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Wirecard hires KPMG for independent audit after latest FT allegations

[BERLIN] German payments company Wirecard has hired KPMG to conduct an independent audit to address allegations by the Financial Times (FT) that its finance team had sought to inflate reported sales and profits, it said on Monday.

The company, promoted to the DAX blue-chip index last year, has been the target of a series of investigative reports by FT reporter Dan McCrum, with the latest, on Oct 15, knocking more than 20 per cent off its share price.

It has rejected the newspaper's latest allegations, based on internal spreadsheets and correspondence, that Wirecard's senior finance team had sought to inflate reported sales and profits at its businesses in Dubai and Ireland.

The FT's reporting has however led to calls on Wirecard from investors and corporate governance advocates to hire an outside auditor both to clear up the matter and to demonstrate that it meets the governance standards of a top-tier public company.

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"We have complete confidence in the audit procedures performed to date and their results. We assume this renewed independent review will lead to a final end to all further speculation," Wulf Matthias, chairman of Wirecard AG's supervisory board, said in a statement.

Wirecard shares rose by 3.5 per cent in pre-market trading in Frankfurt.

The audit will begin immediately, Wirecard said, adding that KPMG would report to the company's supervisory board and have unrestricted access to information at all levels of the group.

Thomas Eichelmann, chairman of the audit committee of Wirecard's supervisory board and a former chief financial officer of Deutsche Boerse, will support the audit on behalf of Wirecard.

Wirecard has long been a favourite target of short sellers, or speculators who seek to profit from the airing of negative information that drives down a company's share price.

It has accused the FT and reporter McCrum of colluding with short sellers, as well as suing the newspaper. FT editor Lionel Barber has said an investigation by an outside law firm found no evidence to support those claims.

In-house auditor EY signed off on Wirecard's 2018 accounts in April after an earlier FT story alleged fraud and false accounting at the company's Singapore office.

An investigation by an outside law firm found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing by head office, although Singapore staff may have broken local laws, Wirecard said at the time.

Separately, German prosecutors are investigating a group of individuals on suspicion of manipulating Wirecard stock, acting on evidence provided by financial market regulator Bafin.

REUTERS