By | July 14, 2020

The financial scandal around the German company Wirecard is approaching Vienna where the right and the extreme right were accused on Monday of pro-Russian espionage and links of money with the two protagonists at the heart of the case, originating in Austria.

The blast started in Germany, in the wake of the bankruptcy filing in June of the online payment provider Wirecard, forced to admit that a sum of 1.9 billion euros missing in his accounts probably did not exist . A scandal “without equivalent” in the financial world, according to Berlin.

Since then, the mystery has only deepened with a series of press reports on the sulphurous personality of one of the company’s leaders, Jan Marsalek, suspected of links with various intelligence services. 

Mr. Marsalek, like the founder of Wirecard, Markus Braun, are Austrians and well known in Viennese political circles.

The latest revelations led the conservative party (ÖVP) of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz on Monday to convene a National Security Council, the government’s advisory body on foreign, security and defense policy. 

The right says it wants to shed light on the politico-financial links maintained by Jan Marsalek – now on the run – and ex-CEO Markus Braun – arrested then released on bail – with the political class in Austria.

At the end of last week, the Austrian daily Die Presse had revealed the relations cultivated by Mr. Marsalek with the far-right party FPÖ, which he would have illegally watered, from 2017, information emanating from the Austrian secret services.

Since then, “intense internal investigations” have taken place at the Ministry of the Interior to identify possible “moles”, according to Austrian media.

The case is all the more embarrassing for Austria, a neutral country not a member of NATO, that, according to the Financial Times (FT), Jan Marsalek was also in contact with Russian military intelligence (GRU). In Austria, the FPÖ has repeatedly displayed its privileged relations with Moscow. 

“The security and neutrality of Austria are at stake and we need to get to the bottom of these issues,” moved vice president of the conservative party Gabriela Schwarz on Monday. “What are the links, at what level of intensity, who has released what secret information, all this can be clarified” at the Security Council which will meet within two weeks, she added. 

Former Wirecard chief operating officer, Marsalek wanted to impress business contacts in 2018 in London by exhibiting a secret document on the use in the United Kingdom of a Russian chemical weapon against former double agent Sergei Skripal. 

Die Presse now suspects him of having obtained this information in Austria: Vienna had access to this classified file, Sergueï Skripal having arrived in the West during a spy exchange organized on Austrian soil in 2010.

In addition, under the cover of a laudable aid project to Libya, Jan Marsalek would have tried to train in 2017-2018 a militia of 15,000 men, reported the FT. For this, he would have knocked on the door of the Austrian Ministry of Defense, then led first by the left, then by the FPÖ between late 2017 and May 2019.

The Austrian government confirmed on Monday several talks that focused solely on a reconstruction aid project and had resulted in no payments.

– Political financing –

Questioned, the far right counter-attacked by denouncing the proximity of Markus Braun with the ÖVP party of Sebastian Kurz, to whom the former star CEO made a legal donation of 70,000 euros in 2017, the year of the electoral campaign. The head of the FPÖ parliamentary group Christian Hafenecker denounced a “dark network” linking the conservatives and Wirecard.

Markus Braun was also a member of a think tank working for Mr. Kurz’s campaign. The son of a former Austrian president ÖVP sat on the supervisory board of Wirecard.

The conservative party rejected this portrait of Markus Braun as “ÖVP man” on Monday, recalling that he had also made a donation to the liberal Neos party.

The right and the extreme right ruled together in Austria between December 2017 and May 2019, before another corruption scandal, the Ibizagate, involving the FPÖ, put an end to this alliance and called for an advance poll.