FirstFT: German spies shunned offer to meet Wirecard fugitive in Moscow

News

Germany’s foreign intelligence service last year shunned an offer to meet former Wirecard executive Jan Marsalek in Moscow, fearing that the invitation to talk to the fugitive was a trap set up by Russia’s FSB spy agency, people familiar with the matter told the Financial Times.

German criminal prosecutors accuse Marsalek, Wirecard’s former second-in-command, of being a central culprit in the €3.2bn fraud that shocked the country’s political and financial establishment.

Long hailed as one of Germany’s few tech success stories, the digital payments company collapsed into insolvency in June 2020 shortly after disclosing that half of its revenue and €1.9bn in corporate cash did not exist.

The meeting of Marsalek with Germany’s BND spy agency was proposed in March 2021 by a businessman, according to people briefed on the matter. But the idea was rejected by senior BND staff in Berlin, who believed that the businessman might be an informal associate of the FSB.

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The latest from the war in Ukraine

  • Military support: The US has agreed to send $800mn in additional military aid to Ukraine, including artillery, armoured vehicles and helicopters as the country braces itself for an expected renewed Russian offensive in the Donbas.

  • Energy: Excelerate Energy, which operates a fleet of floating natural gas import terminals around the world, yesterday raised $348mn in a New York initial public offering. The fundraising values the Texas-based liquefied natural gas company, controlled by billionaire oilman George Kaiser, at about $2.5bn.

  • Sanctions: US Treasury secretary Janet Yellen warned of economic and financial consequences for China and other countries that have maintained ties with Russia if they attempt to undermine sanctions unveiled by western allies.

  • Cyber warfare: Ukraine’s tactics against a Russia-backed hacking group called Armageddon offer insights into how Kyiv has withstood major cyber attacks. Amazon-owned Twitch has moved to ban several accounts on the livestreaming platform for pushing pro-Kremlin falsehoods about Ukraine.

  • Opinion: One oddity of the Ukrainian war, writes Simon Kuper, has been watching far-right leaders scramble back from their adoration of President Vladimir Putin while their far-left peers tone down the excoriations of Nato.

1. South Korea and Singapore tighten monetary policy Policymakers at central banks in Singapore and South Korea have become the latest to tighten monetary policy as the war in Ukraine stokes global inflation. Figures this week showed inflation in the UK and US at multi-decade highs, putting pressure on policymakers in those countries to accelerate interest rate rises while avoiding a “hard landing” for their economies.

2. Greg Abbott backs down over extra trucker checks The governor of Texas yesterday backed down over introducing extra inspections for vehicles from some parts of Mexico as delays threatened billions of dollars in international trade. The additional checks were introduced by Abbott last week. They added hours to usual crossing times and led to long backlogs.

3. Amazon hits US sellers with surcharge Amazon is adding a 5 per cent surcharge to its delivery fees in response to rising fuel costs and inflation, the company told its third-party sellers yesterday. The fee will be added to the per-unit delivery cost, not the overall product price, it said.

4. China escalates zero-Covid propaganda China’s official Xinhua news agency published an article today warning that the country’s medical system risked “breaking down” in the event of a mass Covid outbreak. It follows comments from President Xi Jinping who yesterday called on citizens to “overcome complacency” in “response to the virus’s mutation”. 

5. New York City subway attack suspect arrested The suspect in a New York City subway shooting that left 10 people wounded and traumatised was arrested by police and charged in federal court. Frank James, 62, was apprehended without incident after a tip from a citizen, police said.

The day ahead

Bank earnings Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Wells Fargo and Morgan Stanley are the latest banks to report earnings. Their investment banking segments are expected to have taken a hit, like JPMorgan’s, owing to a slowdown in global dealmaking. Regional consumer bank PNC also reports earnings this morning.

Economic data US retail sales are expected to have increased 0.6 per cent in March, up from a 0.3 per cent gain in February. Sales in the so-called control group, which excludes autos, gasoline, building materials and food services, is forecast to have jumped 1 per cent in March. New applications for unemployment aid are estimated to have edged up to 171,000 in the week ended April 9 and the University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index is forecast to decline slightly to 59 in April from 59.4 last month. 

Monetary policy Cleveland Federal Reserve president Loretta Mester will discuss workforce development at the Ohio Economic Forum hosted by the University of Akron College of Business. Philadelphia Fed president Patrick Harker will speak to Rider University about the US economy and labour market.

Join us on May 7 at our inaugural US edition of the FTWeekend Festival, with leading luminaries including Henry Kissinger, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, William J Burns, Tina Brown, and Jennifer Egan. Claim 50 per cent off your pass using our exclusive newsletter discount code FTNewslettersxFTWF22.

What else we’re reading

Why US Democrats are facing a world of electoral pain The Democratic party was already facing probable defeat in this November’s midterm elections. Recent trends, however, threaten to turn that into a wipeout, argues Edward Luce. For more coverage of US politics sign up to our Swamp Notes email.

The succession crisis threatening Japan’s economy The world’s third-largest economy was built on craftsmanship and family enterprise, but Japan’s rapidly shrinking and ageing population means a shortage of heirs now jeopardises that legacy.

The corner of France that explains Macron, Le Pen and a deep political divide To understand the forces reshaping French politics, one only needs to visit the booming city of Bordeaux in south-west France — and the rural areas and small towns in the “crescent of poverty” around it.

Why the US targets some Russian oligarchs but not others Vladimir Potanin is Russia’s richest man and one of the original oligarchs. Yet he and others have avoided asset freezes and transaction bans, raising questions about the logic underpinning the US sanctions regime.

The new online learning entrepreneurs The pandemic sparked growth in online MBAs, and normalised digital corporate training and remote school learning. Now, solo entrepreneurs are seeking niches where they can earn money from students who want to gain à la carte career skills that are not covered in traditional classrooms.

Film

The best films to watch this week include Viking saga The Northman, wartime espionage drama Operation Mincemeat, escapist action-comedy The Lost City and the return of JK Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts.

Jude Law as Albus Dumbledore in ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore’ © Warner Bros Pictures

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