Wirecard plunges into Enron-like scandal

Wirecard plunges into Enron-like scandal
Markus Braun, CEO of Wirecard. (Reuters)
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Updated 23 June 2020

Wirecard plunges into Enron-like scandal

Wirecard plunges into Enron-like scandal
  • Wirecard is in crisis talks with banks to keep the lights on

FRANKFURT: In what could be one of the biggest financial frauds of recent years, shooting star German payments provider Wirecard has admitted €1.9 billion that auditors say are missing from its accounts likely “do not exist.”

The scandal has already claimed the scalp of founder and chief executive Markus Braun, and adds to a series of recent German upsets.

Over the past decade, business headlines have been dominated by the crippling consequences of repeated financial infractions at Deutsche Bank and the globe-spanning “dieselgate” emissions fraud that has cost carmaker Volkswagen more than €30 billion.

In Wirecard’s case, the €1.9 billion ($2.1 billion) that were supposed to be sitting in trust accounts in the Philippines make up a quarter of the company’s balance sheet.

But “on the basis of further examination ... there is a prevailing likelihood that the bank trust account balances in the amount of €1.9 billion do not exist,” Wirecard said on Monday.

The admission that the sums have vanished follows more than a year of reporting, especially by the Financial Times, on accounting irregularities in the company’s Asian division.

Now Wirecard is in crisis talks with banks to keep the lights on and is “examining a broad range of possible further measures to ensure continuation of its business operations,” including restructuring and selling off or simply halting some activities.

Interim CEO James Freis has tasked investment bank Houlihan Lokey with the tough talks with creditors.

But investors’ confidence appeared to be evaporating fast, as shares in Wirecard were trading around €16 — down from almost €100 last Wednesday, before auditors’ doubts about the missing cash became public.

The scandal marks a stunning fall from grace for the Bavarian startup, set up in 1999 and once a darling of the fintech scene owing to the global increase in electronic payments.

From humble beginnings piping cash to porn and gambling sites, the firm entered Germany’s prestigious DAX 30 index with great fanfare in 2018 after elbowing out traditional lender Commerzbank.

Now Wirecard’s name is more frequently heard in association with Enron.

The Texan energy company’s early-2000s collapse featuring accounting fraud, complicit auditors and political connections shook the US economy.

There could well be further revelations to come in the Wirecard scandal.

Its board “assesses that previous descriptions of the so-called Third Party Acquiring business by the company are not correct,” the group’s statement said.

“The company continues to examine, whether, in which manner and to what extent such business has actually been conducted,” Wirecard added.

On Sunday, the Philippines central bank had said that none of the missing $2.1 billion had entered the Philippine financial system. The names of two of the country’s biggest banks — BDO and BPI — were used to try to mislead eventual investigators, it added.

Both BDO and BPI have said that Wirecard was neither a client nor a business partner, the central bank said, adding that it had warned Wirecard’s auditors Ernst and Young.

Wirecard, which employs nearly 6,000 people, has for now withdrawn its preliminary results for 2019 and the first quarter of this year as well as financial targets for 2025.

“Potential effects on the annual financial accounts of previous years cannot be excluded,” Wirecard added.

Wirecard execs initially pooh-poohed FT reporting about financial irregularities, and German financial markets watchdog BaFin said it was investigating the paper for potential ties to short-sellers betting against the shares.

But in the meantime, auditors KPMG were reviewing Wirecard’s accounts for 2016-18.

BaFin ultimately filed charges with Munich prosecutors alleging “market manipulation” by the group’s four-strong board, targeting their attempts to present intermediate steps of the audit in a favorable light.

The filings “could have given misleading signals for the company’s stock market price,” prosecutors said.

The hammer blow came when auditors Ernst and Young said on Thursday that €1.9 billion were missing from Wirecard’s accounts, and Braun resigned the next day.


Egypt and Russia agree to resume all flights, including to resorts

Egypt and Russia agree to resume all flights, including to resorts
Updated 8 min 31 sec ago

Egypt and Russia agree to resume all flights, including to resorts

Egypt and Russia agree to resume all flights, including to resorts
CAIRO: Egypt and Russia have agreed to resume all flights between the two countries in a call between their presidents, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Vladimir Putin, Egypt’s presidency said in a statement.
Flights to resort destinations Sharm Al-Sheikh and Hurghada were suspended after a Russian passenger plane crashed in Sinai in October 2015, killing 224 people.
The Egyptian statement did not specify a timeline for the resumption of flights, but Russia’s Interfax news agency reported this week that flights could resume in the second half of May.
An Airbus A321, operated by Metrojet, had been taking Russian holiday makers home from Sharm el-Sheikh to St. Petersburg in 2015, when it broke up over the Sinai Peninsula, killing all on board. A group affiliated with Daesh militants claimed responsibility.
The decision to resume flights followed “the joint cooperation between the two sides on this issue, and based on the standards of security and convenience provided for visits at Egyptian tourist destination airports,” the statement said.

Egypt raises domestic fuel prices for first time since subsidy reform

Egypt raises domestic fuel prices for first time since subsidy reform
Updated 22 min 47 sec ago

Egypt raises domestic fuel prices for first time since subsidy reform

Egypt raises domestic fuel prices for first time since subsidy reform
RIYADH: Egypt’s price-setting committee raised domestic fuel prices on Friday for the first time since it was formed in October 2019 following the completion of subsidy reforms, the petroleum ministry said in a statement.

Prices were last raised in July 2019 when Egypt, a net oil importer, finished phasing out subsides on fuel products as part of a reform program backed by the International Monetary Fund. Prices had remained stable over the past year after being lowered in April 2020 and October 2019.

The prices of 80-octane, 92-octane, and 95-octane fuel were raised by 0.25 Egyptian pounds each, to 6.25 Egyptian pounds ($0.40), 7.5, and 8.5 pounds per liter, respectively, the statement said.

The pricing committee’s mechanism links energy prices to international markets, and takes into account the exchange rate as well as the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, the statement said.

Egypt lowered fuel prices in October 2019 following several rounds of price hikes as part of an austerity program that triggered discontent, including protests against President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.

Saudi share of Gulf economy rose to almost 50% in 2020

Saudi share of Gulf economy rose to almost 50% in 2020
Updated 23 April 2021

Saudi share of Gulf economy rose to almost 50% in 2020

Saudi share of Gulf economy rose to almost 50% in 2020
  • Saudi GDP contracted 11.8 percent to $700.1 billion in 2020
  • UAE GDP fell 15.9 percent to $354.3 billion

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia increased its share of the GCC economy to almost half in 2020 as it weathered the COVID-19 pandemic better than its neighboring Arab states.

The Kingdom’s made up 49.8 percent of the bloc’s economy in 2020, up from 48.4 percent in 2019, Al Eqtisadiah newspaper reported, citing data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Gulf statistical agencies.

Nominal gross domestic product (GDP) for the six GCC countries fell 14.3 percent in 2020 to $1.41 trillion, while Saudi GDP contracted 11.8 percent to $700.1 billion.

The UAE’s economy shrank 15.9 percent to $354.3 billion, representing 25.2 percent of GCC output.

Qatar had the third largest regional economy in 2020. It shrank 16.9 percent to $146.1 billion, representing 10.4 percent of GCC GDP.


Saudi vegetable traders accuse consumers over price increases

Saudi vegetable traders accuse consumers over price increases
Updated 23 April 2021

Saudi vegetable traders accuse consumers over price increases

Saudi vegetable traders accuse consumers over price increases
  • Consumers buy more than they need during Ramadan, traders said

RIYADH: Vegetable traders and wholesalers in Saudi Arabia have blamed over-buying by consumers for price rises during the first days of Ramadan.

Prices have now returned to normal after doubling in some cases following a flurry of purchases at the beginning of the holy month, they told Al Watan newspaper.

The increase in vegetable prices was limited to 6 or 7 local agricultural products, while imported product prices are fixed, they said. There is no shortage of vegetables in the Kingdom’s markets, they added.

“We witness the unjustified rush of consumers of double shopping that exceeds the actual need, every year with the advent of the holy month, not only for vegetables, but for various food products,” a vegetable merchant said.

A vegetable trader in the Kingdom said that citizens should maintain the usual consumption of vegetables in Ramadan to ensure the stability of prices. He said that most of the customers deliberately buy above their actual needs at the beginning of Ramadan, which causes increased demand and higher prices.

“The farmers and suppliers are the ones who set the price and cause it to rise when the demand from consumers increases, while our role does not exceed the disposal of the product with a small profit,” he said.

Consumers on the other hand accused traders, farmers and suppliers of unjustified price increases with the advent of Ramadan.


PIF’s Innovative Energy nears completion of ADES International acquisition

PIF’s Innovative Energy nears completion of ADES International acquisition
Updated 23 April 2021

PIF’s Innovative Energy nears completion of ADES International acquisition

PIF’s Innovative Energy nears completion of ADES International acquisition
  • Innovative Energy has acquired 98.6 percent of ADES shares
  • ADES to be delisted from LSE within 20 days

RIYADH: Public Investment Fund (PIF)-owned Innovative Energy Holding is close to completing its acquisition of UK-listed oil and gas services provider ADES International Holding.

The cash offer from Innovative Energy has been declared unconditional in all respects, ADES said in a statement to the London Stock Exchange on Thursday. Innovative Energy has acquired or contracted to acquire 98.6 percent of ADES International and is commencing the compulsory acquisition process to acquire the remainder of the ADES shares.

The offer price of $12.50 per share in cash for each ADES share values the existing issued share capital (excluding Treasury Shares) of ADES International at approximately $516 million.

Innovative Energy intends to apply a request to the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority to remove the listing of ADES shares from the official list, and it will also submit a request to the London Stock Exchange to cancel trading of ADES shares, which is anticipated to take effect about 20 business from 21 April.

ADES accepted Innovative Energy’s $516 million offer to take it private in early March.

Following the completion of the transaction, ADES Investments Holding will own 57.5 percent of Innovative Energy, PIF will own 32.5% and Zamil Group Investment will hold 10 percent.

ADES International will move its operational headquarters to Saudi Arabia from the UAE, CEO Mohamed Farouk said in the statement.

“The partnership will create a national champion in Saudi Arabia in a critical part of the upstream value chain, said PIF Head of Local Holding Investments Division Yazeed Alhumied.

“Alongside the creation of significant employment opportunities in the Kingdom, this will help localize best-in-class practice and lead to the important knowledge transfer of fuel usage reduction technologies which can deliver both cost savings and environmental benefits,” he said.