Germany’s accountancy watchdog opened an investigation into payments company Wirecard last year after whistleblower allegations of accounting fraud, according to people familiar with the matter.
The news of the probe by the Berlin-based Financial Reporting Enforcement Panel (FREP) comes just weeks after a special audit Wirecard commissioned from KPMG was unable to verify the genuineness of the fintech’s sales and profits from third parties between 2016 and 2018.
Wirecard’s shares have tumbled more than 40 per cent since the findings of the special audit were published.
Wirecard’s supervisory board commissioned the audit after the Financial Times reported whistleblower allegations, which focused on three of the company’s business partners.
Investors have long viewed Wirecard as one of Germany’s few fintech successes, and the group was propelled into the country’s prestigious Dax stock market index in 2018.
Edgar Ernst, the president of FREP, told the FT, that “we are of course analysing the KPMG report very closely and are assessing what it means for us.” He declined to comment on whether a probe had been opened.
BaFin, the German financial regulator that has the power to order FREP to start investigations, declined to comment.
Last week, Elisabeth Roegele, BaFin’s executive director, told journalists that she thought it was “obvious” FREP would look into allegations against Wirecard.
EY, which has been Wirecard’s auditor for more than a decade, declined to comment.
The Berlin-based accounting watchdog typically investigates about 80 companies a year and has previously found irregularities in about 20 per cent of those cases. In a high-profile ruling in 2018, FREP forced Adidas to book a €475m charge after concluding that the sportswear maker had been too optimistic about the potential of Reebok, which the group bought in 2005.
Hansrudi Lenz, professor for accounting at Würzburg University, said German regulators needed to “prioritise the Wirecard case” because it was draining investors’ confidence. “There’s a lot at stake.”
BaFin is examining Wirecard’s communications to investors about the KPMG report before its findings were released. The fintech group told shareholders that the special audit had found nothing untoward.
Since its publication, Deka Investment, one of Wirecard’s largest shareholders, has called for the dismissal of chief executive Markus Braun. The KPMG report was described by Mr Braun as a “big step forward” for Wirecard, which has promised a fundamental revamp of its compliance and governance.
Last year Singapore police launched a criminal probe of the group’s Asian operations. German regulators also sought to protect Wirecard from speculators, announcing a two-month ban on the short-selling of its stock
The group has said it expects to be exonerated by the Singapore probe, but that some employees in the city-state may face criminal liability.
In a statement, Wirecard said FREP had scrutinised its accounting in the past without finding fault. It declined to comment on the current probe.
Wirecard is suing the FT for alleged infringement of “trade secrets” in its investigative reporting on the company, a claim that the FT denies and is contesting.
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