US News Wirecard scandal: EU authorities reprimand German supervisors

18:30  03 november  2020
18:30  03 november  2020 Source:   de.reuters.com

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Deficiencies, inefficiencies, obstacles - the findings of the EU financial supervisory authority ESMA on the role of German supervisors in the Wirecard scandal reads unflattering.

Der inzwischen insolvente frühere Dax-Konzern Wirecard hatte im Juni Luftbuchungen von 1,9 Milliarden Euro eingeräumt und in der Folge Insolvenz angemeldet. © Peter Kneffel / dpa The meanwhile insolvent former Dax group Wirecard had admitted air bookings of 1.9 billion euros in June and subsequently filed for bankruptcy.

The opposition speaks of a "slap in the face" for the financial supervision Bafin and the Federal Ministry of Finance. Head of department Olaf Scholz (SPD), however, sees his reform course confirmed rather than criticized.

"A number of deficiencies, inefficiencies as well as legal and procedural obstacles" were identified as part of the comprehensive investigation, said the European Securities and Markets Authority. ESMA boss Steven Maijoor confirmed: "Today's report reveals deficiencies in the monitoring and enforcement of Wirecard's financial reporting."

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ESMA is critical of the proximity of the Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (Bafin) to politics. From the frequency and level of detail of the Bafin reports to the Federal Ministry of Finance, the EU authority deduces an “increased risk of influence” by the Ministry. In addition, ESMA criticizes Bafin for a lack of transparency regarding the shareholdings of employees. This raises doubts about the resilience of the agency's internal control systems to potential conflicts of interest.

The EU Commission emphasized that the role of the national authorities in monitoring market participants and companies was "very clear". Nevertheless, after a thorough examination of the ESMA report, the Commission will «improve the EU regulatory framework if necessary».

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The former Dax group Wirecard, now insolvent, admitted air bookings of 1.9 billion euros in June and subsequently filed for bankruptcy. As a service provider for cashless payments at checkouts and on the Internet, the company sat at the interface between retailers and credit card companies - in a highly competitive market. The Munich public prosecutor's office assumes that the company has shown fictitious profits since 2015, and is investigating commercial gang fraud.

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An investigative committee of the German Bundestag is trying to provide political clarification.

Formally, Bafin was only responsible for part of the Wirecard Group: the Wirecard Bank. Financial regulators have so far only come into play late when reviewing listed companies. First of all, private auditors are responsible for auditing the accounts, then the German auditing agency under private law (DPR). This shall be changed now.

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According to ESMA's assessment, in its Wirecard audits, the FREP “did not deal appropriately with areas that are essential for Wirecard's business, nor with the media and whistleblowing allegations against Wirecard”. The British newspaper "Financial Times" had reported regularly since 2015 about inconsistencies in the balance sheets of the payment service provider.

"Apparently there is a great confusion in the areas of responsibility in German financial supervision, which ultimately leads to a lack of information exchange and completely ineffective supervisory action," commented the spokesman for the EPP group in the Economic and Monetary Committee in the European Parliament, Markus Ferber. ESMA is right to criticize “that BaFin is anything but politically independent”. The left-wing Bundestag member Fabio De Masi also warned: "The political influence of the finance ministry on financial supervision must be restricted."

Federal Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) said on Tuesday in Brussels that from his point of view the ESMA report is moving along the line "which we ourselves have taken in our legislative process to reform supervision and review". That is good news. "And otherwise it is the case that, quite differently than in the German discourse, it is said here that the Federal Ministry of Finance has taken care of this matter very actively," said Scholz. "Against the background of the debate that is going on in this country, you can understand that as a small, cautious sign of the utmost attention, and I do not see it as something critical."

In contrast, the chairman of the FDP parliamentary group in the Wirecard investigation committee of the Bundestag, Florian Toncar, sees the ESMA report as evidence that "Wirecard is a Scholz cause". It is “now proven that the ministry was heavily involved. This also confirms the suspicion that Wirecard enjoyed political protection. " The Green politician Lisa Paus said that the weaknesses of the German financial supervision had already been pointed out in 2017: "At that time, Olaf Scholz and the Ministry of Finance could and should have acted."

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