A week before Wirecard crashed in June 2020, the $ 1.9 billion cash hunt seemed to be back.
The auditor of the EY payment group had requested a cast iron proof of the Wirecard claim that had the amount to two Philippine financiers, Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) and BDO Unibank.
Hard evidence that the money existed was the biggest hurdle between Wirecard and a clean health note from EY, a potential lifeline for the group since then besieged for its accounting.
As shareholders awaited the signing of Wirecard’s annual results, Jan Marsalek, the group’s director of operations, was engaged in a series of frantic exchanges with an email account bearing the name of Mark Tolentino, which is the name of a Manila-based lawyer that the German company had told EY was its trustee in the Philippines, which oversees cash in local bank accounts on its own account.
On June 17, 2020, an email from the account stated, “I am currently driving to the BPI headquarters…[and am] on the phone with the bank ”.
Marsalek resumed 24 hours later: “Frankly, the current situation is extremely disconcerting!” Please call me! “
A staunch lawyer, a businessman, a former supporter of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and unlikely YouTube star, Tolentino denies having been the trustee of Wirecard.
His Manila office also serves as a studio, where he distributes legal advice on a channel popular enough to earn a ticket that California society rewards to all those who reach 100,000 subscribers.
Days after the email Marsalek, Wirecard presented for insolvency after revealing that the € 1.9 billion in cash did not exist. Corporate fraud is now under investigation by Munich prosecutors and at the center of a poll by the German parliament.
Prosecutors believe Marsalek was one of its architects, suggesting his emails were written knowing that 1.9 billion euros was imaginary. A lawyer for Marsalek declined to comment.
‘This is not my email address’
The e-mail exchanges, which were submitted by the Wirecard administrator to the parliamentary poll and viewed by the Financial Times, show how the Philippines was suddenly pushed to the center during the death of a company that for years has been defense as a rare German technological success.
They also asked questions about Tolentino’s role. When the FT visited Tolentino at his Manila offices in late February, he described himself as a “victim” in the Wirecard scandal. Showing the email exchanges with Marsalek, he said: “It’s the first time I’ve seen him. It’s not my email address. “
A video uploaded on his YouTube channel, however, he presents the email address, firstname.lastname@example.org, which appears in exchanges with Marsalek. Tolentino did not respond to a request for comment on the email address that appears in the video.
On the only other occasion he spoke to FT shortly after the Wirecard fiasco last year, Tolentino said he was “Not the Wirecard Trustee”, had “never signed any documents” with the group and accused the unfortunate company of “identity theft”.
That account is in contrast to KPMG’s special audit on Wirecard. The results, published in April 2020, have increased the pressure on EY to find irrefutable evidence that 1.9 billion euros was real.
The appendix to the audit, which remains unpublished but has been viewed by the FT, details a meeting in Tolentino’s office in March 2020 with representatives of KPMG, EY and Wirecard to whom the lawyer said his company had opened bank accounts in BPI and BDO on behalf of the payment group.
Tolentino told the FT that he met German-speaking “future clients” – including someone he described as “the boss” and people he thought were his accountants – in February or March 2020 after lining up outside. his office. He refused to elaborate, citing lawyer-client privilege.
From seafood to Covid vaccines
Nearly a year after the fall of Wirecard, Tolentino is growing its own eclectic portfolio of roles.
“I’m 20 percent lawyer and 80 percent businessman,” Tolentino told the FT in his office. Her business interests included exporting seafood and what she said was the next release of a hand sanitizer.
He recently became the executive director of MKG Universal Drugs Trading, which he says will be the company’s exclusive distributor to China’s Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine in the Philippines once the jab has secured the necessary authorization.
The vaccine was at the center of a controversy after some of Duterte’s security personnel received doses last year from a batch. smuggled into the village.
The fury seems to have done little to refresh Tolentino’s political ambitions, which are centered on a new organization linked to Manny Pacquiao, a national boxing hero who is now a senator.
It is in his capacity as lawyer that Tolentino appears in the frantic last months of Wirecard’s existence.
By the end of 2019, the alleged € 1.9 billion had been credited to accounts in OCBC, Singapore’s second largest bank, with a local company, Citadelle Corporate Services, apparently acting as trustee and providing EY with confirmation that the money existed.
A change of trustee
According to the special audit appendix, Tolentino told KPMG that in November 2019 he signed a contract with Citadelle that would transfer him to fiduciary responsibilities for Wirecard. Citadel had recommended it to the payment group, the appendix says.
Citadel director R Shanmugaratnam has been accused of counterfeiting accounts in Singapore and has not yet filed a lawsuit. Through his lawyer he declined to comment, citing the proceedings against him.
OCBC did not have a banking relationship with Wirecard and Citadelle did not have a trust account, according to a person familiar with the business. OCBC declined to comment.
In March 2020, BDO and BPI were sent requests for budget confirmation with a letter titled “MK Tolentino Law Office”, according to documents seen by the FT.
When the documents were shown, Tolentino declined to comment on whether his law firm had sent them, but confirmed that the signature on them corresponded to his own. “However it has no legal influence since it is a scanned copy,” Tolentino said. “It’s just a question.” [for documents]. “
Following this request, EY received what appeared to be confirmation that the 1.9 billion euros were in banks, according to a control report by the Big Four company seen by FT.
But in June, with KPMG’s special audit increasing the pressure, EY demanded proof from the Philippine banks themselves that the money existed. In the week of June 15, EY received its response: BDO and BPI had stated that the previous alleged allegations of the money’s existence were “false”.
Battle with the banks
Email exchanges with Marsalek in the days that followed included one from the “Tolentino” account that appeared to show intense efforts were underway to resolve the situation.
A member of BPI’s legal team had been called and had said the bank’s board would launch a probe into an employee who had communicated with EY, according to an email. The email also stated that a meeting with a member of the BDO board had been set up.
BDO told the FT that it had no knowledge of the email or any “alleged” meeting with a board member. He and BPI, who did not respond to requests for comment, have already stated that they have no relationship with Wirecard.
Shortly after the fall of Wirecard, Philippine authorities launched a probe into the German group’s partners and local agents. Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told FT last year that Tolentino had been summoned “to shed light” on the case. Tolentino and the banks are also engaged in legal battles.
The elusive 1.9 billion euros was not the only Wirecard league in the Philippines. It was home to a payment processor, PayEasy solutions, which was handled by a former Wirecard employee and later exposed as a fake.
Tolentino is no stranger to government affairs. He was approved by Duterte – with whom he has an alma mater university and fraternity – when he ran for mayor in 2016, and lost, in a city in Mindanao, the southern island of which the men are. More recently, he had a short stint as assistant secretary in the Department of Transportation.
While authorities are probing the fall of Wirecard, Tolentino has been caught in a storm over the Sinopharm vaccine. He told the FT that authorities had questioned him about the smuggling strikes and checked the crab containers of his fishing activity, but found nothing. It was, he said, a “bad of [his] time “.
Duterte himself apologized this month for receiving an unauthorized Sinopharm jab from a special batch donated by Beijing that had been approved for “compassionate use.”
Whether or not Covid is a hot topic in Philippine politics next year, Tolentino wants to be involved. “Political beliefs” is the subject of one of his three Facebook pages, alongside free legal consultations and “jokes”.
The lawyer said he would be first on the list of candidates for a political organization linked to Pacquiao, which is considered a strong candidate for the presidency next year.
The victory for the legendary boxing could also see Tolentino earn a place in the country’s House of Representatives.