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Cyber libel case filed vs. FT

A Philippine company has filed a cyber libel case against two journalists of the Financial Times over an article involving German fintech firm Wirecard after the article alleged that the former was complicit in purported accounting irregularities at its subsidiary in Singapore.

Conepay International Inc. was tagged by a March 19, FT article as “one of more than a dozen curious companies identified during a Financial Times investigation” that were allegedly colluding with Wirecard’s Singapore subsidiary.

Conepay filed the case against Dan McCrum and Stefania Palma, the authors of the said FT article in the Cabanatuan City Prosecutor’s Office in Nueva Ecija last week.

According to the complaint, the article involving Conepay was founded on the witness statement of a Cabanatuan City resident and father of one of the company’s directors,who had admitted to being paid to lie about his knowledge of Conepay and to provide FT with documents which were used in the said article.

In his sworn statement, the witness revealed that he was offered P100,000 by an unknown individual to provide the FT with a Conepay bank statement and to say he had no knowledge about the company.

He had, in fact, said during an exchange with the unknown individual that Conepay was registered in their family home and that his daughter was among the firm’s directors.

Conepay maintains that it is a legitimate business and has never been involved in any accounting scam.

“To base the legitimacy or legality of a business merely on its office address betrays the ignorance of the authors of the FT article on how business is customarily carried out in the Philippines. Indeed, it is not uncommon for corporations here in the Philippines to carry out its business in an office or area totally different from the one stated in its Articles of Incorporation,” the complaint said.

“For respondents to make the conclusion that just because Conepay’s principal business address is also a residence located in the outskirts of Manila then Conepay is automatically not a legitimate business is the very definition of malice.”

The article involving Conepay was part of a series of reports by McCrum and Palma for the London-based publication accusing the German company of accounting irregularities in the Asian region, which caused the latter to lose nine billion euros in stock market value within only a few days.

The articles were largely based on an internal compliance investigation paper issued by Rajah & Tann, a law firm hired by Wirecard in 2018 to investigate internal whistle-blower allegations. There are claims from reliable sources that the so-called “preliminary report” by Rajah & Tann which was the primary source quoted in FT’s articles, was offered to multiple newspapers by an unknown source back in October 2018.

The Rajah & Tann investigation, however, did not find any “inaccuracies with material impact on the financial reports” of Wirecard.

The law firm’s report also said the latter’s head office had no “criminal liability” but that “some local employees” could be criminally liable under Singapore law.

In December 2018, German public prosecutors had issued a penalty order seeking to fine British short seller Fraser Perring for manipulation of Wirecard’s share price. Apparently internal communication between Fraser Perring and his co-conspirators released on the Internet in 2016 made multiple references to “default[ing] to the FT” for publication of their allegations and to consulting with Dan McCrum on how to best structure their publication.

BaFin, the German financial regulator, had also filed last month a criminal complaint against two so-far-unidentified FT journalists and several short sellers for potential market manipulation over the reports.

Recently, Wirecard had announced that Japan’s Softbank committed to invest 900 million euros ($1 billion) or a stake of about 5.6 percent, which is considered a vote of confidence in the firm’s integrity despite the allegations made against it by McCrum.

Topics: Financial Times , Wirecard , Conepay International Inc. , Dan McCrum , Stefania Palma
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