Explainer

Wirecard's creditors set for battle over missing billions

Wirecard filed for court protection from creditors on Thursday. Creditors who lent it as much as €3.2 billion (S$5 billion) are wondering if they will ever see their money again.
Wirecard filed for court protection from creditors on Thursday. Creditors who lent it as much as €3.2 billion (S$5 billion) are wondering if they will ever see their money again. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

The implosion of Wirecard in one of the biggest financial scandals in German corporate history leaves creditors who lent it as much as €3.2 billion (S$5 billion) wondering if they will ever see their money again.

The company filed for court protection from creditors on Thursday and there is €1.9 billion missing from its balance sheet.

The situation has escalated with the European Union stepping in to investigate Germany's financial regulator BaFin.

In a letter to the European Securities and Markets Authority (Esma), the European Commission asked Esma to undertake a "fact-finding analysis" into BaFin's response to the allegations and report back no later than July 15.

Meanwhile, the Philippines justice minister said on Friday that Wirecard's former operations chief Jan Marsalek, under suspicion in Germany over the accounting scandal, may have visited the Philippines last week, but had left for China.

However, there is no airport security footage of his arrival and no records of any flight to China the next day, added Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra.

Mr Marsalek's whereabouts are currently uncertain.

German magazine Der Spiegel also reported on Friday that Japanese investor SoftBank was planning to sue Wirecard's long-time auditor EY.

Even as the scandal widens, it is clear that administrators face a long and complex task picking through the rubble of the first insolvency by a member of Germany's main stock index.

WHAT COMES NEXT?

The insolvency court in Munich needs to formalise the process and appoint an administrator. While the exact timeline for this is not clear, it could take days if not weeks given the complexity of the case.

 
 
 
 

Wirecard is likely to fall under full court protection, which means the administrator it appoints will determine whether the business is viable or if it should seek to sell off the profitable parts and liquidate the rest. Creditors will then have to wait in line for a share of what proceeds remain from this process.

Wirecard said on Saturday that its business activities will continue as the management board believes that is in the best interests of creditors.

HOW MUCH MONEY WILL THE LENDERS GET BACK?

It depends. Wirecard owes its banks as much as €1.75 billion from a revolving credit facility and it sold €500 million of bonds to investment managers.

The bondholders have prepared for the coming tussles with administrators by appointing One Square Advisors and law firm Kirkland & Ellis to advise them, while the banks hired FTI Consulting and Allen & Overy.

However, the creditors' position is weakened by the fact that the debt is unsecured, or not backed by assets. That is because Wirecard had an investment-grade rating until the scandal erupted two weeks ago and creditors often demand collateral only on borrowers with junk ratings.

The insolvency administrator is responsible for deciding how to distribute any funds recovered to creditors and other claimants pursuing financial compensation through the courts. The more claims there are, the less each individual creditor gets. One thing that is certain is creditors face significant losses and will not find out how much they will get for months, if not years.

Meanwhile, Wirecard also issued €900 million in securities that convert into shares and prospects are equally grim for the investors that bought them. The company's stock has fallen more than 95 per cent over the past week, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Bondholders to Thomas Cook Group were estimated to be in line to get as little as 2 per cent of their money back after the UK travel group started its insolvency process last year.

Banks faced a less bleak outlook, with recovery estimated at almost 17 per cent. Bondholder claims for Carillion, a UK builder that filed for administration in 2018, are quoted at about 1 pence on the pound, according to broker Southey Capital. The liquidator said in March that creditor recovery could be zero.

WHAT HAPPENS TO WIRECARD BANK?

The future of Wirecard's banking arm - one of its most prized assets with deposits of €1.7 billion at the end of September - is not included in the insolvency proceedings as it falls under the jurisdiction of Germany's BaFin financial watchdog.

The regulator is responsible for deciding whether the bank needs to file for insolvency as well but has less disruptive tools at its disposal to stabilise the unit. Under a deposit freeze, BaFin would be able to determine whether the bank is still financially healthy enough to resume operations.

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 29, 2020, with the headline 'Wirecard's creditors set for battle over missing billions'. Print Edition | Subscribe