The fugitive Jan Marsalek, formerly of Wirecard, may have inherited his fascination with espionage from his grandfather. An unearthed document shows that Hans Marsalek was suspected of being a “Russian asset” during the Cold War. The revelation could shed light on the executive’s behavior in the lead up to the fintech giant’s spectacular collapse and his subsequent flight to Moscow.
In the wake of being accused of fraud and false accounting that sparked Germany’s “Fraud Trial of the Century,” Jan Marsalek has become one of the world’s most wanted men. Despite booking a flight to Manila, an investigation by Philippine authorities found someone had forged immigration records in an attempt to make it appear he had entered the country, when in fact he had flown to Minsk, Belarus, just hours after being fired. From there, he made his way to Moscow, where he is believed to be hiding under the supervision of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence.
Western intelligence agencies are intrigued by Marsalek’s links to Russia, and whether he was himself a Russian agent. He was known to have made numerous short trips to Russia, at times on an almost monthly basis, using multiple passports, including a diplomatic passport. He also appeared to be involved in shadowy projects involving Russian mercenaries in Libya and other Middle Eastern countries.
The clue may lie in Marsalek’s family history. His paternal grandfather, Hans Marsalek, was an anti-Nazi resistance fighter during WW2 who spent time in a concentration camp. After the war, he joined the Austrian political police and helped to track down former Nazi officials. However, during the Cold War, Austrian authorities began to suspect that Hans Marsalek was a Soviet asset. A formerly secret document from 1956 unearthed in Austria’s state archives reveals an “urgent suspicion” that Hans Marsalek was a Russian spy.
The document claimed there was evidence that he had been involved in a Soviet plot to kidnap four people to take them back to Moscow where they would be interrogated, tortured, and imprisoned. One of these people was a US agent. Despite his suspected involvement in espionage, Hans Marsalek was never prosecuted and lived to a ripe old age. He died in 2011, a year after his grandson began his role as COO at Wirecard.
This discovery is a vital piece of information that illuminates Jan Marsalek and suggests his interest in intelligence may have been inherited from his family. Wirecard had a market cap of €22 billion ($25 billion) in 2018, but its value was being manipulated according to German prosecutors. In 2020, auditors reported that €1.9 billion (US$2 billion) in cash balances mentioned in Wirecard’s accounts appeared to be missing, which the company later admitted “probably never existed.”
Marsalek is alleged by prosecutors to be a key figure in the plot and of running a “shadow operation” that siphoned money out of Wirecard. The company’s former CEO, Markus Braun, is currently on trial, with others, on charges that include “gang-related fraud,” which he denies. The discovery of Hans Marsalek’s suspected espionage may provide important insights into Jan Marsalek’s behavior and the fall of Wirecard.