Deutsche Bank board member helped Wirecard build business relationships in Asia until just months before its collapse, underlining the close ties between German companies and the payments group at the heart of the biggest scandal accountant of the country for decades.
Werner Steinmüller, who led Deutsche’s Asian business until his retirement in July last year, hosted meetings and conference calls between top Wirecard executives and potential Asian clients from early 2019 through last spring. , according to several emails viewed by the Financial Times.
They included one with the co-managing director of Hong Kong-based Bank of East Asia, and another with the director of YeePay, a Chinese payments company, according to the emails.
The disclosure that a senior Deutsche executive was helping Wirecard with potential Asian clients shortly before his demise comes as the scandal continues to reverberate through Germany’s political and business establishment.
A parliamentary inquiry has spent months investigating the implosion of a company that has been celebrated as a rare German technological success, before filing for insolvency in June last year after revealing that 1.9 billion euros of its cash flow did not exist.
Steinmüller’s efforts have focused on Asia, a region presented by Wirecard as a growth engine for its business. The emails show that his main point of contact at Wirecard was Alfons Henseler, his former vice-president and member of the supervisory board of Wirecard Bank, who was invited to the 65th anniversary party of the Deutsche executive in 2019.
In January of the same year, Steinmüller organized a series of high-level meetings in Hong Kong for Burkhard Ley, former CFO of Wirecard and at the time “senior advisor” to the company, Henseler and a senior executive of the group. of payment. Back in Germany, Henseler sent an email to Steinmüller thanking him “for taking such good care of us in Hong Kong”.
“You and your team have prepared and organized meetings with interesting people and the discussions revealed promising potential for joint action,” noted Henseler.
Ley is one of several Wirecard executives being investigated by Munich prosecutors for allegedly leading a criminal racketeering at Wirecard. Ley denies any wrongdoing.
Following the January 2019 trip, Henseler suggested that Ley “give [Steinmüller] a treat without putting it in conflict with corporate governance (ie red wine). Ley responded by discouraging the idea, “since you gave him the beautiful securities.”
Two people familiar with the matter told the FT that the “gifts” mentioned in the email were not financial securities but two historic government bond certificates from Henseler’s personal collection. “It was a gift of hospitality given at a dinner,” said one of the people, adding that the titles were “indeed worthless”.
Henseler met with Steinmüller in July 2019 for lunch and, in an email, reported to colleagues at Wirecard that the Deutsche executive “is happy to support us in all areas.” After lunch, Henseler noted that Steinmüller would try to “reach out to [the social media and gaming group] Tencent ”on behalf of Wirecard.
The following month, Steinmüller held a meeting for Wirecard with senior executives from YeePay. Then, in December, he negotiated one with the chairman of the Silk Road Fund, an investment vehicle owned by the Chinese government.
“I will try to get Werner Steinmüller to participate as well, as both are old friends,” Henseler told Ley ahead of the meeting. It is not known if this ultimately happened.
In March and April of last year, as shareholders of Wirecard was waiting for the results of the KPMG review in group accounting, Steinmüller negotiated talks between Henseler, a senior executive in the payments group, and Adrian Li, the co-managing director of Bank of East Asia.
“I have spoken to Wirecard in the meantime and they are very interested in continuing the discussions,” Steinmüller wrote to Li in March.
Referring to Steinmüller’s engagement with Wirecard, the lender said that “Deutsche Bank has only established initial contacts between representatives of the local economy in China and Wirecard as we do for other companies”, adding that Wirecard had not formally asked him to do so. “None of the parties involved paid any finder’s fees or fees to Deutsche Bank for these contact arrangements.”
A former Wirecard executive said Steinmüller was never formally mandated to work for Wirecard. Although Steinmüller was not paid for his efforts, in 2019 Wirecard enlisted a number of well-paid advisers, including former German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg and former head of the secret service Klaus- Dieter Fritsche, to support its expansion in China.
Disclosure of Steinmüller’s work comes less than a month after Deutsche Bank CEO Christian Sewing was questioned by the deputies on the links of the lender with Wirecard. He did not mention Steinmüller’s interactions on Wirecard’s Asian affairs to the parliamentary committee of inquiry.
In a statement, Deutsche said Sewing’s testimony in parliament focused on the lender’s key business relationship with Wirecard and his personal recollections of meetings he attended. “The CEO was not made aware of every contact with Wirecard – especially not of those that did not result in actual business,” Deutsche said.
Steinmüller and Henseler declined to comment. YeePay, Silk Road Trust and Bank of East Asia did not respond to requests for comment.