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The Pity of Wirecard, Part II: Bezzle Never Sleeps

Illustration: Edel Rodriguez
Illustration: Edel Rodriguez
Illustration: Edel Rodriguez

If questions about the integrity of Wirecard AG’s accounting in its crucial Asian operations are ever to be resolved, Singapore regulators will need to step back and take a long, hard look at James Henry O’Sullivan’s relationship to the Aschheim, Germany–based company. Prosecutors at Singapore’s Consumer Affairs Department have been investigating Wirecard’s fast-growing Asian division, claiming in a March 8 filing that employees in its Singapore office orchestrated a complex, multiyear scheme to inflate the company’s revenue.

Specifically, the regulators would want to examine O’Sullivan’s complicated role in Wirecard’s suspect October 2015 purchase of Great India Retail’s online payment businesses, which the Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation reported on in January 2018.

Forty-six-year-old O’Sullivan, a native of England but said to be currently living in Singapore, seems to keep a low profile; his name rarely shows up in legal documents or on the internet, except in filings for a series of Isle of Man–based shell companies and a Luxembourg holding company, Caireen SARL.

But sift through enough of this paperwork and a very distinctive picture of O’Sullivan emerges — that of a digital payments industry veteran with a cleverly hidden hand in nearly everything Wirecard does in Asia. And O’Sullivan is the likely owner of International Techno Solutions, one of 11transactional parties” that Singaporean prosecutors have alleged engaged in “arrestable offenses,” such as round-trip accounting and money laundering, to boost Wirecard’s revenue.

Flying under the radar may soon be a thing of the past for O’Sullivan if two Chennai, India–based brothers have anything to say about it.

Ramu and Palaniyapan Ramasamy, the founders of Hermes Tickets and Great India Technology, in March sued O’Sullivan, as well as Wirecard and its chief operating officer, Jan Marsalek, claiming they had masterminded a scheme to persuade the brothers to sell their companies under false pretenses and thus exposed them to reputational and economic harm.

(Hermes Tickets and Great India Technology are both subsidiaries of the Ramasamys’ larger company Great India Retail. And the Ramasamys used to be vocal Wirecard supporters: Ramu Ramasamy delivered the India strategy update at Wirecard’s 2016 Capital Markets Day presentation to analysts and investors.)

Anyone reading the Ramasamys’ complaint would have difficulty distinguishing between the interests of O’Sullivan and those of Wirecard since the suit has described both as pursuing an identical strategy and seeking the same assets. The Ramasamys have claimed in their suit that O’Sullivan (referred to as Defendant No. 4) approached them in early 2014 and made a bid for Hermes Tickets — through a Singapore-based company named Santego he seems to control. And though the Ramasamys declined O’Sullivan’s bid, he kept in contact with them and submitted another offer at the end of 2014, they said. The brothers turned down that one, too.

But O’Sullivan shifted gears in December 2014, according to the Ramasamys’ suit: He tried to arrange for Wirecard to invest in Great India Technology by introducing the brothers to Wirecard COO Marsalek, they said. The complaint has further alleged that O’Sullivan described Wirecard to Ramu Ramasamy as his “German partners” and told the brothers he was aware of Wirecard’s strategic deliberations as well as its management’s willingness to move rapidly to close a deal.

In October 2015 Wirecard invested 14 million euros in Great India Technology, amounting to 56 percent of its privately held shares. Separately, O’Sullivan paid 1 million euros to purchase his own 5 percent stake. Per the Ramasamy’s lawsuit, the entity that he used to purchase and hold his 5 percent investment in Great India Technology was Emerging Markets Investment Fund 1A, a Mauritius-based fund.

That same Emerging Markets Investment Fund 1A had in September 2015 paid the Ramasamys about 37 million euros to purchase Hermes Tickets. Yet six months later, the fund sold Hermes Tickets to Wirecard for 230 million euros up front, with 110 million euros in performance bonuses delivered over three years; the total price amounted to 340 million euros. In a press release and its corporate filings, Wirecard discussed its Hermes Tickets purchase at length — but without mentioning the seller, Emerging Markets Investment Fund 1A.

Wirecard has denied the Ramasamys’ allegations that it misled the brothers or collaborated with O’Sullivan. Angela Liu, an attorney at London law firm Herbert Smith Freehills who represents Wirecard, said via email, “Wirecard wholly rejects the allegations made against it by [Great India Retail.] Wirecard considers that the lawsuit has no merit and will be defending it in full.”

Liu added, “Wirecard is not aware of any role of Mr. James Henry O’Sullivan in Wirecard’s acquisition of Hermes; he did not receive any compensation from Wirecard.”

But a detail that just surfaced as result of the lawsuit’s filing might prove very damaging to Wirecard: Page 24 of Ramu Ramasamy’s affidavit submitted to the court on April 1 clearly suggested that O’Sullivan (Defendant No. 4) was either the owner or agent of Emerging Markets Investment Fund 1A (Defendant No. 3). Moreover, Ramasamy’s affidavit described O’Sullivan as having played an active role in negotiating the fund’s Hermes Tickets purchase and its two-month-later resale to Wirecard. (The fund is also a defendant in the Ramasamys’ lawsuit.)

Indeed the Ramasamys’ lawsuit has claimed that O’Sullivan used Emerging Markets Investment Fund 1A to purchase Hermes Tickets as well the 5 percent stake in Great India Technology — and to subsequently resell them to Wirecard for a substantial multiple of their original prices.

So what’s the risk to Wirecard from its Hermes Tickets deal being examined in court? Should the Ramasamys prove that O’Sullivan is an owner of Emerging Market Investment Fund 1A, a host of questions would be raised about possible improper sales practices by Wirecard. And where did that handsome sum of 340 million euros paid by Wirecard go?

While O’Sullivan might not be the sole owner of Emerging Markets Investment Fund 1A’s shares, he could not use it to buy and sell assets unless he was either a sizable stakeholder or had been given power of attorney by someone who is.

Singaporean prosecutors have stated they are investigating Hermes Tickets and Great India Technology for their possible role in Wirecard’s alleged accounting scheme. And while the prosecutors’ March 8 filing did not mention Emerging Markets Investment Fund 1A, they did name one of the fund’s key investments, Orbit Corporate & Leisure Travels, as an additional so-called transactional party potentially involved with dubious sales. (To date, the fund has invested in four companies: Great India Technology,  Hermes Tickets, Orbit Corporate & Leisure Travels, and Goomo, a consumer-focused company with a travel-booking platform that was spun off in March 2017 from Orbit.)

Though the Ramasamy brothers are seeking about 51 million euros in damages from Wirecard and the other defendants, they also greatly want information. Ramu Ramasamy’s affidavit asked the judge to compel Wirecard to disclose the particulars of its relationship with Emerging Markets Investment Fund 1A and for the fund to identify all of its equity ownership.

When queried if Wirecard knew of O’Sullivan’s efforts to buy Hermes Tickets and about his alleged stake in Emerging Markets Investment Fund 1A, Liu replied, “Wirecard was not aware of any attempt by Mr. O’Sullivan to buy Hermes in 2014 nor does Wirecard have any information that Mr. O’Sullivan is or was a shareholder of EMIF1A.” She said, “As evidenced by the share registry, Mr. O’Sullivan never was nor is the owner of 5% of the shares in GIT,” referring to Great India Technology.

Liu also acknowledged that O’Sullivan has had a longstanding relationship with Wirecard. “Mr. O’Sullivan has been in contact with a multitude of employees at Wirecard for many years; discussing a variety of subject matters, including joint customers and customer projects.”

The incredible disappearing act of O’Sullivan

O’Sullivan’s success as an operator in the digital payments sector can be attributed both to the web of connections he made in the early stages of his career as well as his aforementioned practice of keeping a low profile.

Nonetheless, O’Sullivan’s name crops up in some sparse British regulatory filings for a series of now-shuttered companies that used to be based in the tax and regulatory haven of the Isle of Man — all linked to David Vanrenen, a South Africa-born digital payment entrepreneur. One of the initial developers of what became known as the digital wallet, Vanrenen (like O’Sullivan until recently) lives in Monaco; Vanrenen’s son Daniel may have introduced O’Sullivan to him. (Visa just purchased Earthport, a cross-border payment services company that Vanrenen co-founded in the late 1990s, for $320 million.)

Starting in 2002 O’Sullivan served as chief executive of one of Vanrenen’s companies, Waltech Limited, and as a director of four of its subsidiaries. And Vanrenen’s Walpay became a leading payment processor for high-risk operators in the often shadowy but legal industries that Wirecard has long served ― ones offering pornography, internet gambling, currency exchange and binary options.

According to Bloomberg, O’Sullivan was the chief technology officer of another Isle of Man–domiciled company, Pay 2 Limited; this prepaid card issuer claimed prior to its 2009 dissolution that it processed 50 million pounds a month in transactions. One of O’Sullivan’s colleagues at Pay 2 Limited, its former financial controller Peter Stenslunde, is now executive director of Wirecard South Africa.

More recently, however, O’Sullivan has adopted a new modus operandi: He seems to have stepped away from daily corporate management duties for the most part. And in what appears to be an attempt to remove all public traces of his business ties, O’Sullivan began (especially after October 2015) using representatives to stand in for him on some corporate boards or as a company’s registered owner (so that their names not his appear in public filings).

Vanishing from Bijlipay Asia

A good example of O’Sullivan’s muted business presence can be observed with Bijlipay Asia Ltd., a holding company that began its life as a Vanrenen-controlled entity called Waltech Asia Pte. Ltd. but changed its name in 2009 after its registration in Singapore. From Jan. 12, 2009, until Oct. 28, 2015 — the day after the Great India Technology deal became final — O’Sullivan served as a director of the company. (Roy Harding, a longtime colleague of O’Sullivan from his days at Waltech Limited, departed from Bijlipay Asia’s board at the same time. Also a director of O’Sullivan’s holding company Caireen SARL, Harding resigned from its board on March 31, 2017.)

Although O’Sullivan is no longer on Bijlipay Asia’s board, his proxy is almost certainly 53-year-old Ricky Raymund Misson, who resides in Singapore. Referring to himself as audiovisual consultant and a former staff sergeant with the Singapore Armed Forces’ special operations group, Misson has an unusual résumé for someone now running several enterprises involved with multinational digital payment services.

Misson’s name appears in the database of Singapore’s Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority as the principal owner of four companies: Bijlipay Asia, Misson Pte. Ltd., Africa Card Services Pte. Ltd. and Santego Capital Pte. Ltd.

Bijlipay and Africa Card Services are engaged in aspects of digital payment services. Records indicate Misson Pte. Ltd. is the entity Misson relies on to manage his audiovisual consulting business. And Santego Capital is probably the holding company that the Ramasamys have alleged O’Sullivan used in early 2014 (as mentioned above) for his first Hermes Tickets bid. (The Ramasamys’ lawsuit referred to “Santego Business Corporation,” but no company with that name is listed in Singapore’s corporate registry. An individual involved in the litigation told the Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation that Ramu Ramasamy substituted “business” for “capital” when filing his affidavit.)

Misson’s Bijlipay is Wirecard’s oldest publicly disclosed customer in the Asia-Pacific region. (Its holding company Bijlipay Asia owns 95 percent of Skilworth Technologies Private Limited, a Chennai-based payments company that possesses the trademark for the Bijlipay mobile point-of-sale machine marketed in India. Another former colleague of O’Sullivan, Timothy William Johnstone, sits on Skilworth’s board.)

The Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation obtained dozens of Wirecard emails and documents referring to Bijlipay, but none mentioned Misson.

Yet, internal Wirecard documents and emails indicate that O’Sullivan is well-known to key executives in Wirecard’s Singapore office and that they clearly understand he controls Bijlipay.

For example, a Nov. 15, 2017, email thread between Wirecard Asia’s executive director, Fook Sun Ng, and Wirecard Asia financial staff (including finance director Edo Kurniawan) discussed Bijlipay’s 3.71 million euro debt to Wirecard so that Ng could then discuss the matter that evening with O’Sullivan.

A May 2018 report by law firm Rajah & Tann put Bijlipay at the center of a fraudulent accounting scheme and claimed that three years’ worth of sales and purchase agreements between Bijlipay and Wirecard’s Indonesian office were fake. (Wirecard hired Rajah & Tann in April 2018 to examine the claims of a Singapore-based whistleblower alleging that the company’s executives had committed widespread accounting fraud.)

In their March court filing, the Singaporean prosecutors named Ng, Kurniawan and four other Wirecard Asia employees as suspects in a series of potentially “arrestable offenses” in the Wirecard accounting case.

Misson did not reply to several emails from the Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation seeking comment.

Bijlipay’s CEO, Pradeep Oommen, did not respond to an email with several questions from the Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation.

And when asked about Bijlipay’s importance to Wirecard, attorney Liu said Bijilpay had contributed less than 1 million euros to Wirecard’s revenue in 2018.

Wirecard, according to its internal documents, might not realize lot of revenue from Bijlipay but it has instead contributed plenty of headaches. For example, in May 2017 Wirecard’s supervisory board wanted to see the “business case” (a standard internal assessment of probable profit and loss made by a bank before closing a commercial loan), for the $10 million loan Wirecard had granted Bijlipay in 2014. When it dawned on a group of finance executives that they had not created one, merger and acquisition manager Lars Rastede remarked in astonishment via email, “Did nobody perform a cost/income calculation before jumping into the Bijli project financed by $10 million?”

Reworking the helm at Internal Techno Solutions

Another company that succeeded (at least formally) in jettisoning the O’Sullivan name from its management and ownership structure is International Techno Solutions Pte. Ltd. Originally launched in 2003 as Walpay Asia Ltd. and based on the Isle of Man, the company in 2008 adopted the name International Techno Solutions Pte. Ltd. after registering in Singapore. O’Sullivan served on International Techno Solutions’ board from October 2008 to October 2010 and as its owner until May 2014.

This spring Singaporean prosecutors included the company as one of the cited transactional parties in their ongoing investigation of Wirecard’s accounting and sales practices.

A year before prosecutors became concerned about International Techno Solutions, Rajah & Tann had flagged as problematic a series of transactions between the company and Wirecard’s Indonesia office.

In May Singapore authorities revoked International Techno Solution’s registration in a move known as “striking off.”

The many faces of Senjo

One of the few entities O’Sullivan can still be directly connected to is Caireen SARL, a Luxembourg holding company that, in turn, owns Senjo Payments Europe SA. The latter company’s name, however, bears a remarkable similarity to that of Senjo Group Private Ltd., a Singapore-based payments company and financial technology investor described by the Financial Times in April as one of Wirecard’s three biggest customers.

Although Wirecard called this estimate inaccurate — and in May sued the paper in a German court for “making use of and misrepresenting business secrets,” according to Reuters — internal company emails from 2016 and 2017 supported the Financial Times’ reporting.

And the Ramasamys’ complaint listed O’Sullivan’s address as in “care of Senjo” at #56, One Raffles Place, the former address of Senjo Group’s Singapore headquarters.

Abigail Peters, an outside public relations adviser for Senjo Group, denied that O’Sullivan’s Senjo Payments Europe is connected to her client. In an email, Peters wrote, “No entity called ‘Senjo Europe’ or ‘Senjo Payments Europe’ has ever been part of Senjo Group.”

Peters did not directly address a question about whether O’Sullivan is a Senjo Group owner, but stated, “James Henry O’Sullivan has provided Senjo Group with consultancy services on market and investment opportunities. In that regard we have mutual confidentiality obligations with Mr. O’Sullivan. We are aware that Senjo’s relationship with Mr. O’Sullivan is not exclusive.”

But Senjo Group is closely linked to two key entities cited in either the Rajah & Tann or the Singaporean prosecutors’ reports: In a November 2017 press release, Senjo Group described as its “assets” (or investments) both Bijlipay and Mindlogicx, a Bangalore, India–based payments company.

During a January 2018 CNBC Asia interview when COO Gavin Lock was asked for details about Senjo Group, he said his company was “founded in 2016” by a “group of successful e-payment and corporate finance executives.” That skimpy overview of the organization’s labyrinthine history omitted, however, the critical role Wirecard played in funding and managing it.

What is now called Senjo Group opened its doors in March 2006 as E-Credit Plus Pte. Ltd. in Singapore. By September 2007 Wirecard executives (including COO Marsalek) were among the listed officers of E-Credit Plus’ British subsidiary E-Credence UK Limited. On Dec. 28, 2009, Wirecard purchased E-Credit Plus for 12.8 million euros, a rather steep price for a company with just 380,000 euros in revenue that year. The company was eventually renamed Wirecard Asia Pte. Ltd. and remained based in Singapore; it formed the basis for Wirecard’s rapid expansion in the Asia-Pacific region.

Discussing a move that that brings to mind the round-trip accounting charge being investigated by the Singaporean prosecutors, Wirecard disclosed in its 2014 annual report that it had “deconsolidated” Wirecard Asia Pte. Ltd. (of Singapore) so as “to optimize its organizational structure.” In other words, five years after Wirecard had initially purchased this division from E-Credit Plus, Wirecard sold it to Senjo Group’s first two listed officers: Senjo Group’s current general manager, Christopher Eddie, and its head of commerce, Yoshio Tomiie. Wirecard received a net payment of 100,000 euros for the company. (Wirecard today does maintain a division called Wirecard Asia.)

In February 2017 Tomiie sold the holding company that held his Senjo Group stake (called YO54 Holdings Pte. Ltd.) to Surajpal Singh, a real estate investor from Singapore, and Richard Willett, a 79-year-old horse breeder and wealthy retired Canadian entrepreneur who now lives on a ranch in Montana.

The Willett family’s interest in Senjo Group is managed by Willett’s son Oliver, who directs investments for Les Gantiers Limited, the Willett family’s office. Based in Monaco, Oliver Willett enjoys a close professional relationship with O’Sullivan. The two collaborated in 2014 and 2015 when O’Sullivan negotiated the Hermes Tickets and Great India Technology transactions.

Senjo Group gave the barest of replies to questions from the Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation and did not reply to a follow-up email seeking clarification on O’Sullivan’s ownership ties.

Richard and Oliver Willett did not reply to emails and phone calls seeking comment for this article.

Multiple phone calls to a contact number for James Henry O’Sullivan did not result in a response.

Ramu Ramasamy also did not reply to requests for comment.

Wirecard’s full set of responses still leaves O’Sullivan’s role a great mystery.