Crypto markets are extremely volatile. You never know how wildly up or down the price may go or when. This turned out to be a disaster for US crypto exchange Poloniex when an obscure token that it offered peer-to-peer margin trading on suffered a flash crash.
On May 26, the price of CLAMdropped so violently that margin borrowers blew their margins multiple times over. The loss was huge: 1,800 BTC, valued at around $14 million.
Now Poloniex has to figure out how to extract the losses from the borrowers. For now, lenders will have to suck up the loss. On 14:00 UTC on June 6 — a full 10 days after the incident — Poloniex applied a 16.202% haircut to the principal of all active BTC loans. Even lenders not active at the time of the crash were affected.
David, it's straight out of the Bitfinex 2016 playbook. Haircut on unrelated lenders some time after the actual losses were incurred.
Prior to announcing the haircut, Poloniex suspended trading for several hours on Wednesday as part of a “planned” maintenance. It wasn’t until trading resumed that margin lenders realized a portion of their BTC was missing.
In a Medium post, Poloniex revealed that a large part of the loans were collateralized in CLAM — so both the borrowers’ positions and their collateral lost most of their value. In other words, the funds simply evaporated, and there was nothing to repay loans with.
The exchange says it has frozen all defaulted borrowers’ accounts until they repay their loans, as spelled out in the the company’s terms of service.
“As we recover funds, we will return them to affected lenders. We’re also exploring other ways to help defray margin lender losses,” Poloniex wrote.
Naturally, the margin lenders, which only account for 0.4% of Polo’s user base, are completely pissed off. Why did Polo not have better risk management in place? Why did it not have an insurance fund set up to absorb the loss? And why did Polo allow margin trades — and collateral loans — on an extremely illiquid coin in the first place?
What is margin trading?
Margin trading is risky business, even more so when you are trading crypto assets, due to their high volatility. When you trade on margin, you put down a collateral and borrow against that, doubling, tripling, quadrupling — or whatever — your trade.
Trading on margin magnifies your profits, but also your losses. If the trade goes in your favor, you can repay the loan and tuck in a nice profit. But if the price of the asset slips enough so it looks like your trade won’t pay off, the exchange can call in your margin, and you lose all of the collateral you put down for the loan.
Bitcoin derivatives exchange BitMEX loans you the funds for margin trades. Poloniex does something different. It uses peer-to-peer margin trades, where a common pool of lenders puts up BTC, CLAM, and other coins. They get paid in interest. According to Poloniex’s website (archive), only customers who are outside of the US are allowed to loan their funds on the exchange.
As a lender, you set your own daily interest rate, and Poloniex takes a fee of 15% from the interest earned. Margin traders consume lending offers starting with the lowest rate. If your rates are too high, your funds sit in the pool, and you don’t earn any interest.
CLAM, the casino coin
If you were paying close attention a year ago, you may have heard John Oliver mention CLAM on “Last Week Tonight,” along with Titcoin, Jesuscoin, Trumpcoin and a bunch of other coins with hilarious names.
CLAM stands for “Caritas Libertas Aequitas Monetas,” which roughly translates to freedom, fairness, equality coins — whatever that means. The coin launched in May 2014, as a fork ofBlackcoin (BLK), which launched in February 2014 as a fork of Peercoin, an early proof-of-stake coin.
On May 12, 2014, CLAM was sent to all active users of bitcoin, litecoin and dogecoin —three popular coins at the time. Every unique wallet address pulled from those blockchains that had a balance above zero got about 4.6 CLAM. The total amount of CLAM distributed to those addresses was 14,897,662.
CLAM was mainly intended for use on Just-Dice, a gambling site created by a Canadian known only as “dooglus.” Originally Just-Dice relied on bitcoin. But due tonew bitcoin regulation in Canada, dooglus decided to switch to CLAM in late 2014.
The circulating supply of CLAM is only 3,624,208. Nearly all of that—99.81%—is traded on Poloniex. At one point, CLAM was listed on Bittrex and Cryptopia, but Bittrex delisted the coin in October 2018 and Cryptopia went belly up in May 2019.
According to CoinMarketCap, CLAM has a daily trading volume of less than $100,000, meaning the coin barely has a pulse. Three months ago, two traders complained on Reddit of long delays withdrawing CLAM as they waited for the lifeless network to pick up their transactions.
“I withdrew CLAM 11 days ago. Poloniex Support said ‘as soon as a miner picks up the transaction’ How f@%#$%g long is that?,” wrote Reddit user interop5. (Technically, CLAM is a proof of stake coin, so it relies on stakers, not miners.)
CLAM’s lack of liquidity makes it extremely easy to manipulate. All you need is one person to put up a large sell order to crash the price. Poloniex has yet to release details on what happened, but we can guess it was something along those lines.
How to Clams Trade 1) accumulate cheap clams in account A 2) move some to account B and long your clams w/ your clams 3) dump your account A spot clams on your account B margin clam buy orders 4) rugpull 5) make 500-1k btc in account A while burning 50-200 btc in account B
As a result of the flash crash debacle, Poloniex has removed CLAM from margin trading, along with three other coins: bitshares (BTS), factom (FCT), and maidsafecoin (MAID). The exchange outright admits these coins lacked sufficient liquidity:
“In order for margin liquidations to process in an orderly manner, the market must have sufficient liquidity, and these tokens currently lack that liquidity. We will continue to monitor them and may reinstate margin trading for them in the future”
This is not the first time Poloniex removed CLAM as a margin market and collateral coin. It was removedin early November 2017 due to low liquidity, after an earlier flash crash, despite CLAM’s liquidity never recovering, at some point, Poloniex decided to add CLAM back as a margin market and collateral coin—though I’m not sure exactly when.
And then, of course, the exact same thing happened. In February 2019, the price of CLAM started to climb rapidly on Poloniex. In a matter of six weeks, it went from around $1.50 to a high of nearly $20 on May 26. At that point, the bottom fell out with CLAM losing three-quarters of its value in the blink of an eye. It sunk down to around $5.
According to Andrew Hires, a neurobiology professor at the University of Southern California, who has been watching the exchange, Poloniex had been struggling with its CLAM wallet for months. He tweeted:
“All deposits had to be manually credited via ticket. This screwed up the sell-side liquidity. Huge bids (>500BTC), presumably margin longs, crept up over months, pushing $ price up 17x. Just after it hit $20, everything imploded.”
Spreading the loss
Socializing losses is unique to crypto exchanges. Like Poloniex, OKEx alsosocializes extreme margin losses, but literally requires customers to pass a test on their terms of service before they can trade futures, so they are absolutely clear on how it works.
According to crypto lawyer David Silver, socializing losses could open Poloniex to a lawsuit. Another lawyer, Stephen Palley, disagrees. Palley told The Block, he doesn’t think Poloniex breached its terms of service.
On the other hand, Emilien Dutang, who was pinged by the haircut and says he offered margin lending on the exchange after the flash crash, is threatening legal action.
I was NOT lending on the 26 may, I started lending on the 27th.
THERE IS ABSOLUTLY NO JUSTIFICATION FOR YOU TO TAKE MY BITCOINS TODAY.
Do not try to hide your fuck up behind the fact that it impacted "only" 0.4% of your users
None of this bodes well for Poloniex. Circleacquiredthe exchange in early 2018 with the intention of cleaning it up and dealing with a humongous backlog ofsupport tickets. But at this level, Poloniex appears only slightly more competent than QuadrigaCX.
Sasha is an attorney with DLT Law Group, P.A., which focuses on supporting crypto-related businesses. David’s work has had a huge influence on me, so you can imagine how much fun I had doing a podcast with him.
QuadrigaCX is the story of how two sketchy characters—one, a convicted felon, and the other, a young man who seemingly had been running ponzi schemes since his teenage years—came together and launched a crypto exchange. A match made in heaven, right?
David and I talk about how this was even possible; the appalling, amateurish way the business was run; and the impact this could have on future crypto regulation.
This newsletter is reader supported. If you appreciate my work enough to buy me a beer or cup of coffee once a month, that’s all it costs to become a patron. I’m trying to pick up freelance gigs when I can, but one of the joys of writing for my own blog is I can write whatever I want, when I want. On to the news…
Bitfinex and LEO
UNIS SED LEO, the full name of Bitfinex’s shiny new utility token, is in its second week of trading. The price started at around $1, but it’s already climbed to a high of $1.52, according to CoinGecko. I’m sure the price increase is totally organic—not.
Crypto Rank warns that 99.95% of LEO coins are owned by the top 100 holders. Also, Bitfinex still has not disclosed information about the investors. “We consider that the token can be manipulative,” Crypto Rank tweeted.
Given its $850 million shortfall, Bitfinex needs to pull in more money. It recently entered the initial exchange offering (IEO) business. IEOs are similar to initial coin offerings (ICOs), except that instead of handing you money directly to the token project, you give it to the exchange, which acts as a middleman and handles all of the due diligence.
As the price of bitcoin goes up—at this moment, it is around $8,730—the number of tethers in circulation is going up, too. There are now more than $3 billion worth of tethers sloshing around in the crypto markets, pushing up the price of bitcoin.
Utter rubbish. It has skyrocketed for one reason only, and that is market manipulation by Bitfinex/Binance/Tether to recoup the $850m lost by Bitfinex and evade the NYAG's injunction. https://t.co/bHTgAWNx0O
Omni tethers, Ethereum tethers, Tron tethers. Tethers appear to be constantly coming and going, bouncing from one chain to another. It gets confusing. But maybe that is the point—to keep us confused. And to add to the jumble, tethers are now executing on EOS.
. @Tether_to is launching on a new chain today. Any guess? I believe that cross-chain support is a key element for the success of a stable-coin.
In the next couple of weeks, Tether is also planning to issue tethers on Blockstream’s federated sidechain Liquid. And later this year, the Lightning Network.
I updated my recent tether story to note that if you want to redeem your tethers via Tether, there is a minimum redemption of $100,000 worth—small detail. Also, I still haven’t found anyone who has actually redeemed their tethers.
Cryptopia’s data—held to ransom?
Cryptopia filed for liquidation on May 14. Liquidator Grant Thornton New Zealand is now scrambling to save the exchange’s data, held on servers hosted by PhoenixNAP in Arizona. The tech services wants $1.9 million to hand over the data.
Grant Thornton is worried Phoenix will erase the SQL database containing critical details of who owned what on the exchange. It filed for Chapter 15 and provisional relief in the Bankruptcy Court of the Southern District of New York. (Here is the motion.)
According to the motion, Cryptopia paid Phoenix for services through April. But when it offered to pay for May, Phoenix ended the service contract and “sought to extract” $1.9 million from the exchange. Grant Thornton says only $137,000 was due for the month of May. Phoenix also denied the liquidators access to the data.
On May 24, the court granted motion. (Here is the order.) Phoenix has to preserve the data for now, but Cryptopia has to pay $274,408 for May and June as security in the temporary restraining order.
Meanwhile, Cryptopia liquidators’ first report is out. The New Zealand exchange owes 69 unsecured creditors $1.37 million (these are just the ones who have put in claims thus far) and secured creditors over $912,000, with an expected deficit of $1.63 million.
Turns out January 14, the day Cryptopia suffered its fatal hack was the exact same day Quadriga announced the death of its CEO Gerald Cotten, who, uh, had been dead since December 9. The two defunct exchanges had a few other things in common, which I outline in my first story for Decrypt.
Living in Cambridge, I found it strange that nobody in the local blockchain community knew anyone who worked at Poloniex, based in Somerville, the next town over. I was told Polo staff kept a low profile for security reasons. But I also wonder if they were trying to avoid pissed off customers, whose inquiries they ignored for months.
When Circle acquired Polo in February 2018, it inherited 140,000 support tickets. Now, more than a year later, Circle says it’s all caught up. Polo’s customer support has been “completely transformed” and 95% of inquiries are now handled within 12 hours.
Yet another executive has left Coinbase, president and COO Asiff Hirji. This is the third C-level executive to leave the San Francisco crypto exchange this year.
Recently, Coinbase said it was offering a crypto debit card in the UK—a Visa with a direct link to your Coinbase wallet that lets you spend crypto anywhere Visa is accepted. Financial Time’s Izabella Kaminska thinks that could open a back door for dirty money.
Coinbase plans to add margin trading. Leveraged trading lets you supersize your trading power, because you are borrowing from the exchange, but it also supersizes your risk.
It is easy to understand why Coinbase would want to get a piece of the margin trading business. BitMEX has been reeling in the profits with its bitcoin derivative products. The company’s co-founder is now a billionaire who has so much money, he is giving it away.
Binance is also talkingabout putting margin trading on the menu.
Elsewhere in cryptoland
Kik, the messaging app that raised $100 million selling its kin token in 2017, thinks decades old securities laws need revamping. It wants to create a new Howey test.
The Canadian startup launched DefendCrypto.org, a crowdfunding effort to fight the SEC. It’s contributed $5 million in crypto, including its own kin token, toward the effort.
The notion that "crypto" as a generic category should have its own special treatment under U.S. securities laws is a special kind of ridiculous.
Craig Wright, the self-proclaimed inventor of bitcoin, created a hoopla when he filed registrations for the bitcoin code and Satoshi white paper. Disagreements over the significance of the registration have spilled out into his Wikipedia page. Drive-by editors even tried to change Wright’s name to “Craig Steven Fart face.”
Taotao, a new crypto exchange is launching in Japan. It is fully licensed by the Financial Services Agency, the country’s financial watchdog, and it is 40% owned by Yahoo Japan.
As long as the price of bitcoin keeps going up, that is all that matters to bitcoiners. David Gerard delves into the origin of the phrase “Number go up.”
Geoff Goldberg, well-known for his battles against the relentless XRP armies, has been mass reported for calling out the bots that run rampant on twitter. No good deed goes unpunished, apparently. Twitter has effectively silenced him for seven days.
Finally, the Associated Press has a new entry on crypto—sorry, cryptocurrency.
AP Style tip: Bitcoin is a digital currency. As a concept, Bitcoin is capitalized. The currency unit, bitcoin, is lowercase.
I just had my first story published in Decrypt, and you should read it!
Some background — I had been getting a few direct messages from QuadrigaCX traders who also lost money on Cryptopia, the NZ-based altcoin factory that recently went kaput. This led me into researching Cryptopia and learning the two exchanges shared a few commonalities.
Oddly, the death of Quadriga CEO Gerald Cotten was announced on January 14, the exact same day Cryptopia was hacked. This could be a wild coincidence, but still, it’s weird.
Both companies were run by amateurs, both had dollar-pegged tokens—Quadriga used Quad Bucks and Cryptopia came up with the idea for NZDT on a lark—and they both experienced crippling banking issues.
The Canadian Imperial Bank of Canada froze accounts belonging to Quadriga’s third-party payment processor Costodian in January 2018. And ASB Bank closed Cryptopia’s NZDT account just weeks later—another weird coincidence.
Crypto exchanges are struggling. Revenue growth is not what it was during the bubble of 2017, and regulators are cracking down. You can’t just list any old coin anymore without considering, “Is the SEC going to deem this a security?” And the cost of hiring lawyers, responding to subpoenas, and staying compliant is cutting into profits. So what are exchanges doing? They are laying off staff and/or trying to raise more money, while they hold out hope for the big institutional money that will come any day now.
Kraken and Bnk to the Future
Recently, customers of Kraken got an interesting email offering a “rare, but limited opportunity.” Some folks thought the email was spam, but it was real.
Turns out, the San Francisco-based trading platform is partnering with Bnk to the Future as a way to raise funds by selling preferred shares of its stock. You can own a piece of Kraken for as little as $1,000. (In the US, you need to be an accredited investor, though.)
The exchange hopes to rustle up $15.45 million. (Originally, it wanted to raise $10.2 million, but lifted the goal.) As of this writing, Kraken has raised $6.2 million from 942 investors. The crowdfund runs until June 20.
In 2016, Bitfinex also used Bnk to the Future when it encouraged its customers to exchange their BFX tokens to shares in iFinex, the parent company of Bitfinex and Tether. BFX was the token that Bitfinex gave to its customers in compensation for funds they lost when the exchange was hacked. The exchange sold $57.39 million worth of iFinex shares in this manner, basically converting stolen funds to shares.
Bitfinex customers didn’t have much of an option. BFX tokens were dropping in value, and they wanted to get their money back.
Bitfinex/Tether and the NYAG law suit
Bitfinex joyously declared another small legal victory on May 22, when New York Supreme Court judge Joel M. Cohen granted a motion limiting the scope of the documents Bitfinex and Tether have to hand over to the New York Attorney General’s office.
The road to ruin is sometimes paved with little victories.
The day prior, the companies had filed a motion to dismiss the case outright with three new court docs: a proposed order to show cause, a memorandum in support of the motion to dismiss, and an affidavit by their general counsel Stuart Hoegner.
Lawyers for the companies argued the Bitfinex platform does not allow New Yorkers to trade (putting it outside of the NYAG’s jurisdiction), the Martin Act doesn’t apply to them (because tether is not a security or commodity, they said), and the document requests were too onerous. The NYAG has seven days to respond, and the judge scheduled a hearing for the motion to dismiss on June 29.
According to Hoegner’s affidavit, which I read late one evening, you can’t actually redeem tethers 1:1 unless you bought them directly from Tether, which means if you got them on an exchange somewhere, too bad. You won’t be too surprised to learn then, that I can’t find a single person who claims to have either bought or redeemed tethers via Tether Ltd.
Has anyone been able to buy or redeem tether via Tether? Is there anyone out there who has ever done this? Would love to hear from you. https://t.co/Xi4HjSOUX2
The Block got hold of a court transcript from the Bitfinex court hearing on May 16. “Tether actually did invest in instruments beyond cash and cash equivalents, including bitcoin,” a lawyer for Bitfinex told the court.
Wait, what? Bitcoin? Tether invested in bitcoin?
The entire purpose of tether is to be a stable asset that traders can use to escape market volatility. Yet, Tether is taking its reserves—money that it was supposed to keep an eye on, so that tethers always remained fully backed—and investing it in a highly volatile asset. What if bitcoin crashes? What then of the stablecoin?
We learn something new about Tether everyday, it seems. According to CoinMarketCap, every 24 hours, the entire $3 billion supply of tethers changes hands 7.5 times, but not really, because most of that volume is fake.
The Block analyst Larry Cermak posted a graph of exchanges that trade tether, and some of the ones with the highest volume are obscure platforms nobody has heard of. “If I were to make an educated guess, at any given time, only a maximum of 15% of the total Tether volume is real,” he tweeted. In other words, it is all wash trading, i.e., trading bots simultaneously buying and selling tether to create the appearance of frenetic activity.
As far as I can tell, tether’s actual value is on par withhorse manure—giving true meaning to the word “stablecoin”—just not as good for the roses.
Circle and Poloniex
Circle, the Boston-based company that bought crypto trading platform Poloniex in February 2018, is laying off 30 people—10 percent of its workforce. The company blames the layoffs on an “increasingly restrictive regulatory climate.”
Last week, I mentioned that Poloniex geofenced nine altcoins, meaning people in the US will no longer be able to trade those coins on the exchange after May 29. Circle saidrecent guidance from the SEC was a trigger for the move. I took another look and realized that one of the coins was Decred—a fork of bitcoin. Why Decred?
It’s possible the project’s premine and governance structure look a little to shareholdery, and Circle, which is backed by Goldman Sachs, is not in a position to risk listing any coins on Poloniex that might be construed as securities.
Having a voting share in a vehicle for capital allocation is definitely a red flag, given current regulatory uncertainty.
Remember, Polo essentially has Goldman breathing down its neck via the Circle acquisition. Very little flexibility to toe the line.
I finally got around to writing up QuadrigaCX Trustee’s Preliminary Report. Ernst & Young basically says the money is all gone. Also, it adds that Quadriga’s financial affairs were a complete mess, and they’ll probably never sort everything out properly.
Remember the photo of 1,004 checks sitting on a stovetop? EY finally deposited those into a disbursement account on April 18. What a surprise for this trader to learn the money was freshly sucked out of his bank account two years later!
Also interesting, Black Banx (formerly WB21), the third-party payment processor allegedly holding $CA12 million in Quadriga funds is now issuing Visa cards without Visa’s consent. Antony Peyton, the finance journalist who had a thug show up on his doorstep last time he wrote about them, has been researching the company.
New Zealand crypto exchange Cryptopia went belly up on May 14. Turns out, for the last nine months—since before the January hack that put it out of business—Adam Clark, the exchange’s former founder and programmer, has been building a new crypto exchange. According to his LinkedIn profile, he’s been working on Assetylene since September 2018. So, if you lost your money on Cryptopia, you can try again on Assetylene. I’m sure they’ve got their security issues sorted out by now.
Meanwhile, the funds that were stolen from Cryptopia are on the move. Whale Alert, who has been keeping on eye on the transfers, says funds from Cryptopia recently went to Huobi, where they were likely traded for other coins. Whale Alert also noted 500 ETH going to decentralized exchange EtherDelta.
👮♂️👮♂️👮♂️The past few hours there have been a lot of #Cryptopia hack transfers. We have decided to keep reporting them, because we feel the recent hacks negatively affect the cryptocurrency community and by shining a light on them, we hope to make life a bit harder for the thieves.
Facebook is getting ready to launch its GlobalCoin cryptocurrency payments system in 2020. They probably want to do something like PayPal combined with social media. David Gerard asks: “Why are on earth are they doing this as a cryptocurrency?” As he explains, nothing about putting this on a blockchain makes any sense whatsoever.
Bestmixer.io, one of the largest crypto mixers and tumblers, was shut down by Dutch authorities with the help of Europol and Luxembourg law enforcement. According to Europol’s press release, it was responsible for $200 million in money laundering.
Well, this is a shocker. The SEC has again delayed the VanEck bitcoin ETF proposal. Here is the order. The new deadline for the SEC to make a decision is August 19, and it can delay one more time for a final deadline of October 18, Jake Chervinsky tweeted. It’s been eight years, and the SEC has yet to approve any bitcoin ETFs in the US.
Bitcoin is set to overtake the existing financial system—or maybe not. In a recent report, the European Central Bank says crypto poses no threat to financial stability in the euro zone. A “very low” number of merchants currently allow buying of goods and services with bitcoin, and there is no “tangible impact on the real economy.”
The IRS is planning to publish new tax guidance for crypto holders and traders. The last time it issued guidance was November 2014, back when it said crypto would be treated as property and you had to report earnings as capital gains.
Did you know, there is an actual business for horse manure?
“It’s wild,” one horse farmer told Stable Management. “You can take this stuff that nobody wants and turn it into something of value.”
You can do something similar in the crypto word. Shitexpress was a service that delivered horse poop anywhere in the world for bitcoin. Now, instead of sending actually poop, you can send tethers, a stablecoin issued by a company of the same name, Tether Limited.
Tethers are a major source of liquidity in crypto markets. In lieu of the US dollar, you can use them to enter and exit positions in times of volatility. As such, tethers are responsible for the health and wellness ofdozens of crypto exchanges, including Binance, Huobi, Bittrex, OKEx, Poloniex and others, that don’t have direct banking.
When Tether first entered the world in 2015, tethers werepromised as an I.O.U. For years, Tether assured us that every tether was worth $1—as in, one actual US dollar that Tether had on hand that you could redeem your tethers for.
Tether and its sister company Bitfinex, one of the largest crypto trading platforms by volume, are now beingsued by the New York Attorney General. As court documents reveal more of the companies’ inner workings, people are asking: What are tethers worth? Is one tether worth a dollar? Less than a dollar? What can I get for my tethers?
For a while, the thinking was, well, maybe one tether is worth 74 cents, because in hisfirst affidavit, filed on April 30, Stuart Hoegner, Bitfinex and Tether’s general counsel, said tethers were only 74% backed. In other words, Tether was operating a fractional reserve, kind of like a bank, but sans regulatory oversight or deposit insurance.
Tether updated its terms of service on February 26, to let you know tethers weren’t fully backed, but if you weren’t paying close attention—i.e., checking the Tether website every single day—you may have missed it. Tether says it can amend, change, or update its terms of service “at any time and without prior notice to you.”
Now, it’s looking like one tether is worth whateversomeone gives you for it. If someone gives you bitcoin for a pile of tethers, hurray for you, that is the value of your tethers. If the person who got your tethers can pass them off to someone else for bitcoin, or another crypto of value, then yay for them! It’s called thegreater fool theory, and, so far, it seems to be working—Tether is still trading on par with the dollar.
But if you take those tethers to Tether, the company that, so far, has shoveled $3 billion worth of them onto the markets, and say, “Hey, can I redeem these for dollars, like you have been promising me all these years?,” they will most certainly tell you, “Sorry, no.”
Are you verified?
You can only redeem tethers under certain conditions, such as you bought loads of them directly from Tether—and you are not a US citizen.
In Hoegner’s recent affirmation, filed on May 21, he says you have to be a “verified” Tether customer to redeem tethers.
“Only verified Tether customers are entitled to redeem tether from Tether for fiat on a 1:1 basis. There is no right of redemption from Tether on a 1:1 basis for any holders of tether who obtained the tokens on a secondary market platform and who are not verified Tether customers; on the contrary, such holders of tether have no relationship with Tether and are expressly precluded from redeeming tether on a 1:1 basis for Tether.”
In that paragraph, Hoegner reminds us three times—just to make sure we understand his point—that whoever you are and however you ended up with your tethers, the company is under no obligation to give you cash back for those tethers.
Per Tether’sterms of service, only those who bought tethers directly from Tether Limited—aka “validated users”—can redeem tethers. Anyone who got tethers on the “secondary market,” meaning, an exchange, is not able to redeem those tethers.
Ascourt docs reveal, from November 2017 to December 2018, you could only buy tethers for cash directly from Bitfinex. Per Tether’s website, as of November 27, 2018, you could once again buy tethers directly from Tether. However, you have to buy a minimum of $100,0000 worth. According to Tether’s definition, Bitfinex is a secondary market.
Also, if you want to redeem tethers on Tether, you have to redeem a minimum of $100,000 worth at a time, and you can’t redeem more than once a week.
Further, if you live in the US, you have zero chance of ever redeeming your tethers for cash. Hoegner says that as of November 23, 2017, Tether ceased servicing customers in the US, and at this time, “no longer provides issues or redemption to any US customers.”
To summarize, if you are a US citizen holding a bag of tethers, Tether will give you nothing for them. If you acquired tether on Bitfinex or some other exchange, Tether owes you nothing. And if you don’t like that, too bad, because Tether also says in its terms that when you buy tethers, you waive any rights to “trial by jury or proceeding of any kind whatsoever.”
Has anyone been able to buy or redeem tether via Tether? Is there anyone out there who has ever done this? Would love to hear from you. https://t.co/Xi4HjSOUX2
If you are one of the lucky few who purchased $100,000 or more worth of tethers via Tether’s website—and you are not a US citizen—and would like to redeem 100,000 or more of them, you may or may not get actual dollars back any time soon.
In its terms of service, Tether says it “reserves the right to delay redemption or withdrawal” of tether in the event of illiquidity—meaning, if they don’t happen to have cash on hand today. The company also says that it reserves the right to pay you “in-kind redemption of securities and other assets” held in its reserves.
Basically, that equates to, you could get shares of iFinex (Bitfinex and Tether’s parent company) or LEO tokens (a new token Bitfinex recently created) or whatever is in the soup bowl that day. And you may end up with something that has as much real world value as horse manure—just not as good for the roses.
Update (May 27): This story has been updated to reflect that if you buy or redeem tethers from Tether, you have to buy or redeem a minimum of $100,000 worth.
Ernst & Young (EY) has issued a Trustee’s Preliminary Report for failed Canadian crypto exchange QuadrigaCX. Essentially, the message to Quadriga’s creditors is: Most of your money is gone, and we’ll probably never find it again.
According to the report—filed on May 1, and published on EY’s website on May 10—Quadriga owes a total of CA$215 million, but it only has about CA$29 million to distribute to its 76,319 affected users. (Earlier court docs estimated 115,000 affected users. Apparently, a more accurate count is now available.)
The lengthy 50-page report mainly rehashes what we already know. But it is worth a read—especially the first 14 pages, the rest is mostly appendixes—if you need a refresher on what has happened so far. I’ll try and summarize the important bits.
Three legal entities
The report addresses assets and debts for three legal entities: 0984750 BC Ltd (operating as QuadrigaCX) and parent companies Quadriga Fintech Solutions and Whiteside Capital Corporation. The breakdown gets a little confusing because some of the numbers overlap, but as of April 12:
0984750 BC Ltd—had CA$28,649,542 and owed CA$215,697,147.
Quadriga Fintech Solutions—had CA$254,180 and owed CA$214,873,113.
Whiteside Capital—had zero assets and owed CA$214,618,937.
Quadriga’s financial affairs are a total mess, and EY will probably never be able to sort everything out. “A complete and fulsome review of Quadriga’s financial affairs will take considerable time and effort to pursue and may not be possible or cost-effective to complete.” It is relying on unaudited information for this report.
Tracking down the funds
To note, Quadriga filed for creditor protection under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act, or CCAA, on February 5. It is currently transitioning into bankruptcy, a process that will be completed by June 28. EY is the court-appointed monitor in Quadriga’s CCAA procedures and the trustee in its bankruptcy procedures.
Costodian: the frozen bank accounts
Most of Quadriga’s cash on hand comes from third-party payment processor Costodian. In January 2018, Costodian’s bankfroze about CA$25.7 million in funds that Costodian was holding on behalf of Quadriga. Costodian later got the money back in the form of bank drafts, which it was unable to deposit because no bank would touch the funds. When Quadriga applied for creditor protection, Costodian signed over the drafts to EY, who worked with the Royal Bank of Canada to accept the drafts. EY put most of that money into a “disbursement account.”
Related to the Costodian bank drafts, there are CA$778,214 in disputed funds. Costodian claims it is entitled to unpaid processing fees. According to EY, “Quadriga takes the position that no additional fees are payable.” EY is working with Costodian’s lawyer to resolve the issue. If the parties can’t reach a compromise, they will return to court.
EY has put CA$720,000 of Quadriga’s money into a reserve account to address any final CCAA obligations. Any funds remaining in this account after the accountants and lawyers get paid will be transferred into Quadriga’s bankruptcy account. EY will include a final accounting of the CCAA’s administration in its final monitor’s report.
Hot wallet funds
Quadriga also held some crypto in its hot wallets. Those funds have been safely moved into offline cold wallet storage under EY’s control. The funds include approximately BTC 61.33, BCH 33.32, BTG 2.66, LTC, 851.73, ETH 960.36. In its report, EY estimates these funds are worth CA$500,000, but crypto prices fluctuate, so they are worth more now, and could be worth less in the future.
On February 6, before EY took control of the funds, Quadriga inadvertently sent 104 BTC from its hot wallets to its cold wallets. Those funds are as good as gone. Nobody can access Quadriga’s cold wallets, because only the company’s CEO Gerald Cotten held the keys, and he is dead.
Bulk bank drafts
Remember the photo of 1,004 checks sitting on a stovetop? Those were known as the “bulk drafts,” worth CA$5,838,125.92. The checks were written out to 1009926 B.C. Ltd., a “third-party” (I say that tongue in cheek) payment processor run by Aaron Vaithilingam, Quadriga’s former office manager. The company had dissolved, so it was impossible to cash the checks. They apparently just sat on a stove.
Here’s an example of Quadriga’s bookkeeping. These are apparently bank drafts. According to Chiasson they are now, “Off the stove.” pic.twitter.com/yvglesMHyM
EY re-instated 1009926 B.C. Ltd., and the checks were signed over and deposited into the disbursement account on April 18. (What a surprise forthis trader to learn the money was freshly sucked out of his bank account two years later!) EY held the money in the disbursement account for 30 days—in the event of any “bank recourse issues”—before sending it to Quadriga’s bankruptcy account.
Payment processors and other crypto exchanges
There is still a chance more Quadriga funds could be recovered. Quadriga money is still being held by several third-party payment processors, mainly BlackBanx (formerly WB21), which is allegedly holding CA$12 million of Quadriga funds. EY says it is continuing to work on the matter, but it doesn’t know how much it can recover.
EY is also investigating other crypto exchanges where Quadriga supposedly stored some of its crypto. The accounting firm notes, “many of the cryptocurrency exchanges have not cooperated with the monitor’s requests to date.” EY is going to keep after them, but says it may need to seek help from law enforcement.
Jennifer Robertson and all her properties
During the course of its investigations, EY learned that “Quadriga funds may have been used to acquire assets outside the corporate entity.” Cotten and his wife (now widow) Jennifer Robertson purchased a number of assets, including an airplane, a yacht and several properties. As a result, EY negotiated a voluntary preservation order on Robertson’s estate. EY says her assets may be worth CA$12 million.
Robertson herself is a secured creditor, after putting up a total of CA$490,000 in pre- and post-CCAA filing advances, according to EY’s report. (The money was needed initially to kick off the CCAA process.) EY anticipates the debt will be challenged. Of course it will!
Fintech and Whiteside
A few months back, EY learned about CA$254,180 that Quadriga had tucked away in a Canadian credit union and totally forgot about—it’s only money, after all. The account, which had been frozen since 2017, was held under Quadriga Fintech Solutions, but the money pertained to Quadriga’s (0984750 BC Ltd.’s) operations.
EY writes, “The estimated net realizable value of the account receivable from the Fintech Account is net of Fintech’s estimated bankruptcy administration costs.” Bankruptcy is apparently an expensive ordeal. As for Whiteside, it had no assets, so CA$25,000 was taken out of Quadriga’s disbursement account to fund its bankruptcy costs.
There are still questions as to what happened to CA$190 million of funds, mostly crypto, that has seemingly vanished from Quadriga. EY says it intends to file an investigative report by the end of June. Hopefully, that report will reveal more clues.
The price of bitcoin (BTC) is organically decided by traders—big ones, and only a few of them.
In the morning of May 17, the price of bitcoin did a nosedive, dropping from around $7,726 to $6,777 in about 20 minutes. The plunge was due to the actions of asingle large trader (a “whale”) putting up 5,000 BTC (worth about $40 million) on crypto exchange Bitstamp.
1/2: A large sell order was executed on our BTC/USD pair today, strongly impacting the order book. Our system behaved as designed, processing and fulfilling the client’s order as it was received.
The massive liquidation wiped out $250 million worth of long positions on BitMEX, a bitcoin derivatives exchange based in Hong Kong. (The BTC price it used bottomed at $6,469.15.) This, in turn, caused bitcoin’s price to plummet on other exchanges.
It’s hard not to view this as intentional price manipulation.
BitMEX relies on two exchanges—Bitstamp and Coinbase Pro—equally weighted, for its Bitcoin-US dollar price index. Bitstamp and Coinbase both have low trading volumes, which makes them particularly vulnerable to price manipulations. It is like rolling a bowling ball down an alley and there are only two pins. You just have to aim for one.
Dovey Wan, partner at crypto asset investment fund Primitive Ventures, was the first to spot the dump on Bitstamp. She tweeted, “As NO ONE will simply keep 5000 BTC on exchange, this is deliberately planned dump scheme, aka manipulation imo.”
Despite the hit, the price of bitcoin magically recovered. As of this moment, it is trading at around $7,300. Bitstamp has launched an investigation into the large trade.
Delay, delay, delay
In the wake of such blatant price manipulation, it is tough to imagine that the SEC will ever approve a bitcoin exchange-traded fund (EFT).
On May 14, the US regulator again delayed a decision to approve the Bitwise ETF proposal. The deadline for the SEC’s ruling on the VanEck bitcoin ETF is May 21, but I’m betting that will get pushed out again, too.
The New York Supreme Court has ordered Bitfinex to stop accessing Tether’s reserves for 90 days, except for normal business activities. The judge modified the New York Attorney General’s original order to ensure it does not restrict Tether’s “ordinary business activities.” Bitfinex played up the event as a “Victory! Yay, we won!” sort of thing, but the NYAG’s investigation is ongoing, and the companies still have to hand over documents.
Traders clearly don’t have much confidence in Bitfinex at the moment. Amidst the regulatory drama swirling around Bitfinex and Tether, they are moving a “scary” amount of bitcoin off the exchange.
A scary amount of Bitcoin is being withdrawn from Bitfinex.
Meanwhile, Bitfinex is pinning its hopes on its new LEO token. Paolo Ardoino, the company’s CTO, tweeted that Bitfinex raised $1 billion worth of tethers—not actual dollars, mind you, but tethers—in aprivate sale of its new token LEO. Bitfinex has yet to disclose who actually bought the tokens, but I’m sure they are totally real people.
Bitfinex announced that on Monday, May 20, it will begin trading LEO in pairs with BTC, USD, USDT, EOS, and ETH. It will be interesting to see if traders actually buy the token. US citizens are not allowed to trade LEO.
After freezing deposits and withdrawals for a week following its hack, Binance opened up withdrawals again on May 15. Traders are now free to move their funds off the exchange.
Binance is looking to create utility around its BNB token. The exchange burned all of its Ethereum-based BNB tokens and replaced them with BEP2 tokens—the native token of Binance Chain. The cold wallet address is here.
After the breach, the exchange was closed from January until March 4, when it relaunched in a read-only format. Ten days later, traders woke up to a message on the exchange’s website that read, “Don’t Panic! We are currently in maintenance. Thank you for your patience, and we apologize for the inconvenience.” Cryptopia closed permanently on May 15. Grant Thornton NZ, the company handling the liquidation, expects the process will take months.
In the US, regulatory uncertainty continues to plague exchanges. Boston-based Poloniex, which Circle acquired last year, says it will disable US markets for nine tokens (ARDR, BCN, DCR, GAME, GAS, LSK, NXT, OMNI, and REP). “It is not possible to be certain whether US regulators will consider these assets to be securities,” the exchange says.
Meanwhile, Coinbase is using the $300 million it raised in October to gobble up other companies. The San Francisco-based exchange is in talks to buy Hong Kong-based Xapo for $50 million. Xapo’s coveted product is a network of underground bitcoin cold storage vaults. The firm is rumored to have $5.5 billion worth of bitcoin tucked away in bunkers across five continents.
Elsewhere in Cryptoland
John McAfee has disappeared. “He was last seen leaving a prominent crypto person’s home via boat. He is separated from his wife at the moment. Sources are claiming that he is in federal custody,” says The Block founder Mike Dudas.
McAfee’s twitter account is now being operated by staff, who later denied he was in custody, posting pics of McAfee with his wife in their “new” backyard.
Decrypt’s Ben Munster wrote a hysterical piece on Dudas, who has a habit of apologizing post tweet. “He tweets like Elmer Fudd shoots his shotgun; from the hip, and nearly always in the foot.” The story describes Dudas as a real person with human foibles.
Bakkt says it’s moving forward with plans to launch a physically settled bitcoin futures product in July. The company does not have CFTC approval yet—instead, it plans to self-certify, after which time, the CFTC will have 10 days to yea or nay the offering.
Both CME and CBoe self-certified their bitcoin futures products as well. The difference is this: they offer cash equivalents to bitcoin upon a contract’s expiration. Bakkt wants to deliver actual bitcoin, which may give the CFTC pause.
The SEC has fined Alex Tapscott, co-author of the book “Blockchain Revolution,” and his investment firm NextBlock, $25,000 over securities violations. (Here is the order.) And the Ontario Securities Commission fined him $1 million.
In 2017, NextBlock raised $20 million to invest in blockchain and crypto companies. In raising the money, Tapscott falsely touted four blockchain bigwigs as advisors in slide decks. After being called out by then-Forbes writer Laura Shin, the company returned investors’ money. But the damage was done, and the SEC went after them anyway.
Tim Swanson pointed out that the the Stellar network went down for about two hours, and only those who run validator nodes noticed. Apparently, nobody actually cares about or uses the Stellar network.
According to a report by blockchain analysis startup Chainalysis, 376 Individuals own one third of all ether (ETH). Based on a breakdown of the Ethereum initial coin offering, which I wrote for The Block earlier this year, this comes as no surprise.
Robert-Jan den Haan, who has been researching Bitfinex and Tether since way back when, did a podcast interview with The Block on “What the heck is happening with Bitfinex.” If you are Bitfinex-obsessed like I am, it is worth listening to.
Apparently, kicking back at regulators is super costly and something you may want to consider before you launch a token that doesn’t have an actual use case. SEC negotiations have cost Kik $5 million, as the media startup tries to defend its KIN token.
Bitfinex will not be able to dip into Tether’s reserves for 90 days, except to maintain normal business activities, according to a New York judge. The crypto exchange must also “promptly” hand over documents to the New York Attorney General (NYAG).
On May 16, New York Supreme court judge Joel M. Cohen granted Bitfinex’s motion to modify a preliminary injunction obtained by the NYAG. The judge called the original ruling vague, over broad, and not preliminary, meaning it lacked a specified time limit. He also held that the Martin Act—New York’s powerful anti-fraud law—“does not provide a roving mandate to regulate commercial activity.”
Decision and order
NYAG’s original petition consisted of two parts: a directive to Bitfinex and Tether to “produce evidence,” and a preliminary injunction to ensure that the respondents maintain a status quo while the NYAG’s investigation is ongoing.
In his 18-page decision and order, the judge granted the directive—Bitfinex and Tether still have to surrender documents—and agreed to modify the preliminary injunction, so as not to restrict the companies’ “ordinary business activities” any more than necessary.
The modified injunction spells out the following:
Tether cannot loan, extend credit or transfer assets—outside of its ordinary course of business—that would result in Bitfinex having claims on its reserves.
(In an earlier letter to the court, iFinex, the parent company of Bitfinex and Tether, claims that Tether’s business model depends on it “making investments and asset purchases with the proceeds it derives from selling tethers.” Presumably, since this is an ordinary part of the company’s business, Tether can continue to invest its reserves, though it is not clear how it is investing the funds.)
Tether and Bitfinex cannot distribute or dividend any funds from Tether’s reserves to executives, employees, or agents of Bitfinex—except for payroll and normal payments to contractors and vendors.
The companies are barred from destroying or altering any documents and communications, including material called for by the NYAG’s 2018 investigative subpoenas.
If the NYAG wants to extend the 90-day injunction, two weeks before the injunction expires, it must submit a letter to the court. Bitfinex will then have seven days to submit a response. Based on that, the judge will decide whether to hold a hearing.
Victory, for now…
In apost on its website, Bitfinex revels in its victory. The exchange claims the NYAG sought the April 24 order “in bad faith” and vows to “vigorously defend” against the agency’s actions. Bitfinex adds that it remains committed to protecting its customers, its business, and its community against the NYAG’s “meritless claims.”
Most tether holders (the NYAG calls them “investors”) entered into their contracts under the assumption that tethers were fully backed. Each tether was supposedly worth $1—until late February, when Tether changed its terms withoutactually telling anyone.
Around the same time, Tether made a questionable loan to Bitfinex for $900 million. (Both companies are run by the same individuals, and the same people signed the agreement on either side.) Bitfinex has already dissipated $750 million of those funds. The remaining $150 million appear to be safe—at least for now.
To note, the investigation into whether Bitfinex violated the Martin Act is still ongoing. As a result of today’s ruling, Bitfinex still has to hand over documents and communications about its “business operations, relationships, customers, tax filings, and more.” The NYAG has been requesting those documents since November.
A transcript of the hearing is available here, courtesy of The Block.
Update (May 19): I updated this story to clarify that there were two parts to NYAG’s original order. Additionally, I noted that Tether can still invest its reserves.
Update (May 21): I added a link to the full transcript of the hearing.
Reginald Fowler, the ex-NFL owner arrested in connection with operating a “shadow bank” that processed hundreds of millions of dollars of unregulated transactions on behalf of crypto exchanges, is out on $5 million bail.
The U.S. Government previously argued that Fowler should be detained without bail. The government thought he was too much of a flight risk due to his overseas connections and access to bank accounts around the world. But for the time being, at least, Fowler is a free man, albeit, with restrictions.
Order and letter
The order setting conditions of release was filed with the District Court for the District of Arizona on May 9. A letter of motion, submitted by U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman and addressed to Judge Andrew Carter of the District Court of Southern New York, was entered on May 8.
Copies of the letter went to James McGovern and Michael Hefter, partners at law firm Hogan Lovells in New York. Presumably, these are Fowler’s defense attorneys. Fowler’s arraignment is set for 4:30 p.m. on May 15 at the Southern District Court of New York.
Fowler was arrested in Arizona on April 30. The bond is being posted in New York, because the District of Arizona does not include secured bonds in bail packages.
According to conditions set forth in the bond, Fowler cannot travel outside of the Southern District of New York, the Eastern District of New York, and Arizona. He also had to surrender his travel documents and his passport.
The properties and the wealthy friends
Fowler’s $5 million personal recognizance bond is secured by two unnamed “financially responsible” co-signers and the following properties:
3965 Bayamon Street, Las Vegas, Nevada
8337 Brittany Harbor Drive, Las Vegas, Nevada
4670 Slippery Rock Drive, Fort Worth, Texas
4417 Chaparral Creek Drive, Fort Worth, Texas
8821 Friendswood Drive, Fort Worth, Texas
A quick look on Zillow indicates the properties are cheap investment houses, worth perhaps $1.5 million in total, if that. This would mean that the additional $3.5 million is secured by Fowler’s wealthy friends, whoever they are.
The LLC on the five properties is Eligibility LLC, 4939 Ray Road, #4-349 Chandler, Arizona 85226. The mailing address points to a UPS store, so it is basically a P.O. Box.
Global Trading Solutions LLC, a company linked to Fowler’s shadow banking operation, had the same mailing address for a time, but the address was later changed.
On April 11, Fowler and Ravid Yosef, an Israeli woman who lived in Los Angeles and is still at large, were indicted on charges of bank fraud. Fowler was also charged with operating an unlicensed money services business.
Fowler’s company—or one of his companies—was Global Trading Solutions LLC, which provided services for Global Trade Solutions AG, the Switzerland-based parent company of Crypto Capital Corp.
Cryptocurrency exchanges used Crypto Capital as an intermediary to wire cash to their customers. The firm is allegedly withholding $851 million on behalf of Bitfinex, a crypto exchange that is currently being sued by the New York Attorney General.
# # #
Thanks to Nic Weaver for locating the court documents. He spends his beer money on PACER, so you don’t have to.
A lot is going on in cryptoland right now—most of it involves investigations, a New York Attorney General (NYAG) lawsuit and missing funds, but I don’t want to sound negative.
The destiny of all crypto exchanges is to be hacked, apparently. Last year, thieves stole $950 million worth of cryptocurrency from exchanges. So, in many ways, it’s not surprising to hear that Binance, the largest crypto exchange by volume, got hacked a second time.
Binance, all funds SAFU
Thieves looted more than 7,000 BTC from Binance in a single transaction. The hackers, however, are not free yet! They still need to move that $41 million worth of BTC into fiat, a feat that typically requires layering funds into smaller and smaller amounts (generally using a script of some sort), moving it through coin mixers, and then funneling it through various exchanges until they can exit into cash.
Thanks to blockchain, we can watch this money laundering happen real time. The first transaction out of Binance consisted of of 44 outputs. The hackers have since consolidated the bitcoin into seven addresses of mostly amounts. Now we wait.
For the first time in history, we can watch money laundering in real time. I can't think of anything more exciting. https://t.co/m9KVdtCO9U
After the hack, Binance suspended all deposits and withdrawals for seven days. Traders on the platform can’t dump their bitcoin—or their tether. If bitcoin were to crash, they would be trapped. Fortunately, bitcoin is not crashing—it’s pumping. As I write, bitcoin is now at $6,800, having shot up $1,000 within a week.
According to one expert, the boost is partially due to “a rare alignment of celestial bodies forged in an ancient supernova”—thus, number go up. Makes total sense to me.
Binance says it has an insurance policy—its SAFU fund—to cover losses on the exchange. Nobody knows for certain what is in that fund, because there has never been an outside audit, but Binance’s CEO CZ says they have enough bitcoin to cover the losses. Phew!
In a recent blog post, CZ also said the exchange is revamping its security measures, including its 2FA, API and withdrawal validation processes. Also, withdrawals and deposits should resume “early next week.”
Bitfinex’s legal woes
If you need to get up to speed with the Bitfinex and Tether saga, I covered the NYAG lawsuit in my previous newsletter. Robert-Jan den Haan also wrote a complete timeline of Bitfinex’s history with its third-party payment processor Crypto Capital.
We have podcasts, too. I discuss the Bitfinex drama with Sasha Hodder on HodlCast, and Robert talks about it with Laura Shin on her Unconfirmed podcast.
In response to the NYAG’s court order, Bitfinex submitted a motion to vacate. The NYAG filed an opposition, and Bitfinex responded. At a hearing on May 6, New York Supreme Court judge Joel M. Cohen called the preliminary injunction “amorphous and endless.” The prelim will stand, but he is giving both parties a week to sort it out.
Bitcoin was selling at a 6% premium on Bitfinex—a sign that traders are willing to pay more to get rid of their tether and get their funds off the exchange. The price of bitcoin on the exchange was so off-kilter that CoinMarketCap, a website that aggregates bitcoin pricing from top exchanges, stopped pulling from Bitfinex.
The Bitfinex premium disappeared when Binance halted withdrawals on its platform, Larry Cermak doubts it has anything to do with Binance though. He thinks it’s because Bitfinex started processing cash withdrawals again.
Twitter user “Bitfinex’ed,” disagrees. When bitcoins and tethers are stuck on Binance, that effectively reduces the supply and makes it that much easier to pump the market, he told me. He think prices will crash when Binance reopens withdrawals.
“I am lion, hear me roar”
Bitfinex has a $851 million shortfall due to issues with Crypto Capital. How is it going to fix that? Here is an idea: Why not just print more money?
The exchange’s latest plan is a token sale, or exchange traded offering (ETO), on its own platform. It will be selling a new token LEO—as in lion.
Earlier this week, iFinex, the parent company of Bitfinex, released a white paper outlining the business proposition behind the token offering. Each LEO is worth 1 USDT, which is worth $1 USD. This is not the first time Bitfinex has issued a new token to pull itself out of a financial mess. (It created a BFX token after it was hacked in 2016.)
Bitfinex shareholder Dong Zhao told CoinDesk that iFinex has received hard and soft commitments of $1 billion for the token sale. Perfect. That should definitely eleviate all of Bitfinex’s money problems.
Ernst & Young, the trustee for failed Canadian crypto exchange QuadrigaCX, released a preliminary report describing the company’s assets and liabilities. In a nut, Quadriga has US$21 million in assets, but owes creditors US$160 million.
Recently, Negocie Coins, a crypto exchange that you probably have never heard of, rose to number three on CoinMarketCap’s top exchange’s list sorted by volume. How is this even possible? Clay Collins, founder of market data company Nomics, made a video, explaining how crypto exchanges use ticker stuffing and volume spamming to game the system.
The FinCEN document has far reaching implications, such as, it appears Lightning Network (LN) operators qualify as money transmitters. Emin Gün Sirer says he is not surprised “given how similar LN is to hawala networks, and given the role hawala networks played in financing terrorism pre-9/11.”
To my reading, the document qualifies every LN operator as an MSB. Given how similar LN is to hawala networks, and given the role hawala networks played in financing terrorism pre-9/11, this is not surprising, but it's at odds with the community's expectations.
The US banking committee is concerned about Facebook’s attempt at a cryptocurrency—Facebook coin—and how the social media giant is treating people’s’ financial information. It’s published an open letter with questions for Facebook.
Part that stood out most to me? This line: "Last year, Facebook asked U.S. banks to share detailed financial information about consumers."
Redditor u/BioBiro, who needed to acquire bitcoin for a totally legal purchase, complains about the rigamarole he had to go through. Among other things, “Now there’s two pictures of me and my driving license on their server for the rest of time, I guess.”
Consensus, CoinDesk’s big money maker conference, kicks off in New York next week. Last year it had 8,500 attendees, pulling in ~$17 million in ticket sales—and that’s before sponsorships. Arthur Hayes, CEO of bitcoin derivative exchange BitMEX, was one of several who rolled up to New York Hilton Midtown in a lambo.
Binance, the world’s largest crypto exchange by volume, and the world’s largest tether exchange, has been hacked.
The hackers drained the exchange’s hot wallets, taking 7,000 bitcoin, worth approximately $41 million, in a single transaction. The hack only amounted to 2% of the exchange’s total holdings. Everything else was in its offline cold wallets.
“All of our other wallets are secure and unharmed,” Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao (aka “CZ”) wrote in a blog post on Wednesday morning, May 8, Asia time.
The stolen funds are visible in this transaction. Hours before the announcement, the exchange said it was undergoing maintenance.
CZ explained the hackers were able to obtain a large number of user API keys, two-factor authentication (2FA) codes, and “potentially other info.”
To pull off the heist, hackers used a variety of techniques, including phishing, viruses and other attacks. “We are still concluding all possible methods used,” CZ said. “There may also be additional affected accounts that have not been identified yet.”
In the meantime, Binance has suspended all customer deposits and withdrawals, but trades will continue. “Please also understand that the hackers may still control certain user accounts and may use those to influence prices,” CZ noted.
He explained that the the hackers had the patience to wait, and execute well-orchestrated actions through “multiple seemingly independent accounts at the most opportune time.”
The exchange will use its Secure Asset Fund for Users (SAFU) to cover the losses.In mid-2018, after an earlier hack, Binance began to allocate 10% of all trading fees received into the fund, as a way to insure against extreme losses.
After being up for 29 hours, an exhausted CZ did a 37-minute Periscope stream to answer questions about the hack. “It’s one of those days,” he said. “Yeah, it’s been rough.”
At this point, few details of the incident are public—and speculation is rampant.
It appears the hackers were able to drain the exchange’s hot wallets without a manual authorization. Typically, large outbound transfers (often over 100 BTC) need to be manually vetted. For instance, crypto exchange Liquid, based in Tokyo,keeps 100% of its funds in cold storage and manually processes all withdrawals. It is a slower process for getting funds off an exchange, but more secure.
Cornell University professor and blockchain researcher Emin Gün Sirer thinks the Binance hackers knew the per-account limits, and used multiple compromised accounts to withdraw the entire hot wallet. “This shows how difficult it is to build secure services with our current coin infrastructure,” he told me.
Gün was amazed at Binance’s decision to keep trading even though it doesn’t know the full extent of the hack or how many accounts were affected.
As he explained, “They know some 2FA has been compromised, but they don’t know which customer accounts are compromised—yet they enable trading.” In other words, someone could carry out risky trades in the next week, and if the trades lose money, they could say that their 2FA was compromised and the trades were unauthorized.
“Continuing to trade in an unknown scenario opens them up to unlimited legal risk,” he tweeted. “This is ballsy beyond belief.”
Binance is freezing withdrawals for a week—that means 188,000 Bitcoin are stuck on the platform—a move that could create an artificially restricted supply.
You can’t withdraw bitcoin off the exchange, but Binance itself—and insiders—can. This could allow a privileged few to take advantage of price differentials on other exchanges.
“If you want to sell a lot of bitcoins onto the market, and capture as much liquidity as possible, you want to be the only one selling,” Twitter user Bitfinex’ed told me. “You don’t want other people selling to the same orders you want to sell to. Binance freezing withdrawals means those people are stuck there and can’t sell for real money.”
Freezing deposits can be lucrative. Those with coins on the exchange can often sell them at inflated rates due to artificially restricted supply.
This isn’t the first time Binance has been hacked. It experienced another sophisticated hack in July 2018, where oddly enough, 7,000 BTC—the same amount of bitcoin as this recent hack—was also withdrawn and resulted in an “emergency maintenance.”
The earlier attack went something like this:
Syscoin (SYS)—a minor altcoin with a low volume and small order book — was hit by a hack caused by a bug in its wallet. The attackers then sent the ill-gotten SYS coins to Binance, where they created a torrent of buy orders via the Binance API. This pushed the price of SYS as high as 96 BTC, at one point. The hackers then withdrew the bitcoin, prompting Binance to cease trading and to reset all of its APIs.
The incident is what prompted Binance to create its SAFU insurance fund, which at the time, contained only Binance’s own BNB on-exchange token. Those who suffered a loss as a result of the hack, were compensated in BNB. It is not clear, however, if that will be the case this time. CZ says he has enough bitcoin to cover the loss.
It is entirely possible the same hackers who pulled off this earlier hack were also the ones behind the recent hack. If so, who were they?
Another source I spoke to—who did not want his identity revealed—said the recent hack has all the hallmarks of a sophisticated, multi-pronged attack that might be more the work of nation-state elements rather than your typical “lone hacker.”
He speculated that it was possible this was the work of APT 38, a covert cybercrime cell that specializes in financial institutions, and more recently, cryptocurrencies, to prop up North Korea’s economy.
The group, according to cybersecurity firm FireEye, doesn’t operate by a quick smash-and-grab strategy typical of day-to-day cybercriminals, but with the patience and precision of a nation-state threat actor that has the time and tools to sit and wait for the perfect moment to launch an attack.
“APT 38 operators put significant effort into understanding their environments and ensuring successful deployment of tools against targeted systems,” FireEye experts wrote in a report. “The group has demonstrated a desire to maintain access to a victim environment for as long as necessary to understand the network layout, necessary permissions, and system technologies to achieve its goals.”
The Binance investigation is ongoing. I’ll update this post as more information surfaces
Bitfinex has filed yet another rebuke to the New York Attorney General’s ex parte court order.
The April 24 order basically tells Bitfinex to submit documents and stop dipping into Tether’s reserves, which it has done, so far, to the tune of $750 million.
Bitfinex filed a motion to vacate or modify the order on May 3. On Friday, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) opposed the motion. And on Sunday, Bitfinex filed a response to the opposition. The reply memorandum in further support of the motion to vacate or modify the order was filed by law firms Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP and Steptoe & Johnson LLP.
In the memo, Bitfinex argues that “nothing in the Attorney General’s opposition papers justifies the ex parte order having been issued in the first place.” It lists a bunch of reasons for this—essentially, a lot of “buts,” which equate to Bitfinex saying, “It wasn’t me, you can’t prove it, and anyway, nobody was harmed by the thing I totally didn’t do.”
Here is a summary—also, I am not a lawyer.
But, tethers are not a securities!
The OAG claims Bitfinex violated the Martin Act, New York’s anti-fraud law, which grants the agency expansive powers to conduct investigations of securities fraud.
Bitfinex argues that the OAG did not even try to explain how tethers (the dollar-backed coins issued by Bitfinex’s affiliate Tether) qualify as securities or commodities in the first place. In its opposition, this is what the OAG did say, in a footnote:
“The Motion to Vacate wrongly suggests that an eventual Martin Act claim stands or falls on whether ‘tethers’ are securities or commodities. It does not. The Bitfinex trading platform transacts in both securities and commodities (like bitcoin), and is of course at the core of the fraudulent conduct set forth in OAG’s application.”
This looks like an attempt by Bitfinex to pull the OAG into the weeds, and the OAG is not going there. The fact that Bitfinex does trade in securities and commodities (the CFTC considers bitcoin a commodity, and the SEC considers most ICO tokens to be securities) is enough to bring Bitfinex under the OAG’s purview. ‘Nuff said.
But, this is so disruptive!
The ex parte order is “hugely disruptive,” says Bitfinex, because it freezes $2.1 billion of Tether reserves—what’s currently left to back the 2.8 billion tethers in circulation—prohibiting any investment of any kind, for the indefinite future.
In other words, Bitfinex feels like it can do whatever it wants with the cash that tether holders gave it for safe keeping. Tether works like an I.O.U., which means Bitfinex is supposed to hold onto that money for redemptions only.
The big reason Bitfinex wants to bend the rules here is that it is desperate for cash to stay in operation. If it can’t get that cash from somewhere, the exchange is potentially in danger of running aground, or getting into even more trouble with regulators. At this point, Bitfinex is even trying to raise $1 billion in a token offering.
But, we didn’t do anything wrong!
Bitfinex argues it has not committed fraud. It has taken hundreds of millions out of Tether’s reserves, but that is okay, because it updated Tether’s terms of service to make it clear that reserves could include loans to affiliates. What’s more, Bitfinex says it updated the terms before it drew a line of credit from Tether for $900 million.
(It has so far dissipated $750 million of that loan—which was signed by the same people on either side of the transaction—with access to another $150 million.)
In its memo, Bitfinex says:
“This disclosure gave anyone holding or considering buying tether the opportunity to take their money elsewhere if they chose, defeating any allegations of fraud.”
In fact, Tether did update its terms of service on its website on February 26, 2019, but it did so silently. It was not until two weeks later, when someone inadvertently stumbled upon the change, that the news became public. In contrast, a bank would totally be expected to reveal such a move—at the very least, to its regulators.
The OAG also claims that in mid-2018, Bitfinex failed to disclose the loss of $851 million related to Crypto Capital, an intermediary that the exchange was using to wire money to its customers. Bitfinex argues that, as a private company, it had “no duty to disclose its internal financial matters to customers.”
If Bitfinex were to go belly up all of a sudden, traders could potentially be out of their funds, but apparently, that is none of their business. Also, Bitfinex went beyond not disclosing the loss. It even lied about it, telling its customers that rumors of its insolvency were a “targeted campaign based on nothing but fiction.”
The OAG’s opposition to Bitfinex’s move to vacate, literally has an entire section (see “Background”) that basically says, “We’ve caught these guys lying repeatedly, here are the lies,” which Bitfinex does not even address in its memo.
But, nobody has been harmed!
The OAG’s job is to protect the public, but Bitfinex says “there has been no harm to tether holders supposedly being defrauded, much less harm that is either ongoing or irreparable.” Particularly now, it says, after it made the details of its credit transaction—the one where it borrowed $900 million from Tether—fully public.
“Holders of tether are doing so with eyes wide open,” Bitfinex says. “They may redeem at any time, and Tether has ample assets to honor those requests.”
Ample assets, that is, as long as everybody doesn’t ask for their money back all at once. Bitfinex’s general counsel Stuart Hoegner already stated in his affidavit, which accompanied the company’s move to vacate, that tethers are only 74% backed.
Tether’s operation fits the definition of afractional reserve system, which is what banks do, which is why banks have a lot of rules and also backing and deposit insurance.
But, “the balance of equities favors Bitfinex and Tether!”
Bitfinex and Tether would be fine, if the OAG would just go away. The agency is doing more harm than good, Bitfinex argues.
The exchange argues that a preliminary injunction would not protect anyone, but would instead cause “great disruption” to Bitfinex and Tether—”ultimately to the detriment of market participants on whose behalf the attorney general purports to be acting.”
It maintains that it needs access to Tether’s holdings because it needs the “liquidity for normal operations.” That is, Bitfinex admits it does not have enough cash on hand, without dipping into the reserves.
But, what’s good for Bitfinex is good for Tether. “For its part, Tether has a keen interest in ensuring that Bitfinex, as a dominant platform for Tether’s products and known affiliate, can operate as normal,” the company says.
Besides, the OAG has no business “attempting to dictate how two private companies may deal with one another and deploy their funds,” says Bitfinex.
It maintains the OAG’s actions have actually done harm. In the weeks leading up the order, the crypto market was rallying after an extended downturn. In its court document, Bitfinex writes:
“This rally was halted by this case, which resulted in an approximate loss of $10 billion across dozens of cryptocurrencies in one hour of the April 24, 2019 order becoming public.”
Not only that, but Bitfinex itself was harmed by the publicity brought on by the OAG’s lawsuit. The exchange says the balance of it cold wallets “have fallen sharply, an indication that customers have been drawing down their holdings.”
It is likely that Bitfinex is going to have to surrender the documents the OAG is asking for at some point—and that may be what it is trying to avoid. Its attempts to vacate the OAG’s order appears to be an effort to buy time, while it scrambles to figure out how to come up with the nearly $1 billion it needs to stay afloat—a token sale may be just the thing.
On May 6, New York Supreme Court judge Joel M. Cohen ruled that the OAG’s ex parte order should remain in effect, at least in part. However, he thinks the injunction is “amorphous and endless.” He gives the two parties a week to work out a compromise and submit new proposals for what the scope of the injunction should be.
On May 13, iFinex, the parent company of Bitfinex and Tether, submitted this letter and this proposed order to the court. Among other things, iFinex is asking for a 45-day limit on the injunction and to replace three paragraphs—one of which would allow Tether employees to get paid using Tether’s reserves.
For its part, the OAG submitted this letter and this proposed order. The OAG is not opposed to Tether’s employees being paid, but it wants Tether to to pay its employees using transaction fees—not reserves.
Bitfinex was not happy with the New York Attorney General’s April 24 ex parte court order, which demanded that the crypto exchange stop dipping into Tether’s cash reserves and hand over documents that were requested in November 2018. It struck back with a strongly worded motion to vacate, or overturn the order.
On May 3, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) submitted an opposition to that motion. The agency argues that Bitfinex violated the Martin Act, New York’s anti-fraud law, widely considered the most severe blue sky law in the country.
Legally, Tether and Bitfinex are separate entities, but they are managed by the same individuals. To note, the OAG’s order does not prohibit Bitfinex from operating. Nor does it prohibit Tether from issuing or redeeming tethers (USDT) for U.S. dollars.
The order simply prohibits Bitfinex from helping itself to anymore of Tether’s funds. This, of course, poses a problem for Bitfinex, because it desperately needs cash to stay afloat. (It’s latest effort to fill the gap is a token sale, but that is another matter.)
There are currently 2.8 billion USDT in circulation, and each of them is supposed to be backed 1:1 with the dollar, but as of now, they are only 74% backed.
The alleged fraud
The OAG began investigating Bitfinex late last year. If there is any question as to how Bitfinex allegedly committed fraud and misled its customers, the OAG spells that out clearly in its memorandum. I’m paraphrasing some this.
Bitfinex failed to disclose to its clients that it had lost $851 million of “wrongfully commingled” client and corporate funds to Crypto Capital, an overseas entity, which it used as an intermediary to wire US dollars to traders on its platform.
Bitfinex knew in mid-to-late 2018 that Crypto Capital’s inability—or unwillingness—to return the funds meant it would have problems filling out client requests to withdraw cash off the exchange. Nevertheless, it told the public that rumors of insolvency were a “targeted campaign based on nothing but fiction.”
In November 2018, Bitfinex tried to cover up the loss by moving (at least) $625 million from Tether’s legitimate bank account into Bitfinex’s account. In return, Bitfinex “credited” $625 million to Tether’s accounts with Crypto Capital. OAG says the credit was “illusory,” because the money at Crypto Capital was lost or inaccessible.
(In its motion to vacate, the OAG notes that Bitfinex contradicted itself by saying the “credit” Bitfinex gave to Tether was $675 million—a $50 million discrepancy.)
Bitfinex later shifted to a new strategy. It engaged in “an undisclosed and conflicted transaction” to let Bitfinex dip even further into Tether’s reserves. The exchange took out a $900 million loan from Tether, secured by shares of iFinex—the parent company of both Tether and Bitfinex. OAG says there is little reason to believe the iFinex shares have any real value, especially in the event iFinex itself defaults.
In March 2019, $900 million represented almost half Tether’s available reserves at the time, but Bitfinex and Tether did not disclose this to its customers. In fact, up until February 2019, Tether telling its customers that USDT was fully backed. Bitfinex told the OAG that it has already dissipated $750 million of Tether’s funds.
Bitfinex demonstrates “a pattern of undisclosed, conflicted, and deceptive conduct” that its customers would “find material, and indeed, essential to buying tethers and trading assets, like bitcoin, on the Bitfinex platform,” the OAG said.
In its motion to vacate, Bitfinex argues that the Martin Act stands or falls on whether tethers are securities or commodities. It does not, the OAG says. In fact:
“The Bitfinex trading platform transacts in both securities and commodities (like bitcoin) and is of course at the core of the fraudulent conduct set forth in the OAG’s application.”
The OAG points to other events that underscore the need to maintain the status quo.
Since the original order, two individuals, Reginald Fowler and Ravid Yosef, were charged with bank fraud in connection with their operation of a “shadow bank.” Fowler was arrested on April 30, while Yosef is still at large.
The operation processed hundreds of millions of dollars of unregulated transactions on behalf of numerous cryptocurrency exchanges and associated entities—“several of which,” the OAG says, are at the center of its own investigation.
This appears to indicate the OAG’s is looking into other exchanges, which makes sense, given it sent out a questionnaire to more than a dozen cryptocurrency exchanges in April 2018, requesting they disclose key information about their operations.
While the OAG does not specifically state that the “shadow bank” is Crypto Capital, it points to the Memorandum in Support of Detention of Fowler, which said that companies associated with Fowler “failed to return $851 million to a client of the Defendant’s shadow bank.”
There is so much going on now with Bitfinex. My eyes are burning and my head hurts from reading piles of court docs. Here is a rundown of all the latest—and then some.
The New York Attorney General (NYAG) is suing Bitfinex and Tether, saying tethers (USDT) are not fully backed—after $850 million funneled through third-party payment processor Crypto Capital has gone missing.
It’s still not clear where all that money went. Bitfinex says the funds were “seized and safeguarded” by government authorities in Portugal, Poland and the U.S. The NYAG says the money was lost. It wants Bitfinex to stop dipping into Tether’s reserves and to handover a mountain of documents.
In response to the NYAG’s ex parte order, Tether general counsel Stuart Hoegner filed an affidavitaccompanied by a motion to vacate from outside counsel Zoe Phillips of Morgan Lewis. Hoegner admits $2.8 billion worth of tethers are only 74% backed, but claims “Tether is not at risk.” Morgan says New York has no jurisdiction over Tether or Bitfinex. Meanwhile, the NYAG has filed an opposition. It wants Bitfinex to stop messing around.
Bitfinex: No one is willing to audit us because they don't want to damage their reputation by auditing us! Asymmetric risk!
New York Attorney General: We'll audit you! For free! Bitfinex: NOT LIKE THIS! New York Attorney General: Send documents. Bitfinex: NO GOD PLEASE NO!
Football businessman Reggie Fowler and “co-conspirator” Ravid Yosef were charged with running a “shadow banking” service for crypto exchanges. This all loops back to Crypto Capital, which Bitfinex and Tether were using to solve their banking woes.
In an odd twist, the cryptocurrency saga is crossing over into the sports world. Fowler was the original main investor in the Alliance of American Football (AAF), an attempt to create a new football league. The league filed for bankruptcy last month—after Fowler was unable to deliver, because the DoJ had frozen his bank accounts last fall.
The US government thinks Fowler is a flight risk and wants him held without bail. The FBI has also found a “Master US Workbook,” detailing the operations of a massive “cryptocurrency scheme.” They found it with email subpoenas, which sounds like it was being kept on a Google Drive?
Yosef is still at large. She appears to have split her time between Tel Aviv and Los Angeles. This is her LinkedIn profile. She works as a relationship coach and looks to be the sister of Crypto Capital’s Oz Yosef (aka “Ozzie Joseph”), who was likely the “Oz” chatting with “Merlin” documented in NYAG’s suit against Bitfinex.
All eyes are on Tether right now. Bloomberg reveals the Commodity and Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) has been investigating whether Tether actually had a stockpile of cash to support the currency. The DoJ is also looking into issues raised by the NYAG.
Meanwhile, bitcoin is selling for a $300 to $400 premium on Bitfinex — a sign that traders are willing to pay more for bitcoin, so they can dump their tethers and get their funds off the exchange. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this sort of thing. Bitcoin sold at a premium on Mt. Gox and QuadrigaCX before those exchanges collapsed.
Bitfinex is still in the ring, but it needs cash. The exchange is now trying to cover its Tether shortfalls by raising money via—of all things—a token sale. It plans to raise $1 billion in an initial exchange offering (IEO) by selling its LEO token. CoinDesk wrote a story on it, and even linked to my Tether timeline.
It's funny because LEO also means law enforcement organization
Tether wants to move tethers from Omni to the Tron blockchain. Tron planned to offer a 20% incentive to Omni USDT holders to convert to Tron USDT on Huobi and OkEx exchanges. But given the “recent news” about Bitfinex and Tether, it is delaying the rewards program.
Coinbase is bidding adieu to yet another executive. Earn.com founder Balaji Srinivasan, who served as the exchange’s CTO for a year, is leaving. It looks like his departure comes after he served the minimum agreed period with Coinbase.
Elsewhere, BreakerMag is shutting down. The crypto publication had a lot of good stories in its short life, including this unforgettable one by Laurie Penny, who survived a bitcoin cruise to tell about it. David Gerard wrote an obituary for the magazine.
The Los Angeles Ballet is suing MovieCoin, accusing the film finance startup of trying to pay a $200,000 pledge in worthless tokens—you can’t run a ballet on shit coins.
Police in Germany and Finland have shut down two dark markets, Wall Street Market and Valhalla. And a mystery Git ransomware is wiping Git repository commits and replacing them with a ransom note demanding Bitcoin, as this Redditor details.
The U.S. government wants a football businessman linked to an investigation into $850 million of missing Tether and Bitfinex funds to be held without bail.
According to a memorandum in support of detention filed with the District Court of Arizona on May 1, Reginald Fowler poses a serious flight risk due to his overseas connections and access to hundreds of millions of dollars.
The court doc also presents startling new twists in an already tangled plot—a “Master US Workbook,” which details the financial operations of the “cryptocurrency scheme,” fake bond certificates worth billions of dollars, and a counterfeit money operation.
Fowler, 60, is a football businessman. He was a former co-owner of the Minnesota Vikings and the original main investor in the Alliance of American Football (AAF)—an attempt to form a new football league. The AAF collapsed when Fowler withdrew funding—after the Department of Justice froze his bank accounts in late 2018.
I did a search on Pacer and got a number of hits showing Fowler has been in and out of courts for years. In fact, in 2005, ESPN reported that he had been sued 36 times.
Most recently, Fowler was charged with bank fraud and operating an unlicensed money services business (MSB). These crimes relate to his alleged involvement in a “shadow bank” on behalf of cryptocurrency exchanges, in which hundreds of millions of dollars passed through accounts that he controlled in jurisdictions around the world.
Fowler operated Global Trading Solutions LLC in the US, which provided services for Global Trade Solutions AG, the Zug, Switzerland-based parent company of Crypto Capital Corp, a third-party payment processor. At one time or another, Crypto Capital serviced QuadrigaCX, Bitfinex, Kraken, Binance, and BitMEX—some of the top crypto exchanges.
In October and November 2018, five US bank accounts were frozen—three of them were Fowler’s personal accounts and two were held under Global Trading Solutions. On April 11, Fowler was indicted in the Southern District of New York. And on April 30, he was arrested in Chandler, Arizona, where he lives.
Fowler is looking at spending the rest of his life in prison—the bank fraud counts alone carry a maximum sentence of 30 years.
The cryptocurrency scheme was not limited to the US. Fowler set up bank accounts around the world and coordinated the scheme with co-conspirators in Israel, Switzerland, and Canada. The scheme involves a “staggering amount of money,” and the government believes that Fowler still has access to overseas bank accounts.
Master US Workbook
Even more revealing, via email search warrants, the government has obtained a document entitled “Master US Workbook,” which details the operations of the scheme. The workbook lists 60 bank accounts. It shows the scheme received over $740 million in 2018 alone. As of January 2019, the combined bank balance was $345 million. Approximately $50 million is held in US accounts. The rest is located overseas.
Apparently, Fowler had “shown a willingness to help himself to these funds in the past.” In mid-2018, he sent $60 million from scheme accounts to his personal bank accounts. Scheme members set up a “10% fund” from client deposits, available for his personal use. The government does not know the location of those accounts.
After Fowler’s bank accounts were seized in October 2018, he agreed to cooperate with FBI agents and keep the investigation confidential, which he did not do. When agents sent him emails, he would share those with other scheme members.
Other illegal activity
Fowler appears to have been involved with other illegal activities, such as wire fraud related to the 10% fund. He also tried to take out loans by presenting banks with fraudulent bond certificates worth billions of dollars.
Even more shocking, FBI agents also found evidence that Fowler was involved in a counterfeit money operation. They found $14,000 in fake bills consisting of sheets of $100 bills in a filing cabinet in his Chandler, Arizona office.
After examining the sheets, a special agent for the US Secret Service “determined that they were undergoing a process common in counterfeiting schemes to turn paper bills into passable currency. In fact, the FBI also recovered black carbon paper from the office, which is often used as part of this process for making believable counterfeit bills.”
According to an April 24 court filing, New York State Attorney General Letitia James has alleged that crypto exchange Bitfinex lost $850 million and then tried to pull the wool over people’s eyes by dipping into Tether’s reserves.
Tether issues a dollar-pegged stable coin of the same name. According to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG), Bitfinex has so far siphoned $700 million from Tether funds, meaning that tethers are not fully backed. Given that tether is an essential source of liquidity in the crypto markets—currently, there are 2.8 billion tethers in circulation—this is not good news for bitcoin.
I’ve updated my Bitfinex/Tether timeline to bring you up to speed on the full history of these companies’ past shenanigans. Bitfinex and Tether are operated by the same individuals, and their parent company is Hong-Kong based iFinex. I recommend reading the entire 23-page courtdocument. It reveals a lot about what has been going on under the covers at Tether/Bitfinex. I’ll try and summarize.
Bitfinex was allowing people from New York to trade on its platform. This is not supposed to happen. Effective August 8, 2015, any virtual currency company that wants to do business in New York State needs to have a BitLicense. This led the OAG to launch an investigation into Bitfinex and Tether in 2018.
Banking has been an ongoing struggle for Bitfinex since April 2017, when it was cut off by correspondent bank Wells Fargo and its main banks in Taiwan. At different periods, Bitfinex has turned to Puerto Rico’s Noble Bank, Bahamas’ Deltec Bank, and more recently, HSBC, through a private account with Global Trading Solutions LLC.
Meanwhile, Bitfinex and Tether have had to rely on third-party payment processors to handle customer fiat deposits and withdrawals—a fact that the companies have never been completely up front about.
Since 2014, Bitfinex has sent $1 billion through Panama-based Crypto Capital Corp. Bitfinex also told the OAG that it had used a number of other third-party payment processors, including “various companies owned by Bitfinex/Tether executives,” as well as other “friends of Bitfinex” — meaning human-being friends of Bitfinex employees willing to use their bank accounts to transfer money to Bitfinex clients.
This is basically Bitfinex setting up shell companies and playing cat and mouse with the banks—and it sounds an awful lot like what Canadian crypto exchange QuadrigaCX was doing before it went belly up in January. (Quadriga also used Crypto Capital, but the payment processor is not holding any Quadriga funds.)
By mid-2018 Bitfinex customers were complaining they were unable to withdraw fiat from the exchange. This is apparently because Crypto Capital, which held “all or almost all” of Bitfinex funds, failed to process customer withdrawal requests. Crypto Capital told Bitfinex that the reason the $851 million could not be returned was because the funds were seized by government authorities in Portugal, Poland and the U.S.
Bitfinex did not believe this explanation. “Based on statements made by counsel for Respondents to AG attorneys… Respondents do not believe Crypto Capital’s representations that the funds have been seized,” the court document states.
(This is not in the court docs, but this is the letter Crypto Capital shared with its customers in December 2018. Global Trade Solutions AG—not the same company as Global Trading Solutions LLC—is the parent company of Crypto Capital.)
In communication logs from April 2018 to early 2019 shared with the OAG, a senior Bitfinex executive “Merlin” repeatedly beseeched an individual at Crypto Capital, “Oz,” to return funds. Merlin writes: “Please understand, all this could be extremely dangerous for everybody, the entire crypto community. BTC could tank to below $1K if we don’t act quickly.” A Crypto Capital customer that asked not to be named told me that Merlin is Bitfinex CFO Giancarlo Devasini.
Borrowing money from Tether
Rather then admit it was insolvent, Bitfinex/Tether tried to cover up the problem. According to the court docs, in November 2018, Tether transferred $625 million in an account at Deltec in the Bahamas to Bitfinex. In return, Bitfinex caused $625 million to be transferred from an account at Crypto Capital to Tether’s Crypto Capital account.
Essentially, Bitfinex tries to create the money by doing a one-for-one transfer of real money at Deltec for funds that don’t actually exist at Crypto Capital. Once they realized that this was probably a terrible idea, they re-papered the transfer as a loan.
Bitfinex then borrowed $900 million from its Tether bank accounts. The loan is secured with shares in iFinex stock. In case you didn’t quite follow that, Bitfinex and Tether are basically the same company, so you can think of this as Bitfinex borrowing money from itself—and then backing the loan with shares of itself.
According to the OAG, “The transaction documents were signed on behalf of Bitfinex and Tether by the same two individuals.”
OAG is fed up with the nonsense. It has obtained a court order against iFinex. Under the court order, Bitfinex and Tether are to cease making any claim to the dollar reserves held by Tether. iFinex is also required to turn over documents and information, as the OAG continues its probe.
The court has also ordered that iFinex identify all New York and US customers of Bitfinex whose funds were provided to Crypto Capital and the amount of any outstanding funds—and provide a weekly report evidencing any issuance or redemption of tethers.
Bitfinex has issued a response (archive), stating that the OAG court filings “were written in bad faith and are riddled with false assertions.” It claims the $850 million are not lost but have been “seized and safeguarded.”
The exchange continues to deny any problem. It writes:
“Both Bitfinex and Tether are financially strong—full stop. And both Bitfinex and Tether are committed to fighting this gross overreach by the New York Attorney General’s office against companies that are good corporate citizens and strong supporters of law enforcement.”
What does this mean?
It means Bitfinex is in real trouble. The New York’s Attorney General is one of the most powerful in the nation. That should worry Bitfinex.
New York law allows the attorney general to seek restitution and damages. On top of that, there is also the Martin Act, a 1921 statute designed to protect investors. The Act vests the attorney general with wide-ranging enforcement powers. Under the Act, the attorney general can issue subpoenas to compel attendance of witnesses and production of documents. Those called in for questioning do not have a right to counsel.
The attorney general‘s decision to conduct an investigation is not reviewable by courts. As Stephen Palley, partner at Anderson Kill, points out, the iFinex action arises out of a Martin Act investigation and “Violations of the Martin Act can be civil and criminal.”
The Martin Act is a New York law that gives the N.Y. Attorney General very broad power to investigate securities fraud.
Violations of the Martin Act can be civil and criminal.
Finally, if $850 million is really missing, not just stuck somewhere, bitcoin is in real trouble, too. Tether could lose its peg and drop substantially below $1. Remarkably, tether’s peg seems to be holding steady now.
Since the news broke, the price of bitcoin has dropped several hundred dollars. A valiant effort is being made to pump the price back up, and it’s working, sort of—for now.
Previously, I wrote that Quadriga cofounders Michael Patryn and the now-deceased Gerald Cotten worked together for a period at Midas Gold, a digital currency exchanger that ran from 2008 until May 2013, when it was pulled offline. But it appears their connections stretch back even further.
According to data posted by Reddit user QCXINT, the two business partners appear to have been active on TalkGold, a popular forum for pushing high-yield investment programs, aka ponzis, as early as 2003. Likely, that is where they first met. Evidence also suggests the two were active on BlackHatWorld, a site for discussing dubious marketing strategies for websites. Cotten also appears to have been a ponzi operator himself.
This is a long post, so here is a quick summary of what’s ahead:
Cotten likely began promoting ponzis in his teens.
He was posting on TalkGold under the username “Sceptre.”
At the same time, Patryn posted on TalkGold as “Patryn.”
Patryn and Sceptre joined TalkGold in 2003, within months of each other.
Patryn also posted as “Patryn” on MoneyMakerGroup and BlackHatWorld.
Sceptre first appeared on BlackHatWorld in 2012, but then changed his profile name to “Murdoch1337.”
Sceptre posted as “Lucky-Invest” on TalkGold to promote a ponzi.
What is a high-yield investment program?
HYIP is just another way of saying ponzi. These schemes typically promise ridiculously high rates of returns. But behind the scenes, no real investment is taking place. The operator simply uses money coming in from new investors to pay off earlier ones, all the while skimming funds off the top for him/herself. When the supply of new investors runs dry, the scheme collapses. All ponzis collapse at some point.
Ponzis are nothing new. The name stems from Charles Ponzi, an Italian immigrant who defrauded tens of thousands of Bostonians out of $18 million in 1920. Ponzi went to jail, and when he got out, the U.S. promptly deported him back to Italy. New York financier Bernie Madoff ran a $65 billion ponzi, the largest in history. His ponzi fell apart during the financial crisis when too many customers started trying to pull their money out. He was convicted in 2008.
In the early 2000s, the Internet and the advent of early centralized digital currencies, like E-gold and Liberty Reserve, saw a new wave of ponzis. Operators anonymously set up their storefronts online and used e-currencies to obscure the source and flow of funds.
HYIP operators typically rely on social media and referrals to create hype and make their offerings appear legitimate. Despite the red flags, many people still invest in HYIPs, thinking that if they get in early enough, they can make a buck.
An entire subculture has proliferated around HYIPs. There are sites that track and monitor HYIPs, and forums where people go to promote and learn more about HYIPs. There’s even an HYIP subreddit.
When an HYIP scheme collapses, the collapse is generally blamed on a hack, a theft, or a bad investment—some type of external event that is plausibly at arm’s length from the operator. When that happens, the HYIP operator begins issuing “refunds” — in good faith, of course.
Some HYIP operators even go to the effort of setting up long-winded spreadsheets and paying back dribs and drabs over months. Of course, the first people to get paid back are generally insiders or the operators themselves — under different names — who then loudly proclaim what a great guy the operator is, and how decent it is of him/her to spend all their time and effort refunding everyone.
The U.S. Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the regulatory body charged with governing business between brokers, dealers and the investing public, writes that “virtually every HYIP we have seen bears hallmarks of fraud.”
TalkGold and MoneyMakerGroup
Starting in January 2003, TalkGold and sister site MoneyMakerGroup were two hugely popular Internet forums used to launch and promote HYIPs. The sites were pulled offline on August 21, 2017, a day after the U.S. Department of Justice filed an asset forfeiture complaint against Edward and Brian Krassenstein, the twin brothers that ran the sites. Homeland Security raided the twins’ Florida homes a month later.
“Since at least 2003, Brian and Edward Krassenstein … have owned and operated websites devoted to the promotion of fraudulent HYIPs. In particular, the Krassenstein run sites ‘talkgold.com’ and ‘moneymakergroup.com’ are discussion forums in which HYIP operators advertise and promote their fraud schemes to potential victims.”
“Patryn” on TalkGold
Michael Patryn, formerly Omar Dhanani, was arrested in October 2004 on charges related to his involvement with Shadowcrew, a cybercrime message board. Operating under the pseudonym “Voleur,” French for thief, he offered Shadowcrew members an electronic money laundering service — wire him cash, and he would fund your E-gold account, thereby adding a layer of anonymity to any purchases you planned to make.
After the Shadowcrew bust, TalkGold users began to speculate that “Patryn,” a prolific poster on TalkGold, was Dhanani — and there is good reason to suspect that he was.
“Patryn” joined TalkGold on April 3, 2003. His profile linked directly to VFS Network, a network for several digital currency exchangers, including Midas Gold, HD Money, and Triple Exchange— three that Patryn himself operated. VFS Network was also his business. (VFS stands for Voleur Financial Services.)
If that is not enough evidence, “Patryn” also openly admits on TalkGold that he operates Midas Gold. The business registration for Midas Gold also lists “Omar Patryn” (one of Patryn’s known aliases) as its sole director.
Patryn also appears to have used the profile name “Patryn” on MoneyMakerGroup, with the same link to VFS Network. He joined MoneyMakerGroup on November 27, 2007, six months after he got out of a U.S. federal prison, where he served 18 months related to his earlier Shadowcrew arrest.
Sceptre on TalkGold
Cotten was likely “Sceptre” on TalkGold. Sceptre joined TalkGold on July 4, 2003, three months after Patryn joined. Cotten would have been 15 or 16, at the time.
TalkGold members were able to list “friends” on the site. A May 2013 archivedprofile page for Patryn shows that he had six friends — one of whom is Sceptre. Similarly, a May 2013 archived profile page for Sceptre shows he had one friend — “Patryn.”
The two also interacted. Many of Sceptre’s TalkGold posts appear alongside Patryn’s in the same thread, either promoting or defending VFS Network, Midas Gold, or one of the other exchanges that Patryn operated. (There is also evidence to suggest that Cotten, not Patryn, was the main operator for Midas Gold.)
On December 7, 2009, when a user on TalkGold complains that he is having issues with Midas Gold, Sceptre replies: “I’ve never had any problems with M-Gold. They are usually very efficient.” Patryn follows on the same thread with, “M-Gold does not work during weekends. What is your order reference number? I will have it taken care of ASAP.”
On September 29, 2012, “Patryn” responds to someone complaining about Midas Gold keeping their money. (This was not unusual, by the way. There were many complaints about Midas Gold withholding customer funds. See here, here and here.)
“To the best of my knowledge, both of us have been responding to your emails. You sent me five emails yesterday demanding that I hurry up and resolve this issue. Your issue will be resolved ASAP. Unfortunately, I cannot force the banks to speed up their investigation process.”
In the same thread, Sceptre replies to “Patryn,” almost mocking the customer.
“lol, I’m surprised you’re willing to help him. You offer your dispute resolution for free, and he thanks you by spamming your inbox and complaining that you don’t reply while you’re sleeping.”
In September 2012, a poster asks, “I am looking for a LR Exchanger into HD-Money.” (Basically, the poster wants to convert one digital currency, Liberty Reserve, into another, without having to go through fiat). Sceptre replies, “For this type of trade I would use ecashworldcard.” Patryn follows by posting a link to his HD-Money site, which lists Ecash World Card as an offering.
Cotten and Patryn on BlackHatWorld
BlackHatWorld is a forum where people go to discuss “black hat” marketing tactics. Paid shilling (paying someone to promote your product on social media), negative SEO attacks (improving your SEO ranking by destroying your competitor’s) and gaming a search engine’s algorithm are all topics of discussion on this forum.
These tactics are generally used by Websites that only plan to stick around long enough to make a quick financial gain, which is exactly what HYIPs aim to do.
Someone going by “Patryn” was also active on BlackHatWorld. This person joined on September 6, 2012, and was last active on September 7, 2017. He only posted 9 messages.
Another poster — “Murdoch1337” — in BlackHatWorld, was much more active. He joined on February 12, 2012, and his last activity was January 8, 2017. This person appears to have previously been posting as Sceptre, and we believe this was Cotten.
(QXCINT also tells me that one of Cotten’s email accounts — firstname.lastname@example.org, which was tied to a number of Cotten’s domain registrations — has or had an active account on BlackHatWorld, but the method he used was too technical for me to confirm independently.)
Murdoch1337 appears as the original poster in a thread titled “Sceptre’s Spectacular Content Services!!! – $1.50 per 100 words” — an indication that Sceptre likely switched his profile name to Murdoch1337 sometime after he started the thread. He responds to other posters in the thread as if he is the one offering the content services. “That’s all the review copies for now,” he writes. “For everyone else, feel free to place your orders using the order info in my original post.”
On September 10, 2013, Murdoch1337 posts an ad for a developer to help him with an upcoming cryptocurrency exchange. In the ad, he writes:
“I am looking for a programmer who is familiar with Bitcoin to develop a website that is very similar to Bitstamp…Also, I’m looking to get this project built and online quickly, so if you are able to do it quickly, that is a bonus.”
This ad was posted three months before Quadriga launched in beta. The timing makes sense given that Quadriga was based on WLOX, an open-source exchange solution available on Github, which would have dramatically reduced the time it took to create a functioning crypto exchange. Alex Hanin built the Quadriga platform, though it is not clear if Cotten actually recruited Hanin via this ad on BlackHatWorld.
I’m looking for programmers who are knowledgeable when it comes to Bitcoin and I found you.
I have a number of projects that need work, including a new Bitcoin exchange. Are you able to build sites like this? If so, i’d like to get in touch
S&S Investments and Lucky Invest
One of Sceptre’s HYIPs was S&S Investments, a website that opened for business on January 1, 2004. (“Copyright @2004 Sceptre” is written at the bottom of the page.) He promotes the scheme as a way to double your money.
“You invest a sum of money into the program and within 48 hours (usually within 18) you will receive a return of anything from 103% to 150%, possibly more.”
He is sure to point out that this is “not what is called a ponzi or pyramid scheme.” It offers returns that are far better!
In case the first offer sounded a little too far fetched, he changes the text later to something only slightly more believable. S&S now becomes a “fixed-term investment,” which pays 115% in a week….”you can invest and walk away in profit after just 7 days!”
Of course, S&S ultimately collapses, and discussion around it gets moved to the “Closed / Scammed Programs” section of TalkGold, where Sceptre continues to string along anxious investors, who continue to hold out hope for a “refund.” He writes:
“Refunds WILL take some time. I cannot guarantee that they will all be made quickly. The refund process is likely to spread over a long period of time, but I am willing to do my best to refund everyone to the best of my ability. Please be patient and you will receive a lovely surprise in your e-gold, a refund from S&S Investments,” Sceptre writes.
One TalkGold user reviewed what he considered to be the 12 biggest HYIP “scams” on TalkGold. This is what he wrote about S&S Investments:
“S&S Investments is an interesting program because it was operated by a ‘well known’ person in the HYIP arena. I use the quote marks, because this person was not well known at all, in fact he was very anonymous. No one knew his name, other than his nickname he used to post with, Sceptre. He used anonymous proxies, he was very well hidden. Yet because he had over 1000 posts on TalkGold, he earned a kind of pseudo-trust that people get from being very visible and always online.
Sceptre started off with a small little program that promised to pay back a large amount after a few days. It soon grew to become very, very popular, and it was not long before he upgraded to a fully automated script.
Sceptre wouldn’t tell people how he made the money, he just said that was his little secret. Virtually everyone invested into S&S Investments based on his post count on TalkGold. “He’s made a lot of posts on TalkGold, therefore he must be honest” seemed to be the general opinion of the investors.
S&S Investments went for sometime before cracks started to appear. First the website went offline, then was back again, but withdrawals weren’t being honoured, then the site went offline again. Finally, Sceptre made an announcement that S&S Investments were closed and refunds were to promised.
For a while, refunds did proceed, but then things started to dry up. Since the summer, no more refunds have been processed.
Hey, just because someone has thousands of posts on a forum, doesn’t mean he’s a trustworthy guy. Use your head, look at what the whole program is offering.”
In May 2004, Sceptre appears to switch to another TalkGold profile, “Lucky-Invest,” to promote a Lucky Invest HYIP.
At one point in a thread, he apparently forgets to log out of Lucky-Invest and continues responding as if he were Sceptre, until another poster calls him out:
“You forgot to sign in as ‘sceptre’. ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh . .. looks like Lucky-Invest changed their message!!! . . . too funny!!! . .. did you get caught Sceptre??? hahaha ;)”
“I’m not trying to hide. Lucky Invest, the Newest Investment/Game. My profits go to help pay refunds. THIS IS A GAME, IT WILL NOT HAVE ANY REFUNDS.”
This is a straight out admission that Lucky Invest was not an actual investment. It was a “game,” in other words, a fraud. When you give me your money, it is mine. There are no refunds in this game, just me sharing my profits.
Knowing that Cotten and Patryn did business together on TalkGold does not tell us where the CA$250 million worth of crypto and fiat that was on Quadriga went. (Only a fraction of those funds have been recovered so far.) But it certainly does bring up questions, such as, was Cotten really just a starry-eyed Bitcoin libertarian? Or was he a seasoned con artist, who had no qualms about taking other people’s money?
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At a hearing on April 18, Quadriga’s court-appointed monitor continued its battle with the exchange’s third-party payment processors to get them to hand over transaction records and funds. The court also extended Quadriga’s creditor protection until June 28.
The stay (protecting Quadriga) is in place until June 28. The CCCA proceeding will expire at that point. It won’t be a “restructuring” any more. It’ll be a pure bankruptcy.
Craig Wright, who claims to be Satoshi, is suing people who are accusing him of not being Satoshi. (Wright has yet to prove he actually is.) As mentioned in my last newsletter, it all started when Wright sued twitter user Hodlonaut. Wright has now followed with libel suits against Bitcoin podcast host Peter McCormack, Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin and crypto blog Chepicap. (CoinGeek, a publication financed by Calvin Ayre, Wright’s billionaire backer, has a full story.)
Craig has started filing lawsuit against those falsely denying he is Satoshi….they can all have a day in court to try to prove their fake case but the judge will rule that Craig invented Bitcoin because he did and he can prove it. https://t.co/d2W44mU9Tl
Naturally, the Bitcoin community is up in arms. In response, Binance—an exchange that has been traditionally unselective in the coins it lists—has delisted BSV (stands for Bitcoin Satoshi’s Vision), the coin that resulted from the bitcoin fork spearheaded by Wright and Ayre. The move was followed by several other exchanges delisting BSV, including Kraken, ShapeShift and Bittylicious. Blockchain.info removed support for BSV from its wallet.
Kraken’s BSV delisting was in response to a poll it put up on Twitter. This quote from Kraken founder Jesse Powell is priceless. He says:
“In this case, it is a unique case for us, we haven’t delisted any other coins because the founders, people who are promoting it turned out to be total assholes.”
Angela Walch, a law professor at St. Mary’s University School of Law, compared the #DelistBSV movement to Visa and PayPal not processing Wikileaks transactions and expressed surprise the crypto world was cheering it.
Thanks for all the comments! Yes, I know that exchanges are centralized and I know what people say about BSV.
From the outside, this looks an awful lot like a Visa/Paypal not processing Wikileaks transactions, so it's fascinating to see the crypto world cheering for it.
Crypto exchanges just aren’t pulling in the gazillions they used to. Binance generated about $78 million in profit last quarter, up 66 percent quarter-over-quarter. But that still falls short of full year 2018, when the exchange made $446 million in profits. Coinbase brought in revenue of $520 million in 2018, down 44 percent year-over-year.
2018 has been an absolutely brutal year for Coinbase. In mid-2018, they had projected $1.3 billion of revenue for 2018, which means they generated 60% less than they originally projected. Yikes. IPO prospects looking really bleak now
Hacks, inside jobs and irreversible goof-ups are pushing some crypto exchanges to the brink. Coinnest, once South Korea’s third-largest exchanges, is closing. Users have until April 30 to get their funds off the exchange. Coinnest lost $5.3 million in a botched airdrop in January, though it blames its closure on low trading volume.
Elsewhere, on April 10, Bittrex’s application for a BitLicense (required to do business in New York State) was rejected—in part, because Bittrex customers were using fake names, like “Give me my money,” “Elvis Presley” and “Donald Duck” to trade.
Bittrex says the NY Department of Financial Services (DFS) “sent four people who didn’t know anything about blockchain.” DFS responded again, saying the exchange “continues to misstate the facts” and “presents a misleading picture about the denial.”
if only they'd sent people who understood so much about Blockchain that they knew that "Donald Duck", "Elvis Presley" and "Give Me My Money" were legitimate customers
Binance is about to begin the process of moving its BNB (currently an ERC20 token) off the Ethereum network and onto Binance Chain, its custom blockchain. Interestingly, The Block’s Larry Cermak notes that Binance has quietly changed its white paper to remove a clause about the exchange using 20 percent of its profits to buy back BNB.
Arwen, a self-custody solution that uses on-blockchain escrows and off-blockchain atomic swaps to allow traders to maintain control of their keys while they trade, launched on Singapore’s KuCoin earlier this week. KuCoin raised $20 million in VC funding last year, and it is the first exchange to partner with Arwen, created by a company of the same name based in Boston.
Finally, Intercontinental Exchange (ICE), the owner of the New York Stock Exchange, is reportedly eyeing a New York license for its crypto exchange Bakkt. The launch date for Bakkt has been delayed for months due to skepticism from the CFTC. The regulator appears most concerned over how tokens will be stored.
POSConnect, a third-party payment processor holding funds on behalf of failed Vancouver-based crypto exchange QuadrigaCX, has come up with more excuses to delay handing over the money.
Today, at a short and mostly procedural hearing held at the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia, the main topics were extending Quadriga’s creditor protection and dealing with lingering issues related to Quadriga’s third-party payment processors, mainly POSConnect.
Justice Michael Wood agreed to extend the stay until June 28, unless Quadriga’s Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) proceedings are terminated before then. Quadriga officially entered into a bankruptcy earlier this month.
The stay (protecting Quadriga) is in place until June 28. The CCCA proceeding will expire at that point. It won’t be a “restructuring” any more. It’ll be a pure bankruptcy.
The rest of the 30-minute proceeding was mostly taken up by a back-and-forth between POSConnect’s lawyer and Elizabeth Pillon, a lawyer for Ernst & Young, the court-appointed monitor in Quadriga’s CCAA procedures.
At issue, POSConnect is sitting on CA$281,000 of Quadriga funds. EY wants the payment processor to deliver CA$278,000 right away. The plan is to leave CA$3,000 to cover rolling monthly fees associated with keeping the account open.
POSConnect recently granted George Kinsman, EY’s senior vice president, online access to Quadriga’s documents and transaction data on the platform, and EY would rather pay POSConnect CA$500 a month than risk the firm cutting off all online access.
Pillon said more than 500,000 transactions worth CA$400 million in Quadriga funds were funneled through POSConnect—and sorting all that out is going to take time.
Meanwhile, POSConnect is reluctant to hand over any funds at all. The firm argues that it is due CA$22,000 in legal fees—an amount the POSConnect lawyer called “insignificant” compared to the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent so far in efforts to put Quadriga’s financial affairs in order.
EY is running short on patience. “POSConnect has thrown out more hurdles in respect to their obligation to delivers statements and property than any other third-party payment processor,” Pillon told the judge.
As she explained, EY has been reaching out to POSConnect since February 6 to find a means to get information and funds. Yet it wasn’t until late yesterday that POSConnect put forward $22,000 for legal fees and an administrative cost of $350 an hour to provide reporting—without providing any accounting to support those fees.
Justice Wood said he did not have enough information before him to determine what reasonable legal fees would be for POSConnect. POSConnect will be added to an existing order for other third-party processors, which will require another hearing anyway.
Wood expressed regret that he would no longer be overseeing the Quadriga proceedings. He has been promoted to chief justice of the Appeal Court of Nova Scotia.
Spring is in the air! What are your summer plans? If you are considering buying a boat—or maybe even an “almost new” 51-foot Jeanneau with “very, very few hours” for half a million USD—now would be the time!
The yacht belonged to Quadriga’s now-deceased CEO Gerald Cotten. Here is a video of him putting Canada’s plastic money into a microwave. Here he is tossing Winnie the Pooh into a bonfire. And this is him playing with Pokémon cards.
The latest on QuadrigaCX
I wrote about how Michael Patryn and Cotten appear to have been working together at Midas Gold, a Liberty Reserve exchanger, prior to founding Quadriga. David Z. Morris at Breakermag covered the topic as well. (He credited me, so I’m real pleased about that.)
At a court hearing on April 8, Quadriga was given the go-ahead to shift into bankruptcy. The move will save costs and give Ernst & Young (EY) more power as a trustee.
“The trustee can also sell QuadrigaCX’s assets and start lawsuits to recover property or damages,” Evan Thomas of Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt told Bitcoin Magazine. “The trustee will collect whatever it can recover for eventual distribution to creditors.”
An “Asset Preservation Order” for Jennifer Robertson, Cotten’s widow, was filed on April 11. Law firm Stewart McKelvey is setting up three separate trusts to “collect and preserve” any surplus funds from estate assets, personal assets and corporate assets. Depreciable assets, such as Cotten’s yacht, will be sold.
Per the order, Robertson will continue to receive her drawings from her business Robertson Nova Property Management “in accordance with current levels, for the purposes of satisfying ordinary living expenses.” She will also have access to cash from the “personal assets” account to maintain her properties and to cover legal expenses.
Robertson has 10 days from the court order to provide EY with a list of all her assets—including cash on hand.
A cap on pay for Miller Thomson LLP and Cox & Palmer has been raised from CA$250,000 to CA$400,000. The team will continue to represent Quadriga’s creditors in the bankruptcy.
Quadriga’s third-party payment processors now have 10 business days (as opposed to five previously) from when they receive this court order to deliver the following to EY:
Alto Bureau de Change—assets and property.
1009926 BC—all records and transaction-related information.
POSConnect—access to Quadriga’s online account to George Kinsman, who is a partner at EY.
WB21 (now Black Banx)—all records and account statements related to its Quadriga dealings.
The next hearing to discuss issues remaining from the Companies’ Creditor Arrangement Act, including those tied to third-party payments processors, is scheduled for April 18.
Other crypto exchanges
Popular US-based crypto exchange Coinbase suspended trading of BTC-USD pairs for two hours on April 11 due to a “technical issue” with its order book. BTC-USD is a critical trading pair due to its volume and its impact on bitcoin price measures.
It appears that somebody dumped a load of BTC into the exchange’s buy orders causing liquidity to dry up. Coinbase doesn’t want that to happen, so likely that is why it wiped the books, cancelling any outstanding buy or sell orders.
The books are wiped. You can also pump up the price by $900 with just… 70 Bitcoins.
The entire liquidity of Coinbase basically completely vanished. That's why they froze trading. Incredible. pic.twitter.com/AxsrhxhtzB
Coinbase Pro, Coinbase’s professional exchange, is continuing to expand its altcoin reach. The exchange is listing three more altcoins: EOS (EOS), Augur (REP), and Maker (MKR). Coinbase first committed to listing MKR in December, but according to The Block’s Larry Cermak, due to low volume, Coinbase decided to hold off listingMKR.
Crypto credit cards are back in vogue. Coinbase has launched a Visa debit card. The “Coinbase Card” will allow customers in the U.K. and EU to spend their crypto “as effortlessly as the money in their bank.” The exchange says it will “instantly” convert crypto to fiat when customers complete a transaction using the debit card. PaySafe, a U.K. payment processor, is the issuer of the card. In the past, these crypto Visa cards have been known to suddenly lose access to the Visa network, so fingers crossed.
Another executive is leaving Coinbase. The firm’s institutional head Dan Romero has announced he is leaving after five years. This is the third executive to depart Coinbase in six months. Director of institutional sales Christine Sandler left last month, and ex-vice president and general manager Adam White quit in October.
Switzerland-based crypto exchange Bitfinex has lifted its $10,000 minimum equity requirement to start trading. This will undoubtedly bring more cash into the exchange. “We simply could not ignore the increasing level of requests for access to trade on Bitfinex from a wider cohort than our traditional customer base,” CEO Jean-Louis van der Velde said in a blog post (archive).
Meanwhile, Bitfinex customers are complaining (here and here) that they are unable to get cash out of the exchange. Nowsome are saying they are having trouble getting their crypto out of Bitfinex as well.
Reddit user “dovawiin” says, “Ive been trying repeated attempts for 2 weeks to withdraw funs and it always says processing. Ive submitted multiple tickets with delayed answers. Ive cancelled and attempted again a few time after waiting 48Hours with no results. Im currently trying again and nothing for over 24 hrs. This is ridiculous.”
Bitfinex also enabled margin trading on Tether. Margin pairs include BTC/USDT and ETH/USDT. Tether has already admitted to operating a fractional reserve, so this is basically adding more leverage to what’s already been leveraged. I’m sure it’s fine though—nothing to worry about here.
Johnathan Silverman, a former employee of Kraken, is suing the crypto platform for allegedly failing to pay him for work he did. Kraken says it got out of New York in 2015. Silverman says the exchange still maintained an over-the-counter trading desk in the state, which requires licensing for crypto businesses. Kraken told Bloomberg, Silverman “is both lying and in breach of his confidentiality agreement.”
Finally, Malta-based Binance, one of the largest crypto exchanges by volume, is partnering with blockchain analytics firm CipherTrace to boost its AML procedures.
That's why Binance flees from every single jurisdiction, because they want to comply.
All hell broke lose on Twitter Friday when news got out that Craig Wright is making legal threats against Twitter user “Hodlonaut,” who has been publicly calling Wright a “fraudster” and a “fake Satoshi.” Wright has never been able to prove that he is Satoshi.
In a letter shared with Bitcoin Magazine, SCA ONTIER LLP, writing on behalf of Wright, demands that Hodlonaut retract his statements and apologize, or else Wright will sue him for libel. The letter even includes this bizarre prescribed apology:
“I was wrong to allege Craig Wright fraudulently claimed to be Satoshi. I accept he is Satoshi. I am sorry Dr. Wright. I will not repeat this libel.”
Hodlonaut deleted his Twitter account upon receiving the news. And the crypto community formed a giant backlash against Wright. Preston Byrne is assisting Hodlonaut pro-bono, Peter McCormack is selling T-shirts that say, “Craig Wright is a Fraud,” and Changpeng Zhao, the CEO of crypto exchange Binance threatened to delist Bitcoin SV—the token spearheaded by Wright and billionaire backer Calvin Ayre.
Ayre is also demanding apologies related to some photos of him circulating on Twitter with extremely young-looking women. Coin Rivet writes, “We have agreed to pay Mr Ayre substantial damages for libel. We have also agreed to join in a statement to the English High Court in settlement of Mr Ayre’s complaint.”
China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) released guidancethat includes shutting down Bitcoin mining. “The risk to Bitcoin in the longer term is other governments taking their cue from China—and taking proof of work more seriously as a problem that needs to be dealt with,” writes David Gerard.
Another Bitcoin mining company has gone belly up. Bcause llc filed for Chapter 11 in Illinois. (Steven Palley uploaded the docs on Scribd.) The company is based in Chicago, but its mining rigs are in Virginia Beach. In January 2018, Virginia Beach Development Authority gave the firm a $500,000 grant to build the $65 million facility. Bcause promised to create 100 full-time jobs, with average salaries of $60,000 a year.
But by January, the price of Bitcoin was already on its way down—so much for all those jobs. At least the neighbors won’t have to suffer the noise anymore.
Last summer, Virginia Beach resident Tommy Byrns, told Wavy News:
“The issue is the noise, the relentless noise … it’s kind of created an atmosphere where we can’t talk to each other in the backyard. You have to go in the house to talk … this was pushed through without any warning into anybody … and now look what we have.”
Crypto, the movie, is out. Gerard wrote a full review for DeCrypt on his new battery-powered AlphaSmart Neo 2 keyboard—a 1990s flashback that keeps him from shit posting on Twitter. The film was mediocre—but it stars KURT RUSSELL.
The now-defunct Canadian crypto exchange QuadrigaCX was founded in November 2013. Where did its co-founders Michael Patryn and the now-deceased Gerald Cotten first meet? Did they exchange pleasantries in the Toronto Bitcoin community earlier that year? Did they meet online in some bitcoin chat forum? Or did they have other prior business dealings stretching even further back?
New evidence uncovered by Reddit user “QCXINT” (he’ll be posting more on Reddit soon) suggests that Cotten appears to have been involved with Patryn at Midas Gold, a Liberty Reserve exchanger, set up by Patryn in 2008.
Patryn and Midas Gold
Patryn was formerly Omar Dhanani, a convicted felon who wasarrested in connection with online identity theft ring Shadowcrew.com in October 2004. He was 20 at the time. Working out of his home in Southern California, he was a moderator on the forum. He also offered forum members an electronic money laundering service. Send him a Western Union money order and—for a fee of 10% of a transaction—he would filter your money through e-gold accounts. E-gold was an early centralized digital currency. Dhanani served 18 months in a US prison and was released in 2007.
After the US deported him back to Canada, Patryn picked up where he left off. In April 2008, he founded Midas Gold Exchange. He was listed as the company’s sole director under “Omar Patryn,” with a company address in Calgary—though he was living in Montreal at the time. A few months earlier, the digital currency exchange service launched on M-Gold.com. (Here is an archive of the site taken in its early days, and here is an archive showing an updated design taken just before things took a dive).
In January 5, 2008, the earliest entry on the website reads:
“We have finally launched this website, and are requesting that clients place all future orders through the Contact Us page. We have, of course, been in business since 2005 and hope to continue providing you with the same great service throughout the new year. Thank you once again for your business, and have a happy New Year!”
There are no names of actual people anywhere on the site. But an October 17, 2009 entry gives the impression that a whirl of activity is going on behind the scenes.
“We apologize for the delays experienced for many clients during the course of this week. We are currently undergoing a massive corporate restructuring. During this time, some exchange directions are temporarily disabled. All pending orders should be processed within one business day.”
Digital currencies listed on the site included E-Gold, HD-Money, WebMoney, WMZ E-Currency and AlterGold E-Currency. Midas Gold had even started accepting bitcoin inJune 2011, but Liberty Reserve was by far its main money maker.
How Liberty Reserve worked
A Costa Rica-based centralized digital currency service, Liberty Reserve was like PayPal for criminals. You could use it to anonymously transfer the system’s digital currency LR, worth $1 apiece,* to anyone who had an account on the system. The system served millions of users around the world before May 2013, when it was shut down by the U.S. government.
(*All dollars listed in this article are USD)
To set up an account on libertyreserve.com, all you needed was a valid email address. You could make up whatever fake name you wanted, because the site had virtually no KYC/AML to validate identities. You could, literally, use it to send huge amounts of money around the world without anyone batting an eyebrow.
There was one caveat. You could not fund your Liberty Reserve account directly. If you wanted to buy LR, you had to go through a third-party exchanger, such as M-Gold. Conversely, if you wanted to redeem your LR for cash, you also had to go through an exchanger.
LR exchangers would buy LRs in bulk and sell them in smaller quantities, typically charging a 5% transaction fee. This setup allowed Liberty Reserve to avoid collecting banking information on its users, which could leave a financial trail—exactly what criminals want to avoid when choosing a digital currency.
Liberty Reserve went into operation in 2005. Eight years later, the system had more than 5.5 million users worldwide and processed a combined value of more than $8 billion. Most of that volume came from the U.S.
During 2009 to 2013, Liberty Reserve was in full swing. These were the sunshine days of criminal activity. A huge number of transactions were related to high-yield investment programs (HYIPs)—better known as ponzis schemes—credit card trafficking, stolen ID information and computer hacking.
A data dump—in one of the court exhibits (see attachment #180 for GX 1305) related to the takedown of Liberty Reserve—shows that Midas Gold ranked 342 of the top 500 Liberty Reserve accounts in volume.
The name on the Midas Gold account is Omar Patryn, but the email address linked to it is email@example.com. What does that mean? It means whoever owned that email had the authority to operate the Midas Gold account for Liberty Reserve. They could reset the password, enable or disable 2FA, and authorize transactions.
The data indicates Midas Gold bought up more than $5 million worth of LR. At 5 percent of a transaction, that equates to profits of around $250,000—not a lot, but decent wages.
The email suggests that Cotten and Patryn may have worked at M-Gold.com together—though its not clear if Cotten was involved from the beginning or joined later. If anything, this could even suggest that Cotten had more control over Midas then Patryn.
Pause for a moment — if you were going to be involved in a dodgy business, why would you use an email address that directly pointed to you? I know I wouldn’t. If you are still wondering, “Was that really Cotten’s email?” The answer is, “Quite possibly—yes.”
We think this is his email because the person appears to have used that same email address for several domain registrations, including,cloakedninja.com, where you could buy proxy sites to hide your IP address, andcelebritydaily.net, an entertainment news blog. A historical WHOIS data snapshot of these site reveals they both have a registration address of 346-1881 Steeles Ave W Toronto. Quadriga Fintech Solutions, the owner and operator of QuadrigaCX, is linked to the same address.
Patryn’s Liberty Reserve account
In addition to the Midas Gold account, Patryn had his own account on Liberty Reserve, but his account had no associated website. He appears to have had at least three other exchangers at the time—HD Money (archive) and E-cash World and Triple Exchange (archive). It’s possible he was selling LR through those sites as well as Midas Gold, and was just using the one account. Or Cotten could have operated Midas alone, while Patryn handled the other businesses.
Approximately $18.4 million worth of LR went through Patryn’s Liberty Reserve account. Of Liberty Reserve’s 500 largest accounts by volume, his ranked 88. If he took a 5 percent cut of every transaction, he would have amassed a healthy $920,000.
A passage from the court documents explains:
“Data obtained from Liberty Reserve’s servers reflects the extensive use of the company’s payment system by criminal websites. The Government analyzed the top 500 accounts by transaction volume, i.e. funds sent and received, to attempt to determine the type of activity associated with each account. The total transaction volume for these accounts is approximately $7.26 billion, or approximately 43% of the total volume of transactions on Liberty Reserve’s entire system.”
Also according to the analysis, of the top roughly 500 accounts, 44 percent were associated with exchangers, 18 percent could not be categorized, and the remaining 38 percent were categorized as follows:
“157 of the accounts, accounting for approximately $2.6 billion in transactions, were associated with some form of purported ‘investment’ opportunity. The vast majority of these accounts were linked to websites that, on their face, were clearly ponzi schemes, i.e., HYIPs. Others, at best, were associated with unregulated ‘forex’ (foreign currency trading) websites—which are likewise known to be prominent sources of fraud.”
Good things never seem to last, and in May 20, 2013, Liberty Reserve founder Arthur Budovsky was arrested in Spain for running a massive money laundering enterprise. Days later, the domain libertyreserve.com was seized.
Shortly afterward, US authorities seized more than 30 domains registered as Liberty Reserve exchangers in a civil forfeiture case, including M-Gold.com. According to court docs, “the defendant domain names were used to fund Liberty Reserve’s operations; without them, there would not have been money for Liberty Reserve to launder.”
Following the shut down of Liberty Reserve, users were told to contact the court to recoup their lost funds—on the basis they were conducting legit business. According to court docs filed in April 2016: “Notwithstanding that Liberty Reserve had more than 5 million registered user accounts, only approximately 50 individuals have contacted the Southern District Court of New York since May 2013.” Most appeared to be victims of HYIPs and other scams. And only one Liberty Reserve exchanger contacted the court about a potential claim—and that claim was not pursued.
A few months after M-Gold.com was seized, QuadrigaCX launched in beta. The rest is history—or history in the making—depending how you look at it.
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Now onto the news, starting with Quadriga, the defunct Canadian crypto exchange that I won’t shut up about. (Read my timeline to get up to speed.)
Ernst & Young (EY), the court-appointed monitor charged with tracking down Quadriga’s lost funds, released its fourth monitor report, which reveals more money going out then coming in. The closing cash balance for March was CA$23,268,411. Incoming cash for the month was CA$4,232, and total disbursements was CA$1,463,860—most of which was paid to professionals. A full half of that (CA$721,579) went to EY and its legal team.
EY is trying to chase down money held by Quadriga’s payment processors. It has drafted a “Third Party Payment Processor Order” for the court to approve on Monday. If that goes through as is, several payment processors, including WB21, will have five business days to handover funds and/or Quadriga documents and transaction data. If they don’t comply, they will be in contempt of court. A shift from CCAA to bankruptcy proceedings will also give EY more power to go after funds as a trustee.
Christine Duhaime, a financial crimes lawyer who worked for Quadriga for six months in 2015 to early 2016, wrote “From Law to Lawlessness: Bits of the Untold QuadrigaCX” for CoinDesk, where she talks about how Quadriga went off the rails following its failed efforts to become a public company.
In the article, Duhaime—who in February called for a government bailout of Quadriga’s creditors (archive)—openly admits to having lost CA$100,000 in funds on the exchange. She claims her involvement with the exchange stopped in early 2016. “I’m glad we were let go by QuadrigaCX for being one of the ‘law and order’ folks,” she said.
Preston Byrne, an attorney at Byrne & Storm, PC,tweeted, “No offense to @ahcastor but this claim that @cduhaime may have owned shares in Quadriga looks to be incorrect. She’s listed as the principal contact for an SPV, and the SPV is the named purchaser. A retraction is in order.”
SPV stands for special purpose vehicle, typically used by firms to isolate them from financial risk. I’ve reworded the paragraph as follows:
This 2015 British Columbia Report of Exempt Distribution, a document of Quadriga Financial Solutions’ ownership, lists Duhaime as the contact for 1207649 B.C. Ltd, which owns—or owned—20,000 shares of Quadriga. I was unable to find the corporate files for 1207649 B.C. The address in the report matches that of Duhaime’soffice.
Update (April 9): I found the corporate files. The actual company name appears to be 1027649 B.C. Ltd.—with the numbers “2” and “0” transposed. The company was founded on February 16, 2015 and dissolved on August 1, 2017. The sole director is “Anne Ellis,” and the registered office is Duhaime Law.
According tocourt documents, Cotten and Quadriga co-founder Michael Patryn had been seeking to buy back shareholdings after Quadriga’s public listing failed, so it is possible one of them may have bought back those shares as well. I reached out to Duhaime for comment a few times, but she has not responded.
Duhaime may have left Quadriga behind, but she continued to have business dealings with Patryn, who we now know is convicted felon Omar Dhanani.
She and Patryn co-founded Fintech Ventures Group, which calls itself “an investment bank focused on digital currency, blockchain, and AI-focused technology.” According to a January 2016 archive of the company’s site, Duhaime was Fintech Venture’s “Digital Finance Maven & Co-Founder.” (Interestingly, former Quadriga director Anthony Milewski worked there, too, as the company’s “Investment Relations Extraordinaire.”)
Duhaime and Patryn were also both advisors at Canadian crypto exchange Taurus Crypto Services, according to this June 2016 archive. (Milewski shows up here again, this time as an advisor.) The exchange was founded in 2014 and shut down in January 2017, when the business shifted to over-the-counter trades.
Like Duhaime, Patryn also claims his involvement with Quadriga ended in early 2016. Although the Globe and Mail said that in October 2018, “it received an e-mail pitch from an ‘executive concierge’ company called the Windsor Group offering up Mr. Patryn for interviews to discuss virtual currencies and describing him as a Quadriga director.” Patryn told the Globe he did not know what the Windsor Group was, nor had he authorized anyone to pitch him as a Quadriga director, as he never served on the board.
Patryn had a personal website michaelpatryn.com, but it got taken down. Here is a 2011 archiveand here is a 2014 archive. From 2016 on, the archives point to his LinkedIn profile, where he now goes by “Michael P.” having dropped all but the first initial of his last name. According to his LinkedIn, he has been an advisor for numerous cryptocurrency platforms going back to November 1999. I guess that means his work at Shadowcrew in 2004 and the 18 months he spent in jail for conspiracy to commit credit and bank card fraud and ID document fraud qualifies as advisory services.
Patryn appears to enjoy the limelight. Several reporters told me they had no trouble reaching him. At one point, Patryn even went into the “Quadriga Uncovered” Telegram group—basically, the lion’s den, where hundreds of pissed off Quadriga creditors sat waiting on their haunches —where I am told he calmly deflected accusations.
Elsewhere in cryptoland, there have been a number of exchanges hacks. Singapore-based exchange DragonEx was hacked on March 24 for an undisclosed amount of crypto.
Blockchain data firm Elementus suspects that Coinbene, another Singapore exchange, was also hacked. On March 25, Elementus noted that $105 million worth of crypto was on the move out of the exchange. Coinbene totally denies it’s been hacked, claiming that delays in deposits and withdrawals are due to maintenance issues.
In order to enhance the user experience, CoinBene upgraded the platform wallet on March 26, 2019. During maintenance, it will affect related operations such as deposit and withdraw, trading will not be affected.
A third exchange, Bithumb was hacked on March 30. The South Korean crypto exchange lost 3.07 million EOS and 20.2 million XRP, worth around $19 million. Bithumb thinks it was an insider job.
Helsinki-based LocalBitcoins, a once go-to for anonymous bitcoin transactions, has added know-your-customer (KYC) identity checks to comply with new laws in Finland. The change goes into effect in November. Per the company’s announcement, this is actually good news for bitcoin, because it will create a “legal status for crypto assets, which should improve significantly Bitcoin’s standing as a viable and legit financial network.”
A study by reg-tech startup Coinfirm found that 69 percent of crypto exchanges don’t have “complete and transparent” KYC procedures. And only 26 percent of exchanges had a “high” level of anti-money-laundering procedures.
With crypto markets in the dumps, exchanges are looking for new ways to attract volume. To that end, San Francisco-based Coinbase is launching a staking service to lure in institutional investors. The service, which starts with Tezos (XTZ), will pay investors to park their money in XTZ. The coins are kept in offline cold wallets. The catch is that the interest will be paid XTZ, and of course, crypto is highly volatile.
The news about Coinbase Custody supporting staking of Tezos is all over Twitter even though Coinbase hasn't even officially announced it yet. Meanwhile, the price of Tezos is up more than 70% in the last 10 days pic.twitter.com/YeYQafrfYu
Cryptocurrency exchange Binance is launching a new fiat-to-crypto exchange in Singapore later this month. (It’s been launching these crypto onramps all over the word.)
Binance also says it’s planning to launch its decentralized exchange (DEX) later this month. The DEX is built on a public blockchain, Binance Chain. Basically, Binance is looking to create an economy for binance coin (BNB), which is totally not a security.
Other interesting news bits
The the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission issued a “Framework for ‘Investment Contract’ Analysis of Digital Assets.” There is not a lot new to see here. A footnote in the document makes clear this is “not a rule, regulation, or statement of the Commission,” just some thoughts from the SEC’s staff about how they interpret existing securities laws.
Stephen Palley, partner at law firm Anderson Kill, appeared on Bloomberg sporting a beard to explain the framework—definitely worth five minutes of your time to listen to.
Justin Sun, the founder of blockchain project Tron, bungled a Tesla promotional giveaway. After a widespread cry of foul play, he decided to make it up to everyone by giving away—two Teslas. This wasn’t the first time a Tron promotion raised eyebrows.
Ernst & Young (EY), the court-appointed monitor in Quadriga’s creditor protection procedures, filed its fourth monitor report with the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia on April 1.
In the latest twist in the ongoing Quadriga saga, EY is proposing Quadriga shift from its Companies’ Creditor Arrangement Act (CCAA) proceedings into proceedings under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act (BIA).
Bankruptcy offers key advantages. Namely, it would remove the need for several professionals, leaving more money to repay Quadriga’s 115,000 creditors. According to court docs, $250 million CAD ($190 million USD) in crypto and fiat were on the exchange when it collapsed, but likely only a fraction of that will be found.
In a bankruptcy, EY would become a trustee. That means Quadriga’s newly appointed chief restructuring officer (CRO) would no longer be needed. Company directors, Jennifer Robertson (the widow of Quadriga’s dead CEO Gerald Cotten) and her stepfather Tom Beazley, would also step out of the picture. (Robertson has already indicated, she doesn’t want to continue serving as a director anyway, which is why she opted for a CRO.)
Quadriga also won’t be needing a representative counsel. Last month, Stewart McKelvey, stepped down from the CCAA proceedings over a potential conflict of interest. The firm was representing both Quadriga in its CCAA proceedings and handling Cotten’s estate. Quadriga has not hired a replacement—and it won’t need to for a bankruptcy.
Cox & Palmer and Miller Thomson LLP, the legal team representing Quadriga’s affected users, would stay on. The recently formed seven-person committee that serves as the voice for Quadriga’s creditors, would also continue with their work.
But here is where things get interesting—as trustee, EY would be given additional investigatory powers without further relief from the court that will be of assistance in investigating the business and affairs of Quadriga, “including the right to compel production of documents and seek examination of relevant parties under oath.”
Finally, bankruptcy would allow for the potential sale of Quadriga’s operating platform.
Preserving Robertson’s assets
In late January, after Cotten’s death and before Quadriga filed for creditor protection, Robertson was moving aggressively to protect her newly acquired assets. She moved two properties into the Seaglass Trust, and Cotten’s airplane and yacht both went up for sale. EY has put a stop to any more of this by filing an “asset preservation order.”
During the course its investigations into Quadriga’s business and affairs, EY says it became aware of occurrences where the corporate and personal boundaries between Quadriga and Cotten were not formally maintained. EY notes that it appeared “Quadriga funds may have been used to acquire assets held outside the corporate entity.”
The asset protection order involves all assets held by the Cotten Estate, Robertson and the Seaglass Trust, and Robertson Nova Property Management—the company that Robertson purchased several properties under between 2016 and 2018. The order will allow EY’s investigation of Quadriga to continue “without concern that assets possibly recoverable for the applicant’s stakeholders may be dissipated,” the report said.
Likely Robertson is agreeing to the plan because, according to the report, EY “temporarily discontinued its preparation for a mareva injunction pending the negotiation and agreement of the draft Asset Preservation Order.”
A mareva injunction would have completely frozen all of the assets. Under an asset preservation order, Robertson is able to maintain control of her properties. She just can’t sell or transfer them. She has agreed to provide a list of relevant assets to EY. And she will be working with EY on monetizing some of the assets to preserve their value.
Wrestling with third-party payment processors
Quadriga had no company bank accounts. Instead, it relied on a patchwork of third-party payment processors. As a Quadriga customer, you would send cash to one of these payment processors, and Quadriga would credit your account with Quad Bucks, which you could then use to buy crypto on the platform. When you put in a request to withdraw fiat from the exchange, a payment processor would wire you money.
After Quadriga ceased operating on January 28, several of these third-party payment processors were left holding money on behalf of Quadriga and its users. EY mentions the following payment processors in its fourth report:
The monitor has been wrestling to get funds from several of these companies, a few of which weren’t exactly at arm’s length from Quadriga. RNCI was operated by Robertson — who earlier told the court she was not involved Quadriga’s operations. Apparently Cotten used RNCI bank accounts to transfer money to Quadriga customers. Robertson is cooperating though. She says RNCI is currently not holding any Quadriga funds, and she is working to get bank statements of all transfers her company made to EY.
700964 N.B. Inc. and 1009926 B.C. Ltd. were both run by Quadriga contractors. 700964 N.B. was run by Aaron Matthews, Quadriga’s director of operations, and 1009926 B.C. was run by Aaron Vaithilingam, Quadriga’s former office manager.
EY has in its possession 1,004 bank drafts, worth $5,824,340 CAD, written out to 1009926 B.C. It had trouble depositing those checks, because 1009926 B.C., the company, had dissolved. (This is yet another example of how sloppily Quadriga handled its affairs.) Now that 1009926 B.C. has been restored, Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) is asking for additional documents to deposit the bulk drafts. But Vaithilingam is not responding to EY’s letters.
EY has also reached out to WB21, the third-party payment processor holding on to roughly $9 million USD ($12 million CAD) in Quadriga funds. WB21 recently changed its name to Black Banx, and it has an office in Canada.
EY wrote to Michael Gastauer, the sole director of WB21, in February, requesting the company return any Quadriga funds to EY. WB21 responded by saying that Quadriga’s account was was closed in December 31, 2018, and it was entitled to withhold funds if there was “reasonable doubt that the end user has engaged in fraudulent activity.” On March 9, EY wrote again requesting copies of the agreements. WB21 wrote back saying it was only holding $11.77 CAD and $5.53 USD and that it “might be able to provide further information” upon conclusion of an internal investigation.
EY is not buying it, and you can bet it’s probably had enough of these shenanigans. The monitor is convinced WB21 is holding “a significant amount of funds.” The monitor also writes that WB21 has been uncooperative and has not provided “even basic info” and that it is inappropriate for WB21 to continue holding funds pending some investigation.
Here is another surprise—EY just discovered that Jose Reyes, who runs Billerfy and Costodian, operates yet another third-party processor, which has also received funds from Quadriga. Despite all the work Reyes has done with EY trying to sort out the $26 million in Bank of Montreal (BOM) drafts, he neglected to mention his other company ePAD also held Quadriga money. EY sent letters requesting account information, but so far, Reyes has not responded. (Read the interpleader order for more history on Reyes.)
EY also wrote to POSconnect who is supposedly holding $331,764 CAD in Quadriga funds. POSconnect followed up stating that it only owed $300,000, but that under the terms of its agreement with Quadriga, it would continue holding the funds until April 28. The monitor wrote again requesting immediate return of the funds.
VoPay is supposedly holding $217,000 CAD on behalf of Quadriga. In February, VoPay told Quadriga’s counsel that it was not in a position to return the funds, because it had gotten legal threats from Quadriga customers. VoPay confirmed it is holding $116,262 CAD for Quadriga and requested indemnity from EY, which EY says it can’t provide and again requested VoPay give back the money asap.
Alto Bureau de Change is a currency exchange shopfront in Montreal. Alto believed it had never done business with Quadriga, but EY noted a transfer from Quadriga to Alto of $160,000 CAD worth of bitcoins and $30,000 CAD processed on behalf of Quadriga by NB Inc. EY believes that Alto currently holds either $20,876 or $36,213 of Quadriga funds.
EY is seeking a court order to get several of the third-party payments processors to hand over funds and/or any documentation related to Quadriga.
The monitor’s research into Quadriga’s missing funds is winding down. It plans to file its final monitor report in a few weeks. Oddly, this report did not mention anything about recovery of the platform’s historical data on AWS—a big issue in the third report.