A New Yorker fraud story that made me yell, “WOW!”

Not Silicon Valley Bank, oh no. Indeed, banking fuck-ups in the USA can’t be compared in (alleged) nefariousness to a German company called Wirecard. Because…what do we call a deliberate fuck-up, children? Massive fraud.

In the March 6, 2023 New Yorker, Ben Taub’s story, “The Price of Belief: The unravelling of Wirecard, the biggest fraud in German history,” caused me to sit up straight and cry out. I haven’t finished the piece yet; I’m taking a break to close my mouth before my jaw hinges freeze in place.

There’s a German guy named Jan Marsalek, a “charismatic” executive at Wirecard. (Suddenly so many people are “charismatic?”) Marsalek, though, is something else — seriously. He’s disappeared from Germany, flown to the Philippines (maybe/maybe not), and no one knows what name he’s currently using wherever he is.

Another thing that disappeared was…well, Ben Taub tells it best:

…on June 18, 2020, Wirecard [supposedly a German version of PayPal] announced that nearly two billion euros was missing from the company’s accounts. The sum amounted to all the profits that Wirecard had ever reported as a public company. There were only two possibilities: the money had been stolen, or it had never existed.

This is a great, great story. Better than any movie I could be streaming. It has everything: missing billions, a Bond-size (alleged) villain, gambling, fake companies, porn, pizza…and a likeable good guy, a Brit named Dan McCrum, a banker-turned-journalist who uncovered this delectably disgusting story.

Here’s how Taub introduces us to McCrum:

Dan McCrum often jokes that his marriage was a minor fraud–his wife met him when he was a banker, but she ended up with a journalist instead. When McCrum was in his mid-twenties, he worked at Citigroup in London for four years, “which was long enough to look around the room and think, Hang on, there’s nobody I want to be here. One evening, he went out for dinner with a group of colleagues “and everybody was bitching about their jobs,” he said. A young woman suggested that they go around the table and share their real aspirations, most of which required years of training or an advanced degree. “And when it came to me, without hesitation, I was, like, ‘I’d be a journalist,'” he said. “And the woman who had asked the question just looked at me as if I were a bit stupid and said, ‘Well, you know, you can just do that.'”

Go find a copy of the March 6 New Yorker and read the story.

OK, I’ve told you. Now I’m going to get back to it.

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