Pav Gill (Whistleblower): the Wirecard saga
A whistleblower in the Wirecard affair, one of the biggest financial frauds of recent years, Pav Gill has rebuilt himself in Asia. He is still very bitter about the attitude of regulators, who he says are quicker to blame whistleblowers than to track down wrongdoing.
Can you tell your story at Wirecard?
My story at Wirecard is set out in the brilliant Sky documentary, Wirecard - Die Milliarden-Lüge, in print media by the Süddeutsche Zeitung and a Financial Times article. In summary, Wirecard’s collapse in 2020 exposed the rise of a German technology titan as a myth. A €19 billion black hole revealed industrial-scale fraud in its role as intermediary between merchants who accepted credit cards and the card customers’ banks. Wirecard’s chaotic downward spiral began when Air Berlin became the first in a line of clients it lost because of poor client support and incorrect payments. Wirecard covered up its failing business; blindsiding auditors into believing there were huge cash reserves. Its lawyers aggressively disparaged critics while the firm continued making deceitful claims about its solvency, profitability and prospects.
How could Wirecard get away with such huge scam for such a long time?
By refusing to properly investigate any of the various serious allegations raised against the company over the course of the years, regulators and enforcement agencies played a critical role in enabling this fraud to perpetuate and for Wirecard to thrive as a criminal enterprise. As for EY, if they are found guilty of gross negligence or any related acts, then they simply must be held accountable to send a strong message to the accounting and audit industry in order to restore confidence in the system.
How did your mother convince you to let the Financial Times know about the wrong doings at Wirecard?
This is set out in the Sky documentary which I definitely encourage everyone, especially European viewers, to watch.
How did you feel/react when BaFin sued 2 FT journalists, instead of exploiting the information published in their article to stop the wrong doings at Wirecard?
I was bemused. It is mindblowing that a regulator would seek to adopt a 'head in the sand'/'nothing to see here' approach and absolve an organisation which clearly had something very wrong with it (if one chose to look) at every opportunity. In that sense, much like Wirecard, for the regulators and enforcement agencies in Germany, it was always "someone else's problem". The FT is not a sensationalist tabloid but one of the most respected business newspapers in the world. I would have expected any bona fide regulator to want to work with the FT, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung and the various whistleblowers in getting to the bottom of these serious allegations as opposed to going after those trying to bring them to light. Truly perverse.
Did you feel properly protected by the authorities in Asia?
No. We were never assured of any protection by anyone anywhere and continue to be in that situation as of date.
You left Wirecard in September 2018. How is life after Wirecard?
Life after Wirecard was challenging but I kept myself busy with contract roles at some wonderful companies such as Wise (as their first APAC counsel). I was very careful not to get into another full time role unless it was with the right company as I did not want to find myself settling in at "another Wirecard". In parallel, I was also fending off personal and professional attacks from Wirecard and its cronies who continued to go out of their way in keeping tabs on my movements. With the dust now settled, I have found myself a professional home at Zipmex, a leading digital assets platform in the APAC region, which refreshingly puts legal & compliance at the forefront of everything it does.
What have you learnt from this experience?
A person cannot live in fear if he or she is doing the right thing. The ones who should live in fear are those that continue to engage in criminal activities and other nefarious conduct.
If you discover a similar situation in another company in the future, what will you do?
I would be very surprised if a company would hire me as its chief legal (or compliance) officer if it is in the business of carrying on any wrongdoing, particularly in the financial services space.