reluctant Wirecard whistleblower tells his story – fr

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reluctant Wirecard whistleblower tells his story – fr


Pav Gill thanks his mother for a lot of things. Sokhbir Kaur raised him on his own in subsidized Singapore housing, pushed him through the best schools in town – and, when the time came, forced him to become the whistleblower that would defeat global fraud. from Wirecard.

“It wasn’t me, to be clear. I was just trying to look for another job, and she was busy figuring out ways to showcase the business from my couch in the living room, ”said the lawyer from Bangkok, where he’s building a new life.

In October 2018, Gill had just been kicked from Wirecard, after senior executives blocked an internal investigation into allegations of fraud. Her mother’s efforts to contact the Financial Times sparked a series of events that exposed the German company like a house of cards, forced reform of the country’s humiliated institutions and shattered the reputation of audit firm EY.

When she set up a first meeting with the FT at Changi Airport, however, Gill remembers just thinking, “Oh my God, what have you done now?”

Gill agreed to reveal his identity ahead of a Sky documentary focusing on Wirecard whistleblowers, but he still struggles with the label. “I don’t like the term whistleblower, honestly. I think there is a certain stigma or negative connotations attached to it. It implies that you are going against the company that feeds you, it implies a breach of trust. “

Sokhbir Kaur and Pav Gill. Kaur’s efforts to contact the FT sparked a series of events that exposed German society like a house of cards © Handout

In 2018, the reluctant Gill decided that in order for the fraud to be properly exposed, he had to be involved. During a series of meetings in isolated cafes and hotel lobbies in Singapore, he told the FT what had happened to him. Kaur, an experienced banker and first generation Sikh immigrant with a strong moral code, has come to support him – and to insist that he be protected.

A magic circle specialist in financial services, Gill was hired in September 2017 as Wirecard’s first in-house lawyer responsible for the Asia-Pacific region, reporting directly to Munich.

A few months later, he was approached by two Wirecard employees who accused colleagues of cooking the books. An investigation was launched, dubbed Project Tiger, which focused on a young Indonesian, Edo Kurniawan, whom Gill described as “the third most important Wirecard finance and accounting employee in the world”.

Gill found it odd that someone with as little experience as Kurniawan held such an important position.

He recalls that Kurniawan regularly traveled to Munich for meetings, but at the time, Gill was focusing on Asia. “I don’t think anybody at the initial stage thought the whole business was sick,” he said.

An outside law firm, Rajah & Tann, was hired to investigate and, at a crucial time, copies were taken of Kurniawan’s inbox under the authority of Daniel Steinhoff, then Wirecard’s deputy general counsel in charge. of compliance.

In this mine of data, there was evidence of bogus customers behind the facade of Wirecard. “Nothing would have happened if we hadn’t had the green light from Steinhoff,” said Gill.

German payment group Wirecard collapsed into bankruptcy in June 2020 © Imago Images / Sven Simon via Reuters

Project Tiger quickly discovered misconduct. Staff were sending each other logos, fake contracts and invoices. However, senior Wirecard officials took no action against the alleged perpetrators. Instead, Jan Marsalek, then COO and head of Asian affairs, took control of the investigation.

Gill was shocked. “Any normal business, especially a publicly traded company, would have suspended these people even if it was just for the show. Over the months, his work has become untenable.

In September, he was offered a choice: resign with a positive reference or be fired. Gill lacked the strength or resources to fight and felt short of options.

“If the company has shown a tendency to discredit and destroy for the past three months, then the only way to protect itself is to do what I did: take some incriminating data as a shield.”

Even then, Wirecard might have fixed the situation, as he was ready to start a new job elsewhere and forget about the whole thing. Instead, Gill said, “They tried to destroy me, manly, professionally, emotionally.”

He suspected he was being followed. Neighbors reported that strange men were interested in her apartment. Bad references bet on job prospects. Some job interviews looked like traps to trick him into breaking his nondisclosure agreements, putting too much emphasis on why he left Wirecard.

Until her mother approached the FT and the Wall Street Journal, to which she did not find the encouraging response, Gill did not know what to do with the material he had.

“If Wirecard’s modus operandi is to create fake documents, then you know nothing is stopping them from creating something on you too,” he said. “If you go to the police and say ‘this company is trying to destroy me’ it sounds like a very fancy tale. “

One lesson he’s learned is that employees who discover potential misconduct, and then find their employer is not investigating properly, have few good options.

“Often people don’t have the full picture, they have suspicion but are unable to provide compelling evidence.” He suggests governments create official whistleblower agencies outside the police. “It can be like suspicious transaction reporting agencies. Individual employees need an agency that they can go to and say, “I’m really scared, this is what I think my business is doing. Don’t use it against me or my business, just tell me what to do ”.”

For Gill, the FT played this role. “It was as if a burden had been lifted. You are no longer the one carrying the weight of this information, ”he said, although the first story took agonizing months to come out.

When it did, Wirecard dismissed it as “another inaccurate, misleading and defamatory media report”. Days later, then-CEO Markus Braun changed tack, admitting the gist but attacking the source. “We have substantial doubt about the history of this whistleblower,” he told analysts on a conference call, suggesting documents were leaked by “someone with malicious intent” .

Gill didn’t sit idly by. He joined Twitter anonymously to expose Wirecard’s lies. He also worked with the Munich newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, helping it write critical articles in Germany.

Some of the flame wars on Twitter got out of hand. “I regret that I insulted real decent investors, say in Germany,” he said, describing the Wirecard collapse in June 2020 as a wake-up call. “You suddenly got into the mindset of how you would be as a normal retail investor, knowing that this company that you have invested in and has already given you returns, their products are good. You would think – what is it absurd that this is a scam? “

Regarding blame, Gill said many people inside and outside Wirecard faced karmic debt for their role: “EY was the external facilitators alongside the restless regulatory agencies in Germany. . “

Braun is now in custody, protesting his innocence. Gill said, “A CEO can’t be such a dense dupe, right? If you are trying to present yourself as some kind of Elizabeth Holmes visionary, you need to get a feel for what is going on in your business. You can no longer blame the guy who ran away. For all we know, that was the plan from the start; Marsalek is missing and everyone is a victim. “

Gill now works as General Counsel for Zipmex, a digital asset platform. “It’s been so long since I’ve found a place that I can call home professionally, it’s been a very exciting time,” he said.

His trip, as he calls it, was not without cost. He would get anxious every time the elevator to his apartment building passed his floor, making the door click. “I was still scared. Just hearing that door move wouldn’t allow me to sleep. . . I would know it wasn’t particularly rational, but it does happen anyway.

Gill is keen to share the credit – “there are a lot of heroes in this story” – and is aware that a happy ending is missing.

“What is the meaning of doing the right thing? It always comes at a cost, including for the vast majority of Wirecard employees who were innocent. I have always taken the train from downtown Munich to Aschheim and you will see that the whole campus around Wirecard would be full of IT, administrators, engineers – and now [most] of them lost their jobs. It was just a big deal that only benefited a few criminals.

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