- By Amy Castor and David Gerard
- Sometimes months happen in weeks, and it’s been six months of that sort of week. So please contribute to our Patreons — here’s Amy’s, and here’s David’s.
- Our patrons can also get a couple of “Bitcoin: It Can’t Be That Stupid” stickers just by messaging one of us and asking.
- David has signed author copies of his books for sale.
- Sign up on Amy’s blog to see every new post she makes as it goes up, and click here and enter your email address for every new post on David’s blog as it goes up.
Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!— Sir Walter Scott, 1808
DCG: Congratulations, you played yourself
The Department of Justice’s Eastern District of New York and the SEC are looking into money flows between Barry Silbert’s Digital Currency Group and its lending subsidiary Genesis, and what investors were told about the transfers. [Bloomberg]
DCG has been playing all the same games as the rest of crypto — trying to create the illusion of money where there is no money, to keep the party going a little bit longer.
Genesis should have declared insolvency in June when Three Arrows Capital (3AC) blew a $2.4 billion hole in its accounts — but DCG purchased 3AC’s defaulted loan from Genesis and financed the purchase with a promissory note of $1.1 billion, to be paid back over 10 years.
That is: DCG and Genesis counted an internal IOU as money, to claim Genesis was still solvent.
The catch with the promissory note is that if the 10-year loan is “callable” — meaning DCG would have to pay Genesis the full amount immediately in the event of a liquidation or bankruptcy — then it could give Genesis creditors a claim on DCG itself, and take all of DCG down with it.
“The Promissory Note is like a noose wrapped tight around the neck of DCG. If Genesis goes over the cliff, it drags DCG with it,” said Ram Ahluwalia, the co-founder of Lumida, an investment advisory firm that focuses on crypto. [Twitter]
In a letter to shareholders in November, Silbert disclosed that DCG borrowed another $575 million from Genesis — due in May 2023. The funds were used for “investment opportunities” and buying back shares of DCG stock from outside investors. [Twitter]
A creditor committee that includes crypto exchange Gemini presented Genesis and DCG with a plan to recover the assets. Silbert had until January 8 to respond. Cameron Winklevoss threatened that “time is running out.” [Twitter; Twitter]
We think Gemini will try to force Genesis into involuntary chapter 11 — they just need three creditors to file a petition with the bankruptcy court. The judge then holds a hearing and decides if the matter will go through. [11 U.S. Code, section 303]
Gemini Earn, Genesis, GBTC, and 3AC
As is usual in crypto, DCG screwed itself by greed. DCG also owns Grayscale, which operates the Grayscale Bitcoin Trust (GBTC) — DCG’s cash cow. Grayscale collects a whopping 2% annual fee on its assets under management — currently, 633,000 BTC.
GBTC traded above the face value of the bitcoins in the fund up to early 2021 — then it dropped below net asset value (NAV).
Genesis took the crypto it got from Gemini Earn customers and lent those funds out to institutional investors and crypto hedge funds — such as Three Arrows Capital.
3AC was one of the biggest investors in GBTC, taking advantage of a lucrative arbitrage opportunity. They would borrow bitcoins from Genesis and swap those for GBTC shares at NAV from Grayscale. After a six-month lockup, 3AC could dump the shares on retail for a handsome profit. Rinse and repeat, and when GBTC was trading at 20% above NAV, they could make a 40% profit a year that way
This GBTC arb played a big role in keeping the price of bitcoin above water in 2020, setting the stage for the 2021 bitcoin bubble.
At the end of 2020, 3AC was the largest holder of GBTC with a position worth $1 billion at the time. After February 2021, the GBTC premium dried up, and GBTC began trading on secondary markets at a steep discount to NAV.
3AC had hoped the discount would be reversed when the SEC approved Grayscale converting its bitcoin trust to an ETF. But the SEC rejected the application, and the GBTC discount continued to widen. [Bloomberg]
When 3AC defaulted on its $2.4 billion loan to Genesis, Genesis seized the collateral backing the loan, including 17.4 million shares of GBTC, and filed a $1.1 billion claim against 3AC — a claim that is now on DCG’s books. [Coindesk; Affidavit Russell Crumpler, PDF]
Class action against Gemini Earn
Gemini partnered with Genesis for their Earn program. After Genesis lost $175 million in FTX in November, it froze withdrawals. Gemini Earn froze withdrawals in turn. Now Gemini Earn customers are out $900 million.
In an effort to get those funds back, three Gemini Earn customers are seeking class arbitration against Genesis and DCG.
Gemini and Genesis had a “master digital asset loan agreement,” which Gemini Earn customers entered into — when you became an Earn customer, you agreed you were lending money to Genesis.
The complaint alleges that Genesis breached this agreement by hiding its insolvency through a “sham transaction,” whereby DCG “bought” the right to collect a $2.3 billion debt owed to Genesis by 3AC with the aforementioned $1.1 billion promissory note. The plaintiffs also claim that the Genesis loan agreement created an unregistered sale of securities. [Press release; Complaint, PDF; Master Digital Asset Loan Agreement]
The master loan agreement states that: “Each Party represents and warrants that it is not insolvent and is not subject to any bankruptcy or insolvency proceedings under any applicable laws.”
This is why Silbert keeps insisting that Genesis has a liquidity issue and not a solvency issue — even as those are functionally identical in crypto. If Genesis was found to be insolvent and took customer funds in, it would be in violation of that contract. (As well as promptly calling that promissory note from DCG.)
Amidst all of this, Larry Summers, the former US Treasury Secretary and World Bank Chief Economist, has quietly left DCG — going so far as to remove all mention of DCG from his own website. Summers joined DCG as a senior advisor in 2016, a year after the company’s founding. [Protos]
Moody’s has downgraded Silvergate Bank’s long-term deposit rating to Ba1 from Baa2 after the crypto bank announced that its customers — who are almost entirely crypto firms now — withdrew $8 billion in deposits in Q4 2022: [Moody’s]
The negative outlook reflects Moody’s view that the bank’s profitability over the near term will be weak along with the risk of further declines in deposits from crypto currency centric firms further pressuring profitability. In addition, the negative outlook reflects the increasing regulatory and legal risks that the firm is currently facing.
Silvergate’s other customers are worried about the bank’s solvency and about the regulatory heat coming its way. Silvergate was key to FTX/Alameda having access to actual money — they helped funnel money to FTX from accounts in the name of Alameda and of Alameda’s dubious subsidiary, North Dimensions.
If Silvergate are found to be complicit in FTX’s fraud, they will be fined. But if there was money laundering and sanctions busting, they could be shut down. They will at the very least be fined. We would guess some individuals will also get a bar from being bankers. Here’s a list of enforcement actions on Federal Reserve member banks. [Federal Reserve]
After a series of knock-down-drag-out filings — and the hilarious revelations of how FTX Digital Markets (FTX DM) was functionally Sam Bankman-Fried’s Bahamas partying fund — the US and Bahamas bankruptcies are working together now. John Jay Ray III and his team met in Miami with the joint provisional liquidators (JPLs) handling the FTX DM liquidation, and they’ve reached an agreement. [press release; agreement, PDF]
The Bahamas JPLs will handle everything to do with FTX DM, and the US administrators will handle everything to do with all the other FTX companies. The JPLs will handle the Bahamas real estate and the cryptos being held by the Securities Commission of the Bahamas. (This doesn’t mean that the Bahamas will handle the disbursement of the crypto they have under their control — only that FTX is fine with them holding the funds for now.) The parties will share information. FTX DM’s chapter 15 foreign entity bankruptcy in the SDNY will continue.
We suspect it was clear the US side would win in court, and the Bahamas liquidators realized they weren’t being paid enough to damage their reputations this way. The agreement is subject to approval by the courts in the US and the Bahamas, but it would be surprising for them not to allow it.
Huobi’s real-time meltdown
Huobi has always been a dodgy crypto exchange — even before it was run by Justin Sun from Tron. Huobi has $2.6 billion in reserves, and 40% of that is its own HT token. If you don’t count its own internal supermarket loyalty card points, Huobi is insolvent. [Twitter]
Huobi is desperately searching its pockets for spare change. On December 30, Wu Blockchain reported that Huobi was canceling year-end bonuses and planning to slash half its staff of 1,200 people and cut the salaries of senior employees. Sun denied the rumors. [Twitter; South China Morning Post; Twitter]
Other unofficial reports from small accounts on Twitter said that Huobi was offering to pay its employees in stablecoins — USDC and tethers — instead of actual-money yuan. If they objected, they would lose their jobs. [Twitter]
Employees revolted at being paid in magic beans — so Sun cut off internal communications. On January 4, Bitrun said that “all communication and feedback channels with employees” had been blocked. [Twitter]
Here’s the unofficial details on how Huobi is treating its employees. Those who quit because they’re getting paid in tethers get no severance pay either. This is what a doomed company does. [Twitter]
After initially denying Huobi was cutting staff, Sun finally admitted that Huobi was indeed laying off 20% of its employees in the first quarter of 2023 — after rumors swirled that half of all employees would be let go. [FT]
Huobi users rushed to get their funds off of the exchange. Blockchain analytics platform Nansen noted a wave of withdrawals on January 5 and 6. Following the withdrawals, Peckshield reported a wallet associated with Tron moved $100 million in stablecoins — USDC and tethers — into Huobi. [Twitter, Twitter]
In a lengthy Twitter thread, Sun assures you that your funds are totally safe. We fully expect the exchange to blow up at any moment. [Twitter]
US prosecutors for the Western District of Washington in Seattle are sending subpoenas to hedge funds for records of their dealings with Binance. John Ghose, formerly a Justice Department prosecutor who specialized in crypto and now a lawyer at compliance vendor VeraSafe, thinks this is about money laundering. [Washington Post]
We noted previously that “BUSD” on Binance is not the BUSD issued by Paxos, which claims to be backed by actual dollars in Silvergate Bank. Binance “BUSD” is a stablecoin-of-a stablecoin, maintained internally. This is the sort of arrangement that’s fine until it isn’t.
It turns out that Binance has been issuing uncollateralised “BUSD” on its own BNB blockchain. Data Finnovation looked at the Ethereum and BNB blockchains and saw that Binance has a history of minting fake “BUSD” internally on BNB. At some points in 2021, there were $500 million to $1 billion of fake dollars circulating on BNB. They’re caught up now, though — so that’s all fine, right? [Medium]
Dirty Bubble thinks Binance US isn’t meaningfully separate from Binance.com, if you look at how the cryptos flow. But that shouldn’t be news to anyone here. [Dirty Bubble]
Reuters is still on the Binance beat. Here’s a special report on Binance’s accounts, as far as can be told. Reuters calls Binance’s books a “black box.” Private companies don’t have to disclose their financials, especially if they’re operating outside all effective regulation — but even Binance’s former CFO, Wei Zhou, didn’t have full access to the company’s accounting records in the three years he was there. We’ve noted previously how regulators have a heck of a time getting the most basic information out of Binance. [Reuters]
John Hyatt from Forbes notes how Binance is spending tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars sponsoring Politico’s Playbook newsletter to reach politicians and bureaucrats. Worked great for FTX! [Twitter thread]
DeFi: Go directly to jail
Discussions of crime on the blockchain hardly ever point out that almost all of what goes on in DeFi was always just straight-up illegal under US law.
Pretty much every token was always an unregistered security. The sort of market manipulations that are standard practice in the DeFi trash fire have been illegal under Dodd-Frank since 2010. And that’s before we get to the rugpulls, hacks, and “hacks.”
The authorities are finally moving in. Every DeFi trader should consider themselves on notice.
Hotshot DeFi trader Avraham “Avi” Eisenberg was arrested in Puerto Rico on December 27 on a Department of Justice (Southern District of New York) indictment for commodities fraud and commodities manipulation in the $110 million trade that took out Mango Markets. [indictment, PDF; case docket]
Mango Markets is a decentralized exchange that runs on Solana. Users can lend, borrow, swap, and trade on margin. The exchange is overseen by a DAO, made up of people who hold MNGO — the native token of the exchange.
On October 11, someone drained the project of $110 million by manipulating the platform’s price oracle. After others had traced it to him, Avi Eisenberg came forward and explained the trade.
Eisenberg sold MNGO perpetual futures from one account he controlled to another account also under his control. He then bought large amounts of MNGO, which had the effect of increasing the value of his large holding of MNGO perpetuals. He then borrowed against these holdings and withdrew $110 million in assorted cryptocurrencies.
This also rendered the Mango platform insolvent. Eisenberg himself explained that the insurance fund in place was “insufficient to cover all liquidations.” He gave back some of his trading profits. [Twitter; Bloomberg]
I believe all of our actions were legal open market actions, using the protocol as designed, even if the development team did not fully anticipate all the consequences of setting parameters the way they are.
Eisenberg’s lawyer will likely explain his client’s erroneous legal reasoning to him.
Eisenberg wasn’t just arrested, he was denied bail as a flight risk — he has significant ties outside the US, he already left the US for two months just after the alleged offense, he likely has crypto stashed away somewhere, the charge carries a heavy penalty, and his background could not be checked. (Compare Sam Bankman-Fried’s release on bail.) [Order of detention pending trial, PDF]
It’s not clear why prosecutors went after Eisenberg in particular. We’d guess the CFTC and DoJ were looking for someone to make an example of. The bit where Eisenberg tweeted a complete confession probably helped, much as SBF’s confession tour of the press helped get him indicted.
What Eisenberg did to Mango was not remarkable at all. DeFi traders pull this nonsense all the time. Perhaps you don’t think DeFi trading shenanigans should be crimes, and that’s nice for you that you think that.