Jan Marsalek with one of the confidential documents he showed to traders in London
Jan Marsalek with one of the confidential documents he showed to traders in London © FT montage

Wirecard executive Jan Marsalek touted secret documents about the use of a Russian chemical weapon in the UK, as he bragged of ties to intelligence services to ingratiate himself with London traders.

The documents, which have been reviewed by the Financial Times, included the formula for novichok, the world’s deadliest nerve agent.

His use of the documents in meetings in October 2018, which were described by two traders who attended, show the mysterious connections and bizarre tactics of a man who helped run the German payments group for a decade before it collapsed last month in a fraud scandal.

The German authorities and Wirecard’s lenders are picking through the wreckage of the insolvent group in an attempt to discover what sort of business really took place inside a company with privileged access to global payments networks.

Mr Marsalek disappeared last month in the run-up to Wirecard’s collapse. Before then he had presented himself as an international man of action, using secret documents to forge links with traders in a years-long operation to identify speculators betting against the Wirecard share price.  

Documents shown to traders in 2018 and reviewed by the FT included the precise chemical compound for novichok, used in the poisoning of an ex-spy and his daughter in the UK in March of that year.

Specialist officers investigating the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, Wiltshire, in March 2018
Specialist officers investigating the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, Wiltshire, in March 2018 © Matt Cardy/Getty

The classified papers held by Mr Marsalek included details of an investigation by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons into the attack in Salisbury, in which former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned. The British government blamed the attack on two officers from Russia’s GRU military intelligence unit.

The Skripals survived but Dawn Sturgess, a woman in the nearby town of Amesbury, later died after coming into contact with a container of the nerve agent.

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former commander of the UK’s chemical and biological weapons regiment, said: “These documents would be restricted to OPCW member states and should not be in the public domain.”

He added that the documents were “unlikely” to have come from OPCW member states in western Europe or the US.

Three of the documents — all labelled “OPCW Highly Protected” and which ran to 50 pages in total — covered two deployments of OPCW specialists to Britain in April and July 2018, describing how samples of the nerve agent were taken from the victims and distributed to secret OPCW laboratories for testing.  

They also included a detailed account of Russia’s version of events, which argued that the strain of novichok used in the attack had in fact been manufactured at Porton Down, the British military research facility.

A fourth document seen by the FT was a presentation for a “Briefing to State Parties” held on September 13 that year.

The OPCW, which is based in The Hague, said this week that it was investigating the matter, but declined further comment. The Kremlin did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mr Marsalek, a 40-year-old Austrian who was Wirecard’s chief operating officer until he was fired last month, appears to have gone to ground as the scale of a multiyear accounting fraud at the once high-flying technology company became apparent. 

Immigration records showed Mr Marsalek boarded a flight to Manila last month before travelling to China from the Philippine city of Cebu.

But, as the Wirecard scandal exploded into full view and the company lurched towards insolvency, Philippine justice secretary Menardo Guevarra told the FT that: “CCTV footage does not show him arriving here, and there is no record of any flight to China scheduled in the morning of June 24 from Cebu.”

Mr Marsalek’s lawyer did not respond to requests for comment.

Additional reporting by Max Seddon in Moscow

Correction: The originally published article stated “His use of the documents in meetings in the summer of 2018” which has been amended to “His use of the documents in meetings in October 2018”.

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