Germany rebuilt from the ashes of the Second World War faster and better than anyone else. Its cars became the most trusted and desirable in the world, its manufacturing a catchphrase for excellence. Not so much in the digital revolution which followed. Like the Brits, who couldn’t even build a car without Chinese or American cash, they had yet to produce a global household tech brand. Until Wirecard. This ‘corp-crime’ documentary tells the story of its emergence on an early wave of online porn and gambling, and its rapid, suspicious growth into one of the biggest of the fintechs. This was the narcissistic dream of its founders, the dry but driven Markus Braun, PhD – “I want the cake to be bigger for everybody” – and his charismatic college-dropout right-hand man, Jan Marsalek. And the German state seems to have wanted their success just as slavishly, to the point of defending them from its own justice system.
A brilliant opening shot has a huge Wirecard logo blazing in the night while the city sleeps. And the story is biting and nefarious enough to hold our attention. However, Must found the reconstructions a bit thin: the boxing manager hired to frighten the lawyer who smelt a rat and started investigating, is filmed in his gym with German pugilists knocking seven bells out of each other behind him, and clearly relishing his 15 minutes of fame. ‘Jigajig’, the brave and bearded blogger who turned his flat into a blizzard of Post-it notes as the trail hotted up, is seen, well, writing Post-it notes. The Telegraph’s Anita Singh notes that Wirecard denies any wrongdoing (thanks legal), and that the film “may have read like a Hollywood thriller at times, but the rise and fall of Wirecard had real-world consequences.”
But as the lawyer, Pav Gill, remarks, there was a sense that “as a kind of patriotic undertaking, this German company had to be protected from an attack”. It turned out that 90% of its profits came from three gambling companies, and when these were shut down, it simply started doctoring the profits. “These stories are chilling”, writes James Jackson in The Times, “because they show that either the people in charge of our financial systems are heinously corrupt or that there is simply chaos in a system that should be watertight. How could Germany, of all places, be blind to such fraud and corruption?” He sees the film as “a vital cautionary tale for our times.”
First shown November 2021.