In June 2020, the German payment service provider Wirecard filed for bankruptcy amid allegations of fraud. FT journalist Dan McCrum and his editor Paul Murphy were instrumental in her downfall.
Her story is told in the Netflix documentary Scandal! and Dan’s book Money Men: A hot startup, a billion dollar scam, a fight for the truth. Both are packed with juicy tales of clandestine meetings, company secrets, and journalistic mischief. But behind the scenes, things were more human: “You hit publish and you almost throw up,” Dan tells FT Edit of the release of his award-winning investigation.
Every time a new Wirecard article went live on FT.com, the FT’s editorial assistants braced themselves for a barrage of abusive emails claiming the newspaper had got it all wrong.
Dan received a message proposing to challenge Wirecard CEO Markus Braun to a duel. And Paul received £500 worth of red roses from a former Libyan spy boss after he published a story about his ties to the payments company. The order slip was attached to the bouquet, which said that the flowers should be “slightly thorny”.
FT Edit has collected some of the best stories about the Wirecard saga that didn’t make it. We also got our hands on a copy of money men signed by Dan, which you can win by answering this question:
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The reluctant whistleblower. . . and his mom
Despite rumors that something was wrong, Wirecard rose to the ranks of Europe’s most valuable technology companies in late 2018.
The FT had been snooping around in the business for several years, but nothing seemed to stick. Then, in October 2018, the FT was contacted by a whistleblower – or rather by his mother – about irregularities in Wirecard’s Asia division.
The whistleblower was Pav Gill, a lawyer for Wirecard who was forced out of office after authorizing an internal investigation into fraud. But it was Gill’s mother, Sokhbir Kaur, who contacted the FT and persuaded Gill to speak to the newspaper.
“I was just trying to get another job and she was busy finding ways to expose the company from my living room sofa,” he said. Arranging an initial meeting with the FT at Changi Airport, Gill recalled thinking, “Oh my god, now what have you done?”
His revelations would set in motion the series of stories that would lead to Wirecard’s collapse two years later.
The Ladies Who Had Lunch (With Hidden Cams)
A key figure in the story is Jan Marsalek, Wirecard’s chief operating officer with alleged ties to Russian intelligence. In 2018, Paul met him for lunch in London.
The Netflix documentary contains footage of this meeting. But how was it received? It almost wasn’t.
Paul had found out through an intermediary that lunch was booked at the Dorchester in central London and had arranged for three undercover reporters to be waiting there: Sarah O’Connor and Cynthia O’Murchu of the FT investigative team and a reporter Trainee Camilla Hodgson.
But a last-minute change of plan saw Paul ending up a few doors down at the Cut restaurant at 45 Park Lane. As he exited the cab, Paul had seconds to text the three reporters his new location, typing in “45” and hoping they would understand.
“We thought, what does that mean?” Sara recalls. “I think it was Camilla who found out.” They rushed to 45 Park Lane just in time to tape the meeting – and force a second expensive lunch.
The troubled lawyer
The FT’s in-house counsel, Nigel Hanson, is an unsung hero of the investigation. He worked with Dan and Paul at every stage to ensure the newspaper could get their stories out there.
“There were a lot of tournaments and boxing matches,” says Nigel of his years spent fending off legal threats from Wirecard. “It always felt like Wirecard was telling its lawyers [score] Points instead of actually pulling the trigger.”
As Wirecard began to unravel, the unlikely detail Nigel remembered was former FT Editor-in-Chief Lionel Barber’s unusual shoe choice: a pair of cowboy boots, which he was happy to put on the table — a mark, says Nigel. how much he enjoyed the FT’s success in toppling Wirecard.
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If you’re just catching up on Wirecard’s crazy story, here’s a quick breakdown of the story as told by Dan McCrum, the reporter who broke the story.
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