was blocked at the operator’s request – had arrived from Tallinn, the Estonian capital. Two hours after landing in Minsk – and, presumably, cleared immigration and customs – the mysterious plane flew to the Belarusian city of Vytebsk. ”
Two European law enforcement officials contacted by Insider said the evidence strongly points to Marsalek fled to Russia via Belarus.
“The latest update that was circulated within Europol indicates that he fled to Russia via Belarus in a private plane between June 18 and 20,” said a law enforcement official. Italian specialist in organized and financial crimes.
“Wirecard has operations and connections throughout the European Union, the Austrians could have primary jurisdiction, but ongoing investigations will have an effect on cases and potential prosecutions across the EU, so we are concerned and are investigating like many of our colleagues, ”said the official, who does not have formal permission to discuss the matter with the media.
The Italian source added that Europol’s requests for cooperation from the Russian government to find Marsalek have so far been ignored.
Bellingcat and partners said they obtained Marsalek’s immigration history from Russian government records, which showed Marsalek entered Russia more than 60 times in the past decade out of a total of six Austrian passports. as well as three “diplomatic” passports issued by another unidentified. country.
Bellingcat’s record also showed that on September 15, 2017, a private plane carrying Marsalek was denied permission from the Russian intelligence service FSB for eight hours. According to Bellingcat, this was the last time he entered Russia using his Austrian passports.
The Italian official said the situation was difficult to define but seemed similar to a process used to recruit assets by intelligence services.
“We already have strong indications that Wirecard was involved in the fraud and there are clear links with players based in Russia, even beyond [Marsalek’s] The official said. “The model appeared to be 60 trips in and out of Russia at will, doing business for what turned out to be likely a fraudulent concern before it be arrested by the FSB, detained and released.
“Three years later, he disappears in Belarus while being pursued by the police and seems to be in Russia, with the clear help of Russian intelligence services,” said the Italian official, stressing that to cross the Belarus-Russia border without leaving any administrative traces needs the help of Russian border guards, who report directly to the FSB.
A Dutch law enforcement official investigating the Wirecard allegations agrees with the broad lines of the ‘Marsalek is a Russian asset’ suspicion, saying it was clear that Marsalek had close ties to the services of Russian intelligence before the scandal, but that this was not of great concern outside. from Austria.
“Until $ 2 billion disappeared, that would have been the Austrians’ problem,” said the Dutch official who declined to be named. “Are any of their companies doing questionable business with the Russians?” It was something she was supposed to get a handle on, but as the money is gone it affects several countries in the EU, so now we are all asking questions. ”
The Dutch official has confirmed several allegations about Marsalek that have appeared in German media in recent weeks, including that he made a trip in 2017 to the Syrian desert town of Palmyra with Russian troops, and that he was credibly accused of Austrian overtaking. secrets obtained from the Interior Ministry at the Austro-Russian Friendship Society, which the Dutch official says is a front for Russian intelligence.
“If an organization has ‘Russia’ and ‘Friendship’ in its title, you can bet it’s an intelligence operation,” the official said. “I think we’re just getting started here on the extent of Wirecard’s Russian infiltration, and honestly I don’t think any of this will end up being good for Austrian politics. “