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What begins as a confession ends in the stark opposite

The hall of the Munich 1 district court is more crowded on Monday than it has been since the Wirecard process began.

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What begins as a confession ends in the stark opposite

The hall of the Munich 1 district court is more crowded on Monday than it has been since the Wirecard process began. Numerous journalists, law students and other observers crowded into the auditorium to experience the day on which the central figure in the largest commercial criminal proceedings in post-war German history took the floor for the first time: the accused Markus Braun, former CEO of Wirecard AG.

As on all previous trial days, Braun enters the underground high-security room in a dark suit with a black turtleneck sweater underneath. In a straight posture, he walks the few steps to the dock, where he takes a seat between his four lawyers. He rearranges the two plastic cups with black coffee in their place, flips up the laptop with his notes, touches his rimless glasses for a moment.

Then Braun begins with a statement in emotional words. June 18, 2020, i.e. the day of the collapse of Wirecard AG, is still “a day of pain” for him. He feels deep regret for the company's shareholders and employees. The memory of the events of that time are still "a dark wall" for him, says Braun in his slightly Austrian-tinged way of speaking and adds a sentence that is a little reminiscent of a song line. His testimony in court will be “not an easy path” for him.

The first words almost sound like the beginning of a confession, a confession. But in the following sentences, Braun quickly makes it clear that he doesn't think he has anything to admit. No accounting falsification, no embezzlement, no fraud with damage in the billions. He "rejects all charges," says Braun.

As Wirecard boss, he had no knowledge of counterfeiting and embezzlement. "I didn't join any gangs either," says Braun, pronouncing the word as if the very idea is far from his mind. Until recently, he had assumed that transactions were going correctly and trust accounts were correctly filled. Fake transactions, missing billions - whatever crooked things were going on at Wirecard, the CEO doesn't want to have noticed anything about it.

With these words, Braun has already said more publicly than in the entire period since the collapse of Wirecard, in which thousands of investors lost their money. Even in the Bundestag committee of inquiry in the summer of 2021, the former CEO made a bizarrely taciturn appearance.

Instead of explaining how billions could simply disappear into thin air at Wirecard, he himself was at a loss. He "trusts in the independence and objectivity of the investigative authorities" who should find out where the "embezzled company funds" disappeared to. In addition, he revealed little more to the parliamentarians than his date of birth. "I refer to my statement," he said again and again.

In the Wirecard main proceedings before the Munich district court, Braun continued to remain silent for twelve days of the process, apart from monosyllabic statements about the person. The former Dubai representative of Wirecard has been all the more talkative for days, describing in detail how he and a small management team in the company systematically falsified data from online transactions of alleged partner companies in the Far East in order to pretend flourishing business and boost the stock market price. The chief witness of the public prosecutor's office said several times that the boss of the gang was Markus Braun.

Braun's defense attorney Alfred Dierlamm described the statements of the former employee as untrue, some in sharp words. The key witness is a notorious liar who does not want to contribute to the clarification with his testimony, but wants to gain advantages for himself. In fact, Bellenhaus himself managed to set aside large sums in the millions in accounts abroad. The Wirecard case - a kind of bank robbery from the inside. And Braun is not a gang leader, but a victim.

Bent over the microphone, the former CEO freely presented his version of the Wirecard scandal in a calm, clear voice on Monday. While he keeps swinging the swivel chair to the left and right and sometimes looks at judge Markus Födisch and then again vaguely in the direction of the prosecutors sitting opposite him, Braun takes a wide berth. He tells of his "sheltered and middle-class childhood" in Vienna as the son of a teacher and a director of an adult education center, with a younger sister. Today he is married himself and has a four-and-a-half-year-old daughter, says Braun.

He then leads the court through his resume. After graduating from high school, he studied business informatics, then got his first job as a senior consultant at KPMG. And then he joined Wirecard. Braun describes the Munich company, which was still small at the time, as a place where “a lot of talented people” would have romped around, of whom one stood out: Jan Marsalek, then 20, later made a member of the board by Braun, today by international arrest warrant for fraud amounting to billions sought.

Braun still speaks positively of his right hand at Wirecard in court. Marsalek had "outstanding cognitive skills" and an above-average understanding of technology. "It felt like a stroke of luck at the time," says Braun, who then spends an hour or two recapitulating in detail Wirecard's rise to an internationally operating financial service provider and DAX company, as if this were about his entrepreneurial success story and not a gigantic economic crime - and he not the accused.

The longer Braun talks, the more he seems to slip back into his old role as CEO. "You can always interrupt me if something isn't clear," he generously offers the judge. When the room camera suddenly no longer projects Braun's likeness on the large screen behind the judge's desk, but pans unmotivatedly through the room, Braun says casually: "I've never been irritated by cameras."

And also not of law and order, if you follow the allegations of the public prosecutor's office, which sees him as a gang leader. The judge approaches this topic via a detour, in which he asks Braun who was in charge on the Wirecard board.

Background to the question: How can someone who makes the decisions in a company not also be responsible for the crimes committed in it? Braun is accordingly on guard and defends himself against the authoritarian image that grain witness Bellenhaus has drawn of him. "I wasn't an absolutist CEO," says Braun, who ascribes a "mediative role" to himself, saying he was someone who sought compromises in bilateral talks.

The CEO says he only learned of the allegation from newspaper articles that sales to third-party partners were not correctly presented. After a very concrete article, he decided to "put an end to the world once and for all" the allegations - which he considered unjustified - by means of a special test. Marsalek and Bellenhaus, Braun says, then suddenly stood in his office and tried to stop the exam. Marsalek looked bad in the days that followed, as if he were under a lot of pressure. He, Braun, thought that Marsalek was "wearing himself out for Wirecard" and advised him to relax for a day.

When Braun describes these crucial last days of Wirecard, he suddenly seems more restless than before, he speaks louder, confirms his own words again and again by nodding, and reacts almost a little flippantly to questions from the judge. At this moment he seems less confident, less convincing. You can tell that there is a lot at stake for him now. About innocence or guilt.

The judge's questions cast doubt on Braun's account. Why had he left the forensic examination of Marsalek's area of ​​responsibility to Marsalek of all people, he wanted to know. And Braun withdrew from the fact that the KPMG people had carried out the test. And they wouldn't have found any fraud either. "They couldn't either, because they didn't get the necessary data," countered the judge.

According to Braun, there was only an escalation in the relationship with Marsalek in February 2020, when the latter told him - after inquiries from the auditors - that he had forgotten to inform him that he had switched to another trustee the previous year - the same one with whom afterwards the billions were missing. Braun claims to have asked him in the conversation "whether he had lost his mind". But then Marsalek "caught him again". However, he had no doubts about the business. In his eyes, Marsalek only acted "too freely". How freehand that turned out to be in the summer on the "Day of Pain".

"Everything on shares" is the daily stock exchange shot from the WELT business editorial team. Every morning from 7 a.m. with our financial journalists. For stock market experts and beginners. Subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcast, Amazon Music and Deezer. Or directly via RSS feed.

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