News: Ripple paid Moneygram $11M, weird stuff going on with e-Payments, fraudster tries to buy Perth Glory, another bitcoin ETF bites the dust

As you know, I left my most recent full-time gig, so I’m solo again. I’m going to keep on writing, but I need to figure out how to make ends meet. I’ll be writing more for my blog, possibly writing some e-books, and relying on support from patrons. If this newsletter is worth buying me a latte every four weeks, consider becoming a monthly supporter.

Now, on to the news. Since I didn’t write a newsletter last week, a few of these items stretch beyond the last seven days.

Filming for Quadriga documentary

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Filming at a coffee shop in Vancouver Monday.

If you’ve been following me on Twitter, you know I was in Vancouver all weekend filming for an upcoming Quadriga documentary for Canadian public broadcast station CBC. It was a whirlwind adventure, loads of fun, and I got to meet my idol and fellow nocoiner David Gerard for the first time. He is 6’4″, which helps explain why he is not easily intimidated by anyone. (My blog, David’s blog with more pics.)

On our second day of filming, the crew got shots of David and me at a coffee shop going through my Quadriga timeline in detail. Of course, the more we talked and went over things, the more unanswered questions we came up with.

Ripple has been paying Moneygram millions

Moneygram’s 8-K filing with the SEC must be a bit of an embarrassment for Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse. It reveals Ripple paid $11.3 million to Moneygram over the last two quarters. That’s in addition to the $50 million Ripple has already invested in the firm. (Cointelegraph, Coindesk.)

This is apparently the ugly truth to how Ripple works. The company appears to pay its partners to use its On-Demand Liquidity (formerly xRapid) blockchain platform and XRP tokens and then say nice things about how well things are going. (FT Alphaville)

Of course, none of this is news to @Tr0llyTr0llFace, who wrote about how Ripple pays its partners in his blog a year ago. “Basically, Ripple is paying its clients to use its products, and then pays them again to talk about how they’re using its products,” he said. 

Ripple class-action to move forward

In other Ripple news, a federal judge in Oakland, Calif., has granted in part and denied in part Ripple’s motion to dismiss a class-action lawsuit claiming the company violated U.S. securities laws. There’s a lot to unpack here, but overall it’s a win for the plaintiffs. In other words, the lawsuit will proceed even though it’s been trimmed back a bit. (Court order, CoinDesk, Bloomberg

Ripple had claimed in its November court filing that the suit could topple the $10 billion market for XRP. Well, yeah, one would think so, especially if XRP is deemed a security and gets shut down by the SEC. This class action may be laying the groundwork for that. 

Reggie Fowler gets hit with another charge

pexels-photo-2570139As if Reggie Flower did not have enough trouble on his hands. After forgoing a plea deal where three out of four charges against him would have been dropped, prosecutors have heaped on another charge — this one for wire fraud.

They allege that Fowler used ill-gotten gains from his shadow banking business, which he ran on behalf of Panamanian payment processor Crypto Capital, to fund a professional football league. The league isn’t named in the indictment, but a good guess says its the collapsed American Football League of which Fowler was a major investor. (My blog.)

The new charge should come as no surprise to those following the U.S. v. Fowler (1:19-cr-00254) case closely. In a court transcript filed in October 2019, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sebastian Swett told Judge Andrew Carter:

“We have told defense counsel that, notwithstanding the plea negotiations, we are still investigating this matter, and, should we not reach a resolution, we will likely supersede with additional charges.”

Fowler needs to go before the judge and enter his plea on the new charge before he can proceed to trial. Federal prosecutors are asking the judge to schedule arraignment for May 5, but it’s quite possible this is a typo and they meant March 5. (Court doc.)

Convicted fraudster won’t be buying Perth football team after all

LFE Founder Jim Aylward
LFE founder Jim Aylward on Twitter

The sale of Perth Glory Soccer Club to a London crypto entrepreneur fell through after it turned out that the man behind the company trying to buy Glory — businessman Jim Aylward — is convicted fraudster James Abbass Biniaz. (Imagine that, a person with a criminal past getting involved in crypto?)

Aylward had set up a group called London Football Exchange, a football stock exchange and fan marketplace powered by the LFE token. The grand scheme was for the company to buy soccer teams all over the world and integrate that business with the token.

Glory owner Tony Sage pulled out of the deal after traveling to London to go through a due diligence process with his lawyers and representatives of the London Football Exchange group. Sage had been promised $30 million by Aylward for 80% of the A-League club. (Sydney Morning Herald)

Here’s a recording of Aylward admitting the price of LFE is totally manipulated. “We control about 95% of the token holders,” he said.

Weird stuff happening with e-Payments

Something funny is going on with e-Payments, one of the biggest digital payments firms in the U.K. The London firm, which caters to the adult entertainment, affiliate marketing, and crypto industries, was ordered by the U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority to suspend its activities as of Feb. 11 due to loose anti-money-laundering controls. That’s left ePayments’ customers unable to access their funds. Robert Courtneidge, one of its e-Payments’ directors stepped down the following week. Nobody knows why, but it looks like he was previously involved with the OneCoin scam. (FT Alphaville)

(BTW, on my flight back from Vancouver, I listened to the Missing Crypto Queen BBC podcast, which is all about OneCoin, and it’s fantastic. Definitely worth a listen.)

SEC shoots down another bitcoin ETF; Hester Pierce chimes in

In a filing posted Wednesday, the SEC set aflame another bitcoin ETF proposal. The regulator claims Wilshire Phoenix and NYSE Arca had not proven bitcoin is sufficiently resistant to fraud and market manipulation. (Their idea was to mix bitcoin and short-term treasuries to balance out bitcoin’s volatility, but the agency still wasn’t keen.) The SEC has rejected all bitcoin ETFs put before it to date, so there’s no new news here.

Predictably, though, SEC Commissioner Hester Pierce, aka “crypto mom,” filed her statement of dissent. She said the agency’s approach to bitcoin ETFs “evinces a stubborn stodginess in the face of innovation.” For some reason, Pierce seems to consistently confuse innovation with anarchy and giving bad actors free rein.

Speaking of which, she recently posted on Coindesk asking for suggestions to her ICO “safe harbor” plan. Attorney Preston Byrne responded, saying it would be hilarious if it weren’t so serious. He thinks the plan should be tossed in the bin.

Canada’s central bank venturing into e-currency

Canada’s central bank plans to lay the foundation for its own digital currency should the day arise where cash no longer rules. In a speech he gave in Montreal, Deputy Governor Tim Lane said there isn’t a compelling case to issue a central bank-backed digital currency right now, but the Bank of Canada is starting to formulate a plan in the event Canadian notes and coins go out of style. (Calgary Sun.)

Despite so many countries jumping into the game, central bank digital currencies are nothing new. They have been around since the 1990s, only nobody cared about them until Facebook’s Libra popped into the scene. Bank of Finland’s Alexi Grym recently did a podcast, where he talks about how the country launched its own Avanti project (a form of CBDC) in 1993. The idea sounded great in theory, but in practice, consumers didn’t like being charged to load the cards, especially since ATM withdrawals were free.

Drug dealer loses all his bitcoin

The problem with keeping track of the keys to your bitcoin is that it’s just too easy to lose them, as this U.K. drug dealer demonstrates. He jotted down the keys to his illicit $60 million BTC on a piece of paper. But then when he went to jail, his landlord gathered up all his belongings and took them to the dump. (Guardian.) This isn’t the first time millions of dollars worth of bitcoin have ended up in a trash heap.

FCoin insolvency bears hallmarks of funny business

Screen Shot 2020-02-26 at 9.39.31 PMFCoin, a crypto exchange based in Singapore, announced its insolvency on Feb. 17 after making the surprise discovery it was short 7,000 to 13,000 bitcoin—worth roughly $70 million to $130 million. The exchange blamed the shortage on a cacophony of errors following the launch of a controversial incentive program called “trans-fee mining.” There has been a lot of speculation that this was an outright scam. Now a new report by Anchain.ai shows BTC leaving the exchange’s cold wallets in droves right before FCoin shuttered and its founder Zhang Jian happily moved on to start a new business.

Quadriga was using Crypto Capital

The law firm representing QadrigaCX’s creditors believes the failed Canadian crypto exchange was funneling money through Crypto Capital. Financial documents that two former Quadriga users posted on Telegram show that to be true. (My blog)

Next question: Was Crypto Capital holding any Quadriga funds at the time the exchange went under? That’s going to be hard to track down given the exchange had no books.

Buffett still thinks crypto is a joke

Tron CEO Justin Sun paid $4.6 million to spend three hours with Warren Buffett and turn him into a crypto fan. He even gave the multi-billionaire some bitcoin. Turns out Buffett, promptly handed those BTC over to charity. He doesn’t want anything to do with bitcoin and still thinks crypto has zero value. “What you hope is someone else comes along and pays you more money for it, but then that person’s got the problem,” he told CNBC.

Steven Segal pays the price of being a shitcoin shill

Steven Segal thought he would bring in a little extra dough by shilling a shitcoin, but the effort backfired. The Hollywood actor has agreed to pay $314,000 to the SEC for failing to disclose payments he received for touting an ICO conducted by Bitcoiin2Gen (spelled with two “i”s) in 2018. He’ll pay a $157,000 disgorgement, plus a $157,000 fine on top.

The agency claims that Seagal failed to disclose he was promised $250,000 in cash and $750,000 worth of B2G tokens in exchange for his promotions. He even put out a cringe-worthy press release in 2018 titled “Zen Master Steven Seagal has become the brand ambassador for Bitcoiin2gen.” (SEC press release, Variety, CNBC)

Can someone check IOTA for a pulse?

How long does a blockchain need to be shut down for before it’s considered dead? How is it even possible to shut down something that is decentralized? Oh, wait, maybe it’s not.

IOTA has been offline for 14 days and counting ever since the IOTA Foundation turned off its coordinator node, which puts the final seal of approval on any IOTA currency transactions, to stop an attacker from slurping up funds from its wallet service.

The project has put together a tedious three-part series explaining the theft of its Trinity wallet, its seed migration plan and all the lessons it’s learned from the mishap. It’s all a bit mind-numbing, and you’ll feel a little dead after you read it, too.

We’re in Vancouver for a Quadriga documentary

Well, it’s finally happening. I’m in Vancouver with David Gerard, my mentor and the person responsible for turning me into a bitter nocoiner. If it weren’t for him, I would be doing something productive and useful with my life. Instead, I’m writing about crypto for my blog. Next thing you know, I’ll be a Wikipedia gatekeeper.    

This is my first time meeting him in the flesh. I flew in from Boston Saturday with a layover in Toronto, and almost as soon as I got here, David — who arrived several hours earlier on an eight-hour direct flight from London — met me in the hotel lobby. He was everything I pictured — six-foot-four-inches tall, legs a mile long, says “fuck” a lot and likes to drink beer. Naturally, we made a bee-line to the bar.  

20200223_100227We’ve both come here to be interviewed for a documentary on failed Canadian crypto exchange QuadrigaCX. I initially met with filmmaker Sheona McDonald last year in Nova Scotia — after a harrowing drive through a blizzard to attend a Quadriga court hearing — so the plan to bring me and David together has been in the works for nearly a year.

The documentary is for CBC, Canada’s national public broadcaster. We aren’t sure when it will be out, but Sheona tells us the film may be in a few festivals first before it’s on TV.

IMG_3027 (1)It’s been a tight schedule this weekend. After a long day of travel, this morning, we went to this cool loft in downtown Vancouver for the filming. I was on the hot seat first, followed by David. As it turns out, talking for two-hours is really exhausting, especially when you’ve had only a few hours of sleep.

But this is exciting stuff, and it’s great to be able to hash over the details on what went on inside Quadriga with David. Sheona keeps asking us if we think Gerald Cotten, Quadriga’s cofounder who supposedly single-handedly drove the exchange to insolvency after February 2016, is really dead. David is split 50/50, but I’m leaning toward, no that’s not his body buried in Nova Scotia.

This evening, we got to meet up with fellow journalist and Vancouver local Cali Haan for a nocoiner convention at Starbucks and later for a beer.

We have more filming ahead Monday. While today we were interviewed separately, tomorrow Sheona will shoot us in a coffee shop, sharing ideas about what we think happened with Quadriga. And then after that, it’s off to the airport.

See also David’s post.

Want to learn more about Quadriga? Read the timeline.

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Reggie Fowler allegedly funded sports league with ill-gotten gains

A superseding indictment filed with the SDNY court Thursday includes a new charge of wire fraud for ex-Minnesota Viking co-owner Reginald Fowler.

Fowler, who is living in Chandler, Ariz., while free on $5 million in bail, currently faces four other charges related to bank fraud and operating an illegal money transmitting business, so this makes for count number five.

According to federal prosecutors, from June 2018 to February 2019, Fowler obtained money through “false and fraudulent pretenses” to fund a professional sports league in connection with his ownership stake in the league.

imagesWhat sports league would that be? The indictment does not tell us. But Fowler invested $25 million in the Alliance of American Football — an attempt to form a new football league — right before its inaugural season and shortly before his arrest on April 30, 2019.

The league ran into problems after withdrawals from Fowler’s domestic and foreign accounts were “held up around Christmas,” freezing a principal source of the league’s funding.

Shortly before then, the Department of Justice froze five U.S. bank accounts—three of them were Fowler’s personal accounts and two were held under Global Trading Solutions LLC, a shell company that he set up.

Global Trading Solutions LLC has been directly linked to Crypto Capital Corp., a Panamanian shadow bank used by Bitfinex and the failed Canadian crypto exchange QuadrigaCX.

Due to money problems, the AAF collapsed on April 2, 2019, and filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy two weeks later. The league claimed assets of $11.3 million and liabilities of $48.3 million and held just $536,160.68 in cash.

After forgoing a plea deal last month, Fowler is set to go trial on all five counts on April 28.

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Personal update: I left my job at Modern Consensus

I’ve stepped down from my role as senior editor of Modern Consensus. It was a matter of not seeing eye-to-eye with my direct report. I tried hard to resolve the situation, but ultimately, I made the decision to leave.

It was not an easy decision to make. I did not have another job lined up. I wasn’t sure where the money would come from. Like everyone else, I have bills to pay, and life in these modern times isn’t cheap. When I explained my quandary to another woman writer, whom I admire greatly, she told me: “Have faith in yourself.” And so, I chose to believe that things will turn out for the best.

What’s next? I’m going to keep writing, obviously. I will write for my own blog because I enjoy it immensely. I’ll write for other publications when I can. I’m open to any and all freelance work. If you have a project you need help with, my Twitter DMs are open, or you can reach me here. I’m also starting up my Patreon account again, so if you want to support my work, you can subscribe for as little as $5 a month.

In the short term, however, I am going to take some time off. I always work hard, but I’ve worked especially hard the last year. When I wasn’t working long days, I was worried about work or thinking about going back to work. I look forward to enjoying leisurely cups of coffee in the morning, going on long walks, and focusing on my yoga.

Silhouette of Girl Leaping Over Cliffs With Sunset Landscape
This is me taking a leap of faith.

 

Documents point to QuadrigaCX using payment processor Crypto Capital

Last month, Miller Thomson, the law firm representing Quadriga’s former users, asked creditors for help in identifying if the failed Canadian exchange had used Crypto Capital Corp, a payment processor that is allegedly missing some $850 million

In a letter posted on its website on Jan. 22, the law firm said that it had received information that Quadriga had used a “Panamanian shadow bank” in the final quarter of its operation—presumably, that means September thru December 2018, since the exchange went belly up in January 2019.

Specifically, the law firm asked creditors to forward any emails or financial statements with names of people or companies linked to Crypto Capital. It offered a lengthy list that included Global Trading Solutions LLC and Global Trade Solutions AG.

The former was a shell company in Chandler, Ariz., set up on Feb. 14, 2018, by Reggie Fowler, one of the individuals alleged to have connections to Crypto Capital. The latter was the Swiss parent company of Crypto Capital. (The firm was cited as a parent company on Crypto Capital’s website.)

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Also, in a December 2018 letter published on this blog, Crypto Capital boss Ivan Molina wrote that “Global Trade Solutions AG and related entities” were being denied banking in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere as a result of financial crimes investigations. Molina was arrested for money laundering last year.

What about GTS Germany?

Global Trade Solutions Gmbh is not on Miller Thomson’s list. I can’t find it on any legal or court docs either, but someone posted on Reddit a year ago that they had received their Crypto Capital withdrawals from the company. 

The sole officer for Global Trade Solutions Gmbh is Ralf Hülsmann, who started on June 15, 2016. Researcher Robert-Jan den Haan found the German public registry for the company, and it is clearly associated with Spiral Global Trade Solutions AG, which is directly linked to Fowler.

Spiral Inc. is a holding company Fowler set up in 1989. At one time it held more than 100 businesses. He also owns Spiral Volleyball.

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Links to Quadriga

Two documents recently shared by individuals on Telegram claiming to be Quadriga creditors show funds sent to Global Trade Solutions Gmbh

On June 28, 2018, one creditor wired $50,000 CAD from the Royal Bank of Canada in Toronto to an account at Deutsche Bank in Germany belonging to Global Trade Solutions Gmbh.

“I should have followed my gut feelings when I was at the bank making this wire transfer,” the user told me. “I just had a very shady feeling.”

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Another creditor shared the following document on Telegram. Similarly, it shows funds being sent to a Global Trade Solutions Gmbh account at Deutsche Bank. The transfer appears to be going out from a bank in Toronto, but there is no date on it.

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Other evidence

There is other evidence to support Quadriga using Crypto Capital. At one time, the payment processor listed Quadriga on its website as a client. Gerald Cotten, the exchange’s now-deceased founder also admitted to using it in the past.

In an email to Bloomberg News on May 17, 2018, he wrote: “Crypto Capital is one such company that we have/do use. In general it works well, though there are occasionally hiccups.”

Assuming Quadriga did use Crypto Capital, the only question that remains is, was the payment processor holding any Quadriga funds when the exchange went belly up? (Remember, Quadriga didn’t keep any books, so it’s up to Miller Thomson and court-appointed trustee Ernst & Young to piece things together.) And if so, is there any chance in hell of getting those funds back?

(Read my complete Quadriga timeline to dig in deeper.)


Updated on Feb. 19 to add Ralf Hülsmann and link to someone on Reddit who said they received CCC withdrawals via Global Trade Solutions Gmbh. 

Updated on Feb. 13 to fix typo — Global Trade Solutions AG, not Global Trading Solutions AG — add a screenshot from Crypto Capital’s website and mention missing $850 million.

 

News: Crypto Mom wants to give criminals a head start, IOTA’s meltdown, Lubin’s organism divides

As a reminder, I will be traveling to Vancouver on Feb. 22 to spend about a day and a half with David Gerard. We are being interviewed for a QuadrigaCX documentary. I know when we get there, we are going to wish we had more time to hang out and meet people in the area. Especially given how far Gerard has to travel (from London) and how beautiful Vancouver is. And with that, here is the news from the past week.

Crypto Mom wants to give criminals a head start

SEC Commissioner Hester Peirce (aka “Crypto Mom”) has unveiled her proposal to create a “safe harbor” for crypto startups, allowing them a three-year grace period after their ICO to achieve a level of decentralization sufficient to pass through the agency’s securities evaluations, specifically the Howey Test. (My story in Modern Consensus.)

Where to begin? Given that most, if not all ICOs are illegal securities offerings, this is like giving fraudsters free reign, so they can pump up their coins, cash in and leave the country. It’s like 2017 all over again. This whole notion of “sufficiently decentralized” is something that first came in mid-2018 when Bill Hinman, the SEC’s director, division of corporate finance, mentioned it in a talk he was giving about Ethereum. There is no clear way of defining “sufficiently decentralized.” It’s a murky concept to begin with. (See David Gerard’s story on Peirce. He goes into more depth and is not nearly so kind.)

Peirce is a Republican with libertarian leanings. Her term expires June 5. With a proposal like this and a nickname “Crypto Mom,” I can only assume she is buttering up for her next gig? Also, the odds of this rule passing are slim to none, especially given SEC Commissioner’s Jay Clayton’s strong criticism of ICOs in the past. 

IOTA’s meltdown

IOTA is in full meltdown mode. Apparently, IOTA founders Sergey Ivancheglo (aka Come-from-Beyond) and David Sønstebø were working on a ternary computing development project called Jinn. But it fell apart, and now the two can’t stop pointing fingers at each other. Ivancheglo says that he no longer works for foundation director David Sønstebø and is suing him for 25 million MIOTA (~ $8.5 million). Sønstebø wrote this really long Medium post, which I had trouble staying awake through. There is also a r/buttcoin Reddit post that spells out the full drama, if you’re in need of entertainment.

Given the maturity level demonstrated by this project in the past, I’m not surprised by any of this. The project has been a complete mess ever since they tried to roll their own crypto in 2017. I wrote about it for Forbes, and they attacked me with weird blog posts and other nonsense. Cofounder Dominik Schiener even threatened to slap me. And when confronted, he accused me of “leading the FUD race.” FT Alphaville actually covered this in a story titled “FUD, inglorious FUD” at the time. 

Researcher Sarah Jamie Lewis is calling on some journalist somewhere to do a deep dive on this sketchy project. “At a glance it’s really hard to not come to the conclusion that there is rampant criminal fraud afoot,” she said in a Twitter thread.

Ripple perpetual swaps

Bitmex has announced trading of XRP perpetual swaps. Bitmex co-founder Arthur Hayes apparently believes XRP is lowly enough to trade on his exchange. Boo-yaka-sha!

Speaking of Ripple, XRP lost almost half of its value last year. It’s a touchy topic for Galaxy Digital CEO Mike Novogratz, because he has invested $23 million into the coin. He recently told a group of financial advisers in Orlando that XRP will “underperform immensely again this year.” He suggested it’s because Ripple owns a giant pool of the coins and keeps selling them off in a situation he likened to shares. (CoinDesk)  

The total amount of XRP in circulation is 100 billion tokens. While Ripple was “gifted” 80 billion, its holdings are down to 56 billion, most of which are in escrow. The company unlocks one billion XRP each month, sells a portion and puts the rest back in escrow. Does that sound like shares to you?

Mastercard dumps all over Libra

Mastercard was one of several payments companies (along with PayPal, eBay, Stripe, Visa, Mercado Pago) to pull out of the Libra Association in October. In an interview with the Financial Times, Mastercard’s CEO Ajay Banga revealed why.

First, Libra Association’s key members refused to commit to avoid running afoul of local KYC/AML rules. Banga would ask them to put things in writing, and they wouldn’t. Second, he didn’t understand what the game plan was for making money. “When you don’t understand how money gets made, it gets made in ways you don’t like.” Finally, the financial inclusion bit struck him as odd. “I’m like: ‘this doesn’t sound right,’” he said.

This gives us a bit of insight into the lack of thought and planning Facebook put into its Libra project before going public with it. You would think a huge enterprise like Facebook would get this stuff right, but apparently not.

ConsenSys splits in two

images (1)Joe Lubin’s organism (that’s what he used to call it, an “organism) looks to be running into more funding trouble, so it’s going to spin off its venture arm. The company will basically become two separate businesses, a software business and an investment business. In the process, it’s also  cutting another 14% of its staff. This is after cutting 13% of its staff in December. (My story in Modern Consensus.)

At one time, ConsenSys had 1,200 employees. In mid-2018, it reportedly had 900. About 117 were let go in December, and likely another 100 in this last round. This is a company that midwifed many of the ICOs that fueled the 2017-2018 crypto bubble. I can still recall going to ConsenSys’ Ethereum Summit on a sweltering day in May 2017 and watching some guy on stage strip down to his boxer shorts. Such was the exuberance at the time.

ConsenSys now lists only 65 companies in its investment portfolio. When Forbes wrote this scathing article in late 2018, the company had 200 startups. Lubin’s science experiment is starting to unravel.

Justin Sun finally breaks bread with Buffet

On Thursday, Tron CEO Justin Sun tweeted a receipt and pictures to show he finally dined with Warren Buffet. This, after paying $4.6 million in a charity auction last year to have lunch with the multi-billionaire. They were originally supposed to meet in San Francisco six months ago, but Sun postponed. This time they had dinner on Buffet’s home turf in Omaha, so Buffet clearly learned his lesson. Other guests were Litecoin’s Charlie Lee, Huobi CFO Chris Lee, eToro chief Yoni Assia, Binance Charity Foundation Head Helen Hai. The bill was for $515 and Buffet left a $100 tip. (Modern Consensus.)

Craig Wright’s abuse of privilege

Craig Wright, the self-professed creator of bitcoin, is driving the attorneys representing Ira Kleiman and the judge bananas. In a document filed with the court on Feb. 2, plaintiffs claimed that Wright has asserted privilege over 11,000 company documents. That is only part of the problem, they said. “The vague descriptions of what is being withheld makes any meaningful analysis on a document by document basis impossible.”

Wright has also apparently claimed that the” bonded courier” is an attorney and any communications with this person of mystery is privileged as well. (Modern Consensus.)

Altsbit gets hacked

Exchange hacks are extremely rare. We don’t hear about them too often, only once every few weeks or so. The latest victim is a small Italian exchange called Altsbit, which had its hot wallet vacuumed clean last week.

This was especially bad for Altsbit, because for some inexplicable reason, the exchange was keeping almost all of its funds in its hot wallet, which is a terrible idea. Most exchanges keep the majority of their funds in offline cold storage for security purposes.

According to reports, the hackers stole 1,066 Komodo (KMD) tokens and 283,375 Verus (VRSC) coins. The combined value of both stands at about $27,000. That’s small potatoes compared to other exchange hacks, where hundreds of millions worth of coins have gone missing. Almost all of Altsbit’s trading activity was coming from the ARRR/BTC pair. (ARRR is the native token of the Pirate Chain.) Altsbit said in a tweet on Feb. 5, it was investigating details of the hack and would get back to everyone soon, but so far nada. The exchange was founded in April 2018.

Bakkt gets into payments

Bakkt, the ICE-owned bitcoin options and futures exchange, isn’t making any money on bitcoin options, but that’s okay because it has another plan. It’s going into payments. The exchange is set to acquire loyalty program provider Bridge2 Solutions. The master plan is to integrate reward points, crypto, and in-game tokens into a single app, so consumers get an aggregate view of their digital assets. Eventually consumers will be able to spend those as cash via the Bakkt mobile app. But for that to happen, Bakkt will have to invest copious amounts of money into marketing to get merchants to adopt the new system of payment. (My story in Modern Consensus)

Other news

What’s happening with Jae Kwon? As Decrypt reported on Jan. 31, he stepped down as CEO of Cosmos to work on a project called Virgo with lofty aims. Cosmos pulled in $17 million in an ICO in 2017. Now Kwon is tweeting under three different monikers and the people within his company have come to find his behavior untenable. (Coindesk)

U.S. Marshalls is auctioning off $40 million of bitcoin (~4,041 BTC) on Feb. 18. (Coindesk.) If you want to put in a bid, you’ll have to deposit $200,000 in advance. Here is the registration form for anyone interested.  

Another study has come out showing that proof-of-stake is just as costly as proof-of-work. But instead of contributing to global warming, PoS requires stakers to put down tokens, lots and lots of them. It’s more evidence that blockchains aren’t economical.

If you have comments or feedback on this newsletter or a tip, drop me a line or DM me on Twitter at @ahcastor.

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News: Crypto Fyre Fest collapses, Virgil Griffith pleads not guilty, lawyers push to exhume body of Quadriga’s dead CEO

Only three weeks to go before David Gerard and I meet up together in Vancouver for work on a QuadrigaCX documentary. I hope the jet lag doesn’t take too much out of him. (He’s traveling from London.) I want to see what happens when he has a few drinks.  

Massive Adoption
(Photo: @crypt0fungus)

The comedy gold medal of the week goes to Massive Adoption, a bitcoin conference that’s now being called the Fyre Festival of crypto because of the packages sold. Jacob Kostecki promised roundtrip flights, hotels and parties for $300-$400. In a shock to all (note the sarcasm), he called the whole thing off. But don’t worry, your refunds are coming. It may take months, but they’re coming. Promise. I swear. So sorry about all this.

David Gerard was the one to originally report on #CryptoFyreFest. I wrote two stories for Modern Consensus on the topic. You’ll find them here and here.  

Our friend Jacob appears to have alienated more than a few casual strangers on the internet. His own brother Jedrek has been speaking out about him on social media. According to Jedrek, Jacob has left a trail of debt and broken promises behind him. And yes, Jacob confirmed to me in a DM that Jedrek is indeed his brother.

Jacob’s behavior reminds me a bit of Gerald Cotten’s when he was running HYIP schemes on TalkGold: Collect people’s money, and then later, tell them the scheme/event has collapsed. Blame it on something external to your control. (Jacob, for instance, is now pointing fingers at everyone, even me.) Apologize profusely and start issuing refunds in good faith, but slowly and over a long period, until people finally give up and go away. 

Also, I can’t help but notice the strong resemblance of the Massive Adoption logo to that of this media consultancy firm.

Virgil’s pot of gold?

Virgil Griffith, former head of special projects for Ethereum Foundation, pleaded not-guilty on Thursday to conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. He flew to New York from his parent’s house in Tuscaloosa, Ala., to enter his plea. I guess this means he is planning to go to trial? I have to wonder where all the money is coming from. Brian Klein, Griffith’s high profile L.A. lawyer, has made several trips to New York and these legal services don’t come cheap. Griffith’s parents and sister have already put up $1 million for his bail

Telegram’s ICO investors surface

The SEC alleges that Telegram ran a scheme whereby wealthy investors—including several Silicon Valley heavyweights—would get tokens at a steep discount, then dump them on crypto exchanges to bilk retailers. More of those possible investors are now surfacing in court docs. As reported in CoinDesk, they may include:

QuadrigaCX

The law firm representing QuadrigaCX’s former users are nudging the RCMP to dig up the corpse of Gerald Cotten, the exchange’s dead CEO, to make sure it’s really him and not some random dead guy from India. Everybody is mouthing the word “exit scam,” and this is likely the easiest way to find out. Of course, if the body is exhumed and it’s not Cotten, you can expect a Netflix series soon. (My story in my blog.)

Also, Quadriga’s fifth trustees report is out. Basically, it says that big four accounting firm EY, the collapsed exchange’s court appointed trustee, spent half a million U.S. dollars on fulfilling law enforcement requests in the second half of 2019. The small pile of what’s left of Quadriga creditor’s money continues to shrink. (My story in my blog

Reggie Fowler and the mysterious sealed document

Alleged Bitfinex money mule Reginald Fowler was supposed to plead guilty to one count and have the other three counts dropped. But something weird happened when the Arizona businessman stepped before a New York judge on Jan. 17. According to Bloomberg, Fowler was supposed to surrender ~ $371 million in more than 50 accounts. The deal fell apart when he only agreed to forfeit whatever was in the accounts.

Now, according to a Jan. 31 court filing, the U.S. Government has officially withdrawn its plea offer. Nobody knows the full details of what happened that day, but a mysterious sealed document, which appeared in his court filings on Jan. 30, might contain some clues. His trial begins April 28. 

Screen Shot 2020-02-02 at 3.09.31 PM

Spammers gonna spam

In part two of “Decred fires its publicist because Ditto PR could not get the altcoin project a Wikipedia page” David Gerard, who happens to be a longtime Wikipedia administrator, fires back. He wrote an entire blog post calling Ditto out on their no-coiner conspiracy claims. (Ditto originally alluded to Gerard in saying that “a few influential no-coiners have admin power and are intentionally censoring crypto pages.”) He also wrote an article on Wikipedia Signpost, where he talks about the “ongoing firehose of spam” Wikipedia has had to put up with following the 2017 crypto bubble.

Wikipedia has set rules governing what stays up on the site and what gets taken down, and those rules have nothing to do with the site’s administrators. Ditto should know this, as opposed to hiding behind some mad-capped nocoiner conspiracy theory.

Bakkt is a ghost town

The hope was that bitcoin options would lure institution money into the space and send the price of bitcoin through the atmosphere. The unfortunate reality is that literally, no one is trading Bakkt’s bitcoin options. (The bitcoin futures exchange is governed by the Intercontinental Exchange, the owners of the New York Stock Exchange.)

In the last full trading week of January, not a single bitcoin options contract was traded on Bakkt, Coindesk reported. Bakkt launched the first regulated bitcoin options contract on Dec. 9, having rolled out a cash-settled futures and physically settled futures in November and September, respectively. 

Other news

Chainalysis released a report on criminal uses of cryptocurrency in 2019. As long as you overlook some of the marketing fluff—e.g., 60 million Americans bought bitcoin last year—there’s some interesting takeaways. Like the bit about how crooks seem to cash out their bitcoins via over-the-counter trades going through Binance and Huobi. And how, for the first time in Bitcoin’s history, black market sales in crypto surpassed $600 million last year. (See my story in Modern Consensus.)

There’s been more than one news report claiming coronavirus is good for bitcoin. This is utter nonsense. The reason the price of bitcoin goes wildly up and down is because the markets are thinly traded, making them easy to manipulate. Literally, every time there is a crisis happening somewhere in the world, bitcoiners claims that’s good for bitcoin. 

Far right website @Zerohedge had their Twitter account suspended. They always post wild stuff, but apparently, they crossed a line. Buzzfeed said the site claimed without evidence that a scientist at the Wuhan Institute of Virology created the strain of the virus that has led the World Health Organization to declare a global health emergency.  

Bitcoin core developer @LukeDashjr weirdly commented on Twitter that “Masturbation is a very grave sin, arguably even worse than murder.” I thought he was joking, but apparently, /r/buttcoin has an entire collection of his bizarre quotes.

(Updated Feb. 3 at 9 a.m. ET with a few more details on Fowler.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The high cost of fulfilling law enforcement requests: Quadriga’s 5th trustee report

Stack of Canadian Dollar

Ernst & Young, the bankruptcy trustee for failed Canadian crypto exchange Quadriga, filed its fifth report of the trustee with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice on Jan. 22.

The purpose of the 79-page document was to submit the accounts of the trustee and its counsel with regard to activities involving various law enforcement officials, regulatory agencies and tax authorities. In its report, EY collectively refers these activities as “law enforcement.” 

In August 2019, EY told the court that it was getting overwhelmed with requests for material from law enforcement agencies and regulators. Collecting and producing the information is hard work and lawyers don’t come cheap. A court order on Sept. 17, 2019, solved that, giving EY the green light to continue cooperating with investigators.

EY worked with its general bankruptcy lawyer Stikeman Elliott to facilitate its cooperation with law enforcement. It also brought onboard Toronto law firm Lenczner Slaght Royce Smith Griffin for extra help in producing documents.

The volume of documents was huge, so EY put everything into a central “EDiscovery” database. At present, the database contains about 750,000 individual documents, it said.

The grand total for six months of responding to investigator inquiries came to CAD $637,156 ($484,000 USD). The costs were broken down as follows:

  • EY’s fees in connection with law enforcement activities for the period June 24, 2019, to Dec. 31, 2019, came to CAD $188,939.
  • Stikeman Elliott’s fees in connection with law enforcement activities for the period June 16, 2019, to Dec. 31, 2019, came to $133,618.
  • Lenczner Slaght’s fees in connection with law enforcement activities for the period June 25, 2019, to Dec. 31, 2019, totaled CAD $314,599.

EY said that it made “various efforts” to minimize costs and streamline the accumulation, review, and production of documents. However, it said, given the volume of documents and the time and effort required, the cost was still significant. The rest of the lengthy report spells out how the expenses were accrued.

(To learn more about the Quadriga scandal, read my full updated timeline.) 

Photo: iStock

 

 

Law firm for Quadriga creditors puts pressure on RCMP to dig up Cotten

cottenMiller Thomson, the law firm representing Quadriga’s 76,000 creditors, is ramping up pressure on the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to dig up the body of Gerald Cotten, the deceased founder of the failed Canadian cryptocurrency exchange.

Spring is just around the corner. That means the ground in the cold north is going to thaw, and so will the body of Cotten—or whoever that is buried six feet under—putting it at risk of further decomposition. Time is of the essence!

Miller Thomson originally sent a letter to the RCMP at their headquarters in Ottawa on Dec. 13 asking that they exhume the body of Quadriga’s former CEO pronto. They also requested a post-mortem autopsy to identify if that is truly his body and to determine the cause of death. Apparently, no action has been taken yet. 

So on Tuesday, Quadriga’s court-appointed counsel dashed off a letter to the Honorable Bill Blair, Canada’s Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, who is the person responsible for the RCMP. Miller Thomson explained all of this in a separate letter that it emailed to Quadriga’s creditors and posted on its website the same day.

Miller Thomson said that it asked Blair to give them an update on whether the RCMP will conduct an exhumation and post­mortem autopsy on the “alleged” — this is the language they are using now — body of Cotten prior to Spring 2020. 

Miller Thomson also gave out Blair’s email, so that Quadriga creditors could contact him “if they have further questions about the RCMP’s management of this file.”

What this means is, Blair will probably wake up Wednesday to hundreds of angry emails from people who have serious doubts as to whether Cotten is really dead. The law firm also suggested creditors contact their local members of parliament.  

I reached out to Blair for comments. It’s too late for him to respond now, but if he writes back, I’ll post his comments here.

Cotten died in Rajasthan, India, at the age of 30, from complications to Crohn’s disease. His body was embalmed in India before it was repatriated to Canada. The closed-casket funeral service took place at J.A. Snow Funeral Home in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Dec. 14, 2018—the date he was laid to rest. 

(To learn more about the Quadriga scandal, read my full updated timeline.) 

Photo: YouTube/Decentral

 

 

 

Personal update: My new gig at Modern Consensus

As most of you already know by now, I started a new job at the beginning of the month. I’m now senior editor at Modern Consensus. On Jan. 3, my second day on the job, I smashed my right index finger in my car door, and ended it up in the ER twice, first to stitch up the finger, and again to stop the profuse bleeding. 

ENXP84cXsAAYL1uIt was a bad smash. Early in the morning, after only a few hours sleep and a grueling yoga class, I stopped at a dog park. My dogs dashed out of the car, and as I was watching them, worried about coyotes, other dogs and cars in the vicinity (predators loom large in a tired mind), I wasn’t watching the finger, so I closed the door on it. My finger was so stuck in there, I had to actually pry open the door to get it out. 

The finger is much better now, though still numb at the tip. But the good news is I can type with all my fingers again. No more hunt and peck, which is why I’m finally writing this update now. 

Previous to Modern Consensus, I worked seven months for an ATM publication. Some of that was interesting. I was learning about cash and the world’s move away from cash. I got to cover bitcoin ATMs and the regulation—or lack of—in that space. But on the whole, I missed writing about the crypto space. It kept calling me back. Literally, I was still getting calls from people who knew me from my work around failed Canadian crypto exchange QuadrigaCX

I should mention why I turned to full-time work in June 2019 in the first place. Months prior, with encouragement from prolific nocoiner blogger David Gerard, I discovered the freedom of blog writing. Blogging is great. Nobody steps in to rearrange your sentences, wildly move paragraphs around, cross things out, or stick things in that feel like they don’t belong. (Editors do that kind of thing.) You are your own boss. The problem is, no one is paying you for the work either, so unless you are living out of a van, and don’t have rent or a mortgage, it’s a tough road. (Gerard, by the way, has a full time gig as a system administrator, so blogging is something he does on the side.)

Freelance work, which I’ve also done a lot of, is a tough road, too. A decade ago, you could make $1 a word as a freelance journalist. Now you are lucky to make $0.50. Writing, in general, has become a brutal profession. Nowadays, everyone is competing for clicks and views, and that means SEO and keywords, and at times, sacrificing any sense of individuality. But life is about compromises.

Screen Shot 2020-01-25 at 7.07.56 PMThat said, I am very happy to be working for Modern Consensus. It is a small team, but a small team of very experienced and dedicated journalists, who know their stuff. And if it weren’t for the talented Lawrence Lewitinn leaving that small publication that he cofounded (he’s the one who actually came up with the name “Modern Consensus”) to join CoinDesk, there wouldn’t have been an opening for me fill. Now I get to research and write about crypto and finance and frauds full time until my eyes bleed.  

I still plan to continue writing for my blog though, even if that’s just newsletters and small updates here and there. It’s something I enjoy doing and a chance for me to speak my mind the way I want to.

News: CBDCs are what’s hot, Vodafone pulls out of Libra, more WB21 stuff, Quadriga update

Let me kick off this newsletter with some personal news — I’ll be in Vancouver in the third weekend in February to meet up with David Gerard, the bitter nocoiner we all know and love. We’re both being interviewed for a documentary on QuadrigaCX. It’ll be a quick trip, but I suspect we’ll have enough time for a bottle of champagne, or two. I can’t wait to meet him for the first time in person. Next, on to the news.

CBDCs are all the rage

The big excitement these days tends to be around central bank digital currencies, or CBDCs. Ever since Facebook announced its plans for Libra in June 2019, central banks have been leaping into the digital currency bandwagon, researching the possibility of launching their CBDC.

China wants to be the first advanced economy to launch a CBDC. (Other central banks, such as the Central Bank of the Bahamas and the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, are well on their way with pilots up and running.) Lawmakers for Japan’s ruling party say they are planning to put a proposal for a digital yen in front of the government next month. (Oops! Apparently, Japan’s legislators are looking to issue a state-backed digital yen, not a CBDC, as I previously thought.) And the Bank for International Settlements says that in three years, one fifth of the world’s population will be using a CBDC. 

What’s a CBDC? While Libra is supposed to be backed by a basket of assets, a CBDC is a  an actual replacement for cash. In other words, it’s legal tender issued and backed by the state’s central bank—not the state itself. This is where things get a bit confusing. 

John Kiff, a senior financial sector expert at the International Monetary Fund, tells me the taxonomy for digital currencies is tricky and some definitions are still a bit fuzzy. He defines a CBDC as “a digital representation of sovereign currency that is issued by a jurisdiction’s monetary authority and appears on the liability side of the monetary authority’s balance sheet.” That should clarify things!

The general idea is, you should be able to use a CBDC to buy movie tickets, pay for groceries or buy a house. The big question here is, why would you want to use a CBDC if your debit card is more convenient and costs less to use? 

Apparently, all this CBDC stuff is nothing new. Aleksi Grym, head of digitalization at the Bank of Finland, said in a Twitter thread that we are going through the third historical wave of digital currencies. During the first wave, in 1993, the Bank of Finland launched a CBDC product called Avant. It was discontinued after 13 years. This February 2000 article in the Economist (paywall) describes the second wave of digital currencies, he said.

Taking us back through time, David Gerard has written a blog post detailing the history of Avant. CBDC advocacy hasn’t changed since the days of Avant, he argues. “CBDCs are the sort of thing the vendor loves — but I’ve yet to see the case for consumers.” Does that mean the debit card will win?  

Another blow to Libra, Tether Gold, Pornhub

Screen Shot 2020-01-25 at 8.31.12 PMVodafone dealt another blow to the Libra project, when it announced on Tuesday it had pulled out of the Libra Association, the independent governing council for Facebook’s planned cryptocurrency. The British telecom giant said that it wants to put the resources it originally intended for Libra into its African mobile money transfer service M-Pesa. The 28 companies originally joining the association had pledged to put in $10 million apiece. Vodafone is the eighth big company to pull out.

You can’t blame Vodafone. Who would want to throw $10 million into a project whose chances of getting off the ground — at least in the format originally intended — are slim to none? Facebook is facing too many regulatory headwinds at this point, and clearly Vodafone doesn’t want to take that risk. 

Elsewhere in the stablecoin world, on Thursday, Tether launched Tether Gold, a stablecoin backed by — you’ll want to sit down for this — real gold. That’s right. No longer do you need to bear the burden of worrying about where to safely store your personal stockpile of gold. Tether will take it off your hands and issue you I.O.U.s in it’s place. Similar to its fiat-backed cousin, Tether Gold is fully redeemable — under certain terms! If you want your full gold bars back, you’ll have to pick them up in Switzerland.  

PayPal stopped supporting payments to Pornhub in November, but that’s okay because now the world’s most popular porn site accepts tethers — the kind that run on the Tron blockchain. The big question here is, what are the webcam models going to do with all the heaps of tether they earn? At some point, they need to convert those to dirty fiat to buy groceries and pay rent. Somehow I don’t think that’s going to be easy. 

More WB21 stuff

I wrote a lengthy story on WB21 (now Black Banx) for Modern Consensus last week. Roger Knox, who was a client of WB21, the payment processor that is allegedly holding $9 million in QuadrigaCX funds, pleaded guilty to running a $165 pump and dump on Jan. 13. Three other individuals connected to the scam have also pleaded guilty. 

  • Matthew Ledvina, a Swiss attorney, pleaded guilty in Boston on Feb. 1, 2019. 
  • Milan Patel, a Swiss attorney, pleaded guilty in Boston on Dec. 3, 2018. 
  • Morrie Tobin, a California resident, pleaded guilty in Boston on Dec. 3, 2018. 

Michael Gastauer, who ran WB21, has not been formally charged, though he was named in the October 2018 civil suit along with Knox. I would assume plans are to indict him as well. It is not unusual for somebody charged by the SEC or law enforcement to cough up information in return for a lesser sentence. So all these guilty pleas probably don’t bode well for him. I’m just not sure if anyone knows where Gastauer is right now. But guessing by some of the schemes he has been involved with, he likely has access to plenty of money. If he is at large, he could stay that way for a while. 

WB21 also allegedly laundered money for cryptocurrency ponzi scheme OneCoin, according to a recent report in Financial Telegram.

Quadriga news

On Wednesday, Miller Thomson, the representative counsel for QuadrigaCX creditors, asked creditors for help in identifying any records — financial or otherwise — related to Crypto Capital Corp.

In a letter (archive) posted on its website, the law firm said it had received information that a “Panamanian shadow bank” may have been a payment processor for the exchange in the final quarter of its operation. In other words, sometime in Q4 2019.

Crypto Capital at one time listed Quadriga on its website as a client. The exchange’s now-deceased founder also admitted to using the firm in the past. In an email to Bloomberg News on May 17, 2018, Gerald Cotten wrote: “Crypto Capital is one such company that we have/do use. In general it works well, though there are occasionally hiccups.”

In other news

On the legal front, in a complaint filed Tuesday, the SEC charged blockchain marketplace Opporty for conducting an unregistered ICO. The company raised $600,000 preselling its OPP tokens to roughly 200 investors in the U.S. and elsewhere. Opporty sold the tokens to wealthy investors via a simple agreement for future tokens, or SAFT contract.  

SAFTs are a bad idea to begin with, but Opporty likely drew even more regulatory scrutiny to itself in describing its platform as some kind of magic do-it-all system. In its offering material, the company described its “ecosystem” as an “online platform that combines a blockchain-powered service marketplace, a knowledge-sharing platform, a system of decentralized escrow and a Proof-of-Expertise blockchain protocol.”

Elsewhere, the Blockchain Association has thrown its support behind Telegram. In a brief filed with the court on Tuesday, the advocacy group sided with the messenger app in the SEC v. Telegram lawsuit. It told the judge that a ruling in favor of the SEC would stifle innovation in the field and hurt investors. Those investors included prominent VC firms Benchmark and Lightspeed Capital, along with several wealthy Russians. Together they put up $1.7 billion in exchange for the promise of future grams. 

The Chamber of Digital Commerce also filed an amicus brief with the court, but with a broader focus, asking the court to come up with a better definition of digital assets.

Plaintiffs in a lawsuit naming Tether have requested the consolidation of three lawsuits claiming that Tether manipulated the price of bitcoin and related bitcoin futures markets. They filed a letter with the court on Jan. 16. Tether seems to be okay with it. 

French officials on Friday filed preliminary charges of money laundering and extortion against Alexander Vinnik, according to a report in the AP. The Russian nationalist was first arrested in Greece in July 2017, after he was accused of laundering $4 billion through the now-defunct exchange BTC-e. Greek authorities ruled that Vinnik should go to France, then to the U.S. and finally to Russia. Vinnik’s not happy about it. He was hoping to go straight to Russia, where he would face lighter sentencing.

Finally, Decred dumped it’s PR agency Ditto PR because they weren’t able to get a Wikipedia page for the project despite getting paid a retainer of $300,000. (It’s not clear if they were paid in DCR or dirty fiat.) Ben Munster covers the story in a hilarious article for Decrypt. And here is the full thread of Decred’s former publicist arguing their case. 

Updated Jan. 26 at 4 p.m. E.T. with a clearer definition of CBDCs and a quote from John Kiff.
Updated Jan. 27 at 10 p.m. E.T. to add a section about Quadriga.

 

Sweet home Alabama — Virgil Griffith free on $1M bail to live with parents

Screen Shot 2019-12-30 at 3.35.28 PMLast week, after a denial of bail, it looked like Virgil Griffith, the Ethereum Foundation developer who was arrested on Thanksgiving Day for allegedly violating sanctions and traveling to North Korea, was doomed to be spending months behind bars awaiting trial.

Now things are looking up. In an appeal of Thursday’s order, a Southern District of New York judge today granted his release pending $1 million bail. He won’t be headed back to Singapore where he lives, though. Instead, he’ll be going to Alabama — or “Sweet Home Alabama,” to borrow from rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd — to stay with his parents for a year, or however long it takes, to sort out the massive mess he’s gotten himself into. 

“We are very pleased the district judge sided with us and ordered Virgil to be released pending trial, Griffith’s lawyer, Brian Klein of Baker Marquart LLP, told me via email. Klein did not comment on how long it would take Griffith to be released from custody. 

Griffith’s sister and parents are putting up their homes to secure the bail, according to a  report by Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press — who said in a live tweet thread that he was the only reporter attending Griffith’s hearing today. 

Along with Klein, Griffith’s father sat in the courtroom today, watching the fate of his son unfold. The presiding judge was Vernon Broderick. 

Only four days earlier, in a separate hearing, also reported by Inner City Press, a different judge, Barbara Moses, denied Griffith’s bail. In making the decision, she cited Griffith’s text messages to his parents about renouncing his U.S. citizenship and setting up a money laundering business in North Korea.  

“Laws in this country are not suggestions… Assisting foreign governments with money laundering is illegal,” Broderick told Griffith in court today, according to Lee’s tweets. 

“If you were in North Korea, you wouldn’t be having a bond hearing,” he added. 

Klein pointed out that Griffith is not charged with money laundering, but sanctions violations. Virgil is “verbose and provocative,” he told the judge, according to Lee.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Krause argued that the prospect of jail time could make Griffith want to flee and that he might have assets out of the country. He pointed out that Griffith had been making plans to renounce citizenship, according to Lee.

Although Griffith had considered renouncing U.S. citizenship, he didn’t do it, Klein said.

In the end, Broderick agreed to the bail. He also ruled that Griffith will be allowed to e-mail with his lawyers, and even use his passport card for travel, once he gets himself an Alabama state identification, according to Inner City Press.

 

News: Ex-employee sues Kraken, Reggie Fowler to change not-guilty plea, Circle sheds another crypto business

It’s the first night of Hanukkah and a few days before Christmas. A lot of folks are off work for the rest of the year, and those still working are barely working. But the news never sleeps, so here’s a roundup of important crypto news from last week. 

kRAKENOn top of the list — an ex-employee is suing Kraken, a prominent U.S. crypto exchange. (Here’s the complaint.) The ex-employee claims the firm fired him for bringing to light illegal business practices. Among his accusations: Kraken used employee addresses to falsify business records and did business with entities on the Office of Foreign Assets Control list of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons — a big no-no.

David Gerard, who broke the story on Tuesday, summarizes the important details in a blog post. The story has now made it into the mainstream press and could screw up the exchange’s plans to launch a “cryptobank” in Wyoming.

Next up, Reginald Fowler, the ex-NFL owner accused of operating a “shadow bank” that processed hundreds of millions of dollars of unregulated transactions on behalf of crypto exchanges, plans to change his not guilty plea. In a hearing set for Jan. 10, he is expected to plead guilty to at least one of the charges. 

As an aside, previously, I’d heard that the two wealthy friends who put up a substantial portion of Fowler’s $5 million bail in May — back when he entered a plea of not guilty — were Lori Fowler, his ex-wife, and Molly Stark, the club director of Spiral Volleyball, a company he owned. Indeed, here are the court docs with both their signatures on it.

In other news, Coinfloor, the oldest running crypto exchange in London, announced on Tuesday plans to delist ethereum and bitcoin cash. As of Jan. 3, it will only focus on bitcoin. The move comes ahead of the Ethereum 2.0 launch. Being a small exchange, the hassle of dealing with forks was apparently too much for the business to deal with. 

Circle is shedding another crypto business. The Boston firm announced Tuesday that it sold Coin Trade, its over-the-counter crypto trading desk, to Kraken. The move comes after it sold off its crypto exchange Poloniex and co-CEO Sean Neville stepped down. In 2020, Circle plans to focus mainly on stablecoins, or more specifically, its own USD Coin. Leo Jakobson does a nice job covering the story for Modern Consensus.  

The European Central Bank is exploring the use of an “anonymity voucher” to give prospective central bank digital currency users privacy in their retail transactions. Of course! What better way to make it screamingly obvious that you are hiding something than to flag it with an anonymity voucher. I can’t see this being very effective.

Several lawmakers sent a letter to the IRS on Friday asking for clarity on crypto tax laws. Apparently, guidance the IRS issued in October on the handling of forks and airdrops brought up more questions than answers. (Story in CoinDesk.)

Grayscale conducted an incredibly sexist study on women bitcoin investors, which CoinDesk wrote up. According to the study, 93% of women would be more open to buying bitcoin if we only had more educational resources available to us. The big question is, why did Grayscale even conduct a silly study like this? 

FT’s Jemima Kelly has an answer. As she so cleverly points out “… this is of course not about what women want. It’s about what crypto men want, and they want more people to buy into crypto so that their own HODLings can grow more valuable.”  

Finally, Michael Patrick McSweeney, who many of us have long known as Stan Higgins — a pen name he began using when he started working for CoinDesk in 2014 — has landed a new gig as managing editor at The Block. McSweeney left CoinDesk on Oct. 31.  

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News: Quadriga creditors want Cotten’s body exhumed, NYAG/iFinex standoff continues, Bottle Pay shutting down 

I’ve fallen behind on crypto news, mainly because I’ve had this job writing about cash and ATMs for the last seven months. But now I’m trying to get back into it, so here’s a rundown on the news of the week that stuck out. 

Coffin Open

On top of the list, lawyers for QuadrigaCX creditors want to exhume Gerald Cotten’s body. They’ve dashed off a letter to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police seeking a post-mortem autopsy of the body as well “to confirm both its identity and the cause of death.” That sounds horribly gruesome, particularly since, he was buried a year ago. 

He was apparently not cremated. After his death in India on Dec. 9, 2018, his body was embalmed, flown to Canada and buried. No formal autopsy was done, however, so foul play has not been ruled out. Lawyers would like the body pulled from the ground before spring for obvious reasons.

Cotten’s widow said she was “heartbroken to learn of this request.”  

(Read my Quadriga timeline to get up to speed on the details of the now defunct Canadian crypto exchange.)

In other news, the legal standoff between the New York Attorney General’s Office and iFinex, the parent company of Tether and Bitfinex, continues.

In late 2018, the NYAG demanded iFinex hand over documents related to an ongoing investigation of its activities, and iFinex has been trying to avoid doing so ever since.

In August, the court ruled iFinex needed to cooperate. iFinex appealed, and recently, the NYAG filed its lengthy response. The response contains a lot of what we already know, but it’s a good refresher if you want to catch up on the entire saga. You can also read Tether’s response to the NYAG’s response filed on Friday. 

You recall Cryptopia, the New Zealand crypto exchange that collapsed after a $16 million hack in January? Liquidator Grant Thornton released a second report on Wednesday detailing its progress in recovering the funds. So far, it’s recovered NZ$10.9 million ($7.2 million) but reconciling the over 900,000 active customers on the exchange at the time it went belly up in May is proving a gargantuan task. Likely creditors won’t recoup any of their money anytime soon, and let’s not even talk about the legal fees.

In a podcast interview with Eric Weinstein, managing director at Thiel Capital, published Wednesday, Vitalik Buterin casually mentioned how he managed to convince the Ethereum Foundation to sell 70,000 ETH when the coin peaked in late 2017, resulting in $100 million liquidity. ETH would have been valued at around $1,400 at the time — 10x what it’s worth today. It’s good to know the Ethereum Foundation isn’t starving. 

Canadian bitcoin ATM operator Instacoin announced it’s adding support for seven stablecoins  —  including tether. You can buy and sell up to C$10,000 worth of crypto in a day on these street corner exchanges without having to present any form of identification. Can you imagine if Western Union operated in this fashion?

On Tuesday, U.S. prosecutors arrested four men men for allegedly running a $722 million crypto ponzi scheme. From April 2014 through December 2019, BitClub Network solicited money from investors all over the world in exchange for shares of crypto mining pools. In private conversations, the operators called their clients  “dumb” and “sheep” and “idiots.” What do you call people who get caught running these types of scams? 

Shopin founder Eran Eyal pled guilty Thursday to defrauding investors of millions of dollars through three investment schemes, including a $42.5 million ICO. After conducting an unregistered securities offering by selling Shopin tokens in 2017, he never created a functional platform. (Here’s the PR and complaint.)

In a tweet, crypto lawyer Stephen Palley said: “The SEC’s ICO enforcement work has quickly become indistinguishable from other types of enforcement litigation. Crypto’s novelty receives no special treatment. Like any other securities offering — you have to register, you can’t make misstatements, and you can’t misuse funds.”

Singapore-based VeChain Foundation’s buyback wallet was hacked on Friday. According to a report in CoinDesk, VeChain said it is working with cybersecurity firm Hacken to track the movement of VET tokens should the criminals try to cash out. The hacked funds represent a little over 1% outstanding VET, which has a fixed supply of 86.7 billion. VeChain is calling the mistake “human error,” because we’re all only human.

Bottle Pay, a service that once allowed users to send tiny amounts of bitcoin via social media, is shutting down due to new AML regulations in the E.U.  The Fifth Anti-Money Laundering Directive goes into effect in January and expands existing legislation to include the crypto space imposing strict KYC and AML practices. Users have until the end of the month to withdraw their funds. 

Lawrence Lewitinn, former editor-in-chief of Modern Consensus, is now managing editor of markets for CoinDesk. He wrote his first piece about Bitmain’s Texas Hedge. A Texas hedge is a high reward, high risk venture that’s generally a recipe for disaster. Lewitinn does a good job explaining. 

In an article written for The Block, Palley claims that Bitcoin-linked investment scheme known as HEX is not a ponzi, but it’s obviously an unregistered security offering.  

@Cryptodeleted and @Cryptodeleted2 — the twitter accounts that archived deleted tweets — were shut down by Bitcoin maximalists. 

# # #

 

DOJ arrests Ethereum Foundation coder for teaching North Korea how to launder money, evade sanctions

Virgil MediumWhen you openly defy the U.S. government and travel to North Korea — one of the U.S.’s foremost enemies — to teach crypto and blockchain tech at a conference, you can’t really expect things to go well. I mean, can you?

It’s hard to know then, if Virgil Griffith, head of special projects for the Ethereum Foundation, knew what was about to happen or if he was completely caught off guard on Thanksgiving Day — a day when everyone else in the U.S. was stuffing themselves with turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy — when the DOJ arrested him at LAX.

According to a statement by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, he is charged with violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which prohibits U.S. citizens from exporting goods, services or technology to North Korea without approval from the Treasury Department. The maximum sentence is 20 years.

In April, Griffith traveled to North Korea — or more formally, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea — to allegedly deliver a presentation and technical advice on using crypto and blockchain tech to evade sanctions at the Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference.

That’s a big no-no. In September 2017, the U.S. issued a travel ban to North Korea. U.S. citizens are not allowed to go there without a special validation.

According to the unsealed complaint, Griffith knew full well that it was illegal to travel to the DPRK. He sought permission from the Department of State and his request was denied. Still — and this is the mind boggling bit — he went anyway.

In his presentation at the conference titled “Blockchain and Peace,” Griffith allegedly discussed how a blockchain and a smart contract could be used to benefit the DPRK.

The complaint states:

“At the DPRK Cryptocurrency Conference, GRIFFITH and other attendees discussed how blockchain and cryptocurrency technology could be used by the DPRK to launder money and evade sanctions, and how the DPRK could use these technologies to achieve independence from the global banking system.”

In an interview that took place with the FBI in November, Griffith said the presentation amounted to a “non-zero transfer of technical knowledge” and that the information included “basic concepts accessible on the Internet,” the complaint said. So did he actually “export” any new information to the DPRK? I’m not so sure.

Griffith’s flouting of U.S. laws did not stop there, however. He also allegedly communicated about violating sanctions with a financial transaction.

“After the DPRK Cryptocurrency Conference, GRIFFITH began formulating plans to facilitate the exchange of cryptocurrency between the DPRK and South Korea, despite knowing that assisting with such an exchange would violate sanctions against the DPRK.”

Griffith is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Still, he is in deep water and will need a really good lawyer to dig him out of this mess.

Who is Virgil Griffith?

Labeled an “internet man of mystery” by The New York Times in November 2008, Griffith, 36, has a doctorate from the California Institute of Technology in computations and neural systems and a B.A. in computer and cognitive science from the University of Alabama. He is a U.S. citizen who lives in Singapore.

He is also the founder of a data-mining tool called WikiScanner, which makes it possible to figure out which organization made which edits to a Wikipedia entry by cross-referencing IP addresses with a database of IP address owners.

The NY Times article described him as a “troublemaker” and a “twerp” and said Griffith’s problems with authority emerged early on. He spent several school days in detention. Also, according to the article:

“In his public school, he worried about gangs; his mother pulled him out and briefly homeschooled him. Eventually, he graduated from the Alabama School of Math and Science, even though he once threatened to sue the school — for a proposed policy of mandatory drug testing — and skipped his final exams to travel in Greece.”

Griffith joined the Ethereum Foundation in 2015. In an interview, he told developer Makoto Inoue that met Ethereum Founder Vitalik Buterin pre-Ethereum, which would likely have been sometime in 2014, after Buterin dropped out of the University of Waterloo and started traveling the world to learn more about crypto.

“While I was a graduate student Vitalik slept in my closet for about two months,” Griffith told the interviewer. 

‘But danger is my fetish’

What could Griffith have possibly been thinking to do something so incredibly stupid? He once tweeted, “But danger is my fetish,” so maybe that was the thrill.

For many, Griffith’s actions are a flashback to Ross Ulbricht, the creator of the Silk Road, now serving a life sentence for drug trafficking and money laundering. On Thanksgivings, Ross’ mother puts a plate piled high with food in front of an empty chair at the table. One can’t help wonder if Griffith’s family faces a similar future.

Like Ulbricht, Griffith’s actions appear that of a narcissist thinking he was too special, too clever to get caught. So confident was he that he openly flaunted his trip to North Korea. For instance, on Aug. 13, he literally tweeted a picture of his visa to go there. In another tweet, he referred to the journey as a “Trip of a lifetime.”

I recommend reading Ben Munster’s September story in Decrypt on the upcoming 2020 “Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference.” In it, Munster describes the government-sponsored event as offering an “exclusive environment of confidentiality and contacts with the highest government officials and engineers.”

Munster spoke with an attendee of the 2019 conference, who told him that “the main things (the North Koreans) were interested in were using Bitcoin to get around sanctions, and using Ethereum for U.N.-less courts.”  The source went on to describe how North Korea has trouble enforcing agreements outside of its own borders:

“‘Generally they load up Chinese people with millions of dollars in cash [and send them across the border], but half the time, these people just disappear with the money. There’s not much they can do about it.’ As such, North Koreans ‘desperately want a way to have agreements that work outside their own borders,’ he explained. ‘I told them about smart contracts. They were very excited about that.’”

The cryptosphere reacts

A few of the folks in cryptoland appear to be downplaying the seriousness of Griffith’s behavior — some calling the government’s case “misdirected” and portraying Griffith as a sweet guy with the best of intentions.

“Hoping that this concludes quickly, and teaches a valuable lesson to all, but with a minimum of wasted time and effort for Virgil, who is a valuable technical contributor,” tweeted Emin Gün Sirer, a Cornell professor working on his own blockchain protocol.

Crypto lawyer Stephen Palley retorted: “I mean, it’s the Southern District of New York — they are not really in the teaching lessons business.”

One Ethereum developer wondered aloud on twitter if Griffith was trying to teach North Korean citizens with the hope he was “setting them free” from the regime — a humanitarian mission, if you will.

As for the Ethereum Foundation, it issued a formal statement to Vice, saying it was not represented in any capacity at the events outlined in the Justice Department’s filing, and it “neither approved nor supported any such travel, which was a personal matter.”

News: Bitmarket CEO turns up dead, Bitfinex to NYAG: ‘Yeah but no but,’ more weirdness from Tron

human-figure-outline-imprinted-on-grass-picture-id177395889It’s no fun when the money’s all gone. Two weeks after Polish crypto exchange Bitmarket shut down due to “lack of liquidity,” the lifeless body of its CEO, Tobiasz Niemir, turned up in the woods. It’s not clear if he fell in with shady characters or he put that bullet in his head all by himself.  

Here is an interview with Niemer done shortly before his death.

You remember BTC-e, the crypto exchange that was shut down in mid-2017? The U.S. is now suing the exchange and its operator Alexander Vinnik to recover penalties of $100 million imposed by FinCEN for allegedly violating the Bank Secrecy Act. Vinnik, a Russian national, is facing extradition requests from both the U.S. and Russia. (Here are the court docs.) 

Binance has been shilling its centralized BNB token. The crypto exchange regularly burns (destroys) large numbers of the token to increase the value of whatever is left. The BNB burn is “meaningless nonsense to fool suckers,” writes David Gerard. “Anyone taking Binance posts about BNB seriously as any sort of trading signal is dumb enough to trade literally any shitcoin they see, and probably deserves to.”

The hearing for Reggie Fowler, the AAF investor tied to Bitfinex’s missing $850 million, has been moved to December. (Here are the court docs.) Also, recall that he was released on $5 million bail secured by several pieces of cheap real estate and two financially responsible people. Who were his wealthy friends? A source tells me it was his ex-wife Lori Fowler and Molly Stark, the director of Spiral Volleyball, a company he owned. It pays to stay on good terms with your exes.

(Update Dec. 22: Lori Fowler and Molly Stark signed the court documents for his release.)

Bitfinex and Tether filed court docs arguing once again that they are not doing any business in New York and tether is not a security. (Here is Bitfinex counsel Stuart Hoegner’s affidavit and an accompanying memorandum of law submitted by the company’s outside counsel). It all boils down to “yeah, but, no, but yeah.” We’ll hear from the judge on Monday, July 29 as to what he thinks. 

Big whoops: Swedish crypto exchange Quickbit says it has leaked the data of 300,000 customers. According to the exchange, a third-party contractor left the data unprotected while upgrading on the exchange’s servers. 

Elsewere in cryptoland 

After bidding an astounding $4.5 million in a charity auction for the privilege to have lunch with billionaire Warren Buffet, Tron CEO Justin Sun cancelled last minute, claiming a bad case of kidney stones. But come to find out Sun’s been on the lam from China since November 2018. He is living in San Francisco now, which was where the lunch was supposed to have taken place. 

Sun was, however, feeling well enough to attend the Tron after-party on July 25, even though nothing actually happened before the party, since lunch was cancelled.

According to Chia founder Bram Cohen, Sun also forgot to make a scheduled payment as part of Tron’s mid-2018 acquisition of file sharing service BitTorrent. Someone needs to explain to Bram that kidney stones can take a lot out of a person.

In other news, the IRS is sending out scary letters to bitcoin holders, reminding them that they need to report any gains in crypto trading and pay their taxes. “Taxpayers should take these letters very seriously, IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said. 

How did the IRS get all this info? Previously, a court ordered Coinbase to hand over the personal identifying information of customers who had transactions of $20,000 or more on the exchange between 2013 to 2015.

An MIT fellow thinks the structure of Facebook’s Libra was lifted verbatim from a paper that he and two other scholars published last year. What say you, Facebook? Are you stealing people’s ideas? It’s not like you’ve done anything like that in the past.

On the subject of Libra, one of the big selling points of the project was that it had 27 partners backing the project. But the CEO of Visa reminds us, no companies have officially joined yet. They’ve only signed non-binding letters of intent. 

Telegram is under the gun. The popular messaging service has sold $1.7 billion worth of its Gram tokens to investors. Now it needs to build a Gram wallet into Messenger by October or give all the money back — and we’re sure it doesn’t want to do that.  

Finally, Sergey Ivancheglo (aka “Come from Beyond”), the founder of IOTA and one of the project’s core developers, quit the IOTA Foundation. The two remaining directors are non-developers, but we’re sure they’ll handle everything just fine on their own. Nice bunch of people, really. 

 

News: Former Wex CEO arrested, CFTC probes BitMEX, Facebook’s Libra grilled in Washington

Since I’m now the editor of an ATM website, let’s start with bitcoin ATM news. LibertyX is adding 90 machines to its bitcoin ATM network. It now has over 1,000 machines.

Actually, these are not new machines. They are traditional cash ATMs that are bitcoin enabled. A software upgrade on the machines allows users to buy bitcoin with a debit card. The ATMs continue to dispense cash as well. 

According to CoinATM Radar, there are now 5,200 bitcoin ATM machines on this earth. Who the heck is using them? At least one operator, frustrated by a lack of business, has moved his Bitcoin ATM into his mother’s garage. 

In the exchange world —

Criminal in handcuffsDmitri Vasilev, the ex CEO of defunct crypto trading platform Wex, was arrested in Italy. Wex was a rebrand of BTC-e, an exchange that was shut down in 2017 for being a hub of criminal activity. BTC-e was also linked to the stolen bitcoin from Mt. Gox.  

Economist Nouriel Roubini — aka “Dr. Doom” — has stepped up his attack on crypto derivatives exchange BitMEX. In a scathing column in Project Syndicate, Roubini claims sources told him the exchange is being used daily for “money laundering on a massive scale by terrorists and other criminals from Russia, Iran, and elsewhere.” 

Days after Roubini’s column came out, Bloomberg reported that the CFTC was investigating whether BitMEX allowed Americans to trade on the platform. In fact, we know that crypto analyst Tone Vays, a New York resident, was trading on the platform until November 2018 when his account was terminated.

Regulators are cracking down on crypto exchanges. As The Block’s Larry Cermak points out, the situation is getting “quite serious.”

Elsewhere, Bitpoint, the Tokyo-based crypto exchange that was recently hacked, says it will fully refund victims in crypto, not cash. Roughly 50,000 users were impacted when $28 million worth of crypto vanished off the exchange. Two-thirds of the stolen funds belonged to customers of the exchange. 

U.S. crypto exchange Coinbase has killed off its loss-making crypto investment packages. After shutting down its crypto index fund due to a lack of interest, it closed its much ridiculed “Coinbase Bundle.” The product launched eight months ago with the aim of making it easy to purchase a market-weighted basket of cryptocurrencies. 

Malta-based Binance found itself $775,000 richer when it stumbled across nearly 10 million Stellar lumens (XLM). Turns out, the exchange had been accidentally staking (receiving dividends) on its customers lumens for almost a year. It’s planning to give the tokens away in an airdrop and will also add staking support for customers.  

Tether, the stablecoin issued by Bitfinex/Tether, is now running on Algorand, a new blockchain protocol. It’s also running on Omni, Ethereum, Tron and EOS. Presumably, running on a plethora of networks makes tether that much harder to shut down. It’s sort of like whack-a-mole. Try to take it off one network, and tether reappears on another. 

There are now officially more than $4 billion worth of tether sloshing around in the crypto markets. That number almost doubled when Tether inadvertently issued $5 billion unbacked tethers when it was helping Boston-based crypto exchange Poloniex transfer tethers from Omni to Tron. Oops.

Also interesting —

David Gerard is working on a book about the world’s worst initial coin offerings. He recently uncovered another cringe-worthy project. “Synthestech was an ICO to fund research into transmutation of elements, using cold fusion — turning copper into platinum. Literally, an ICO for alchemy. Turning your gold into their gold.” 

Facebook’s Libra had a busy week.

U.S. Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin gave a press briefing on crypto at the White House. (Here’s the transcript.) He is concerned about the speculative nature of bitcoin. He’s also seriously worried Libra will be used for money laundering. He said the project has a long, long way to go, before he feels comfortable with it. 

Unlike bitcoin, which goes wildly up and down in price, Libra would have a stable value, because it would be pegged to a basket of major currencies, like the dollar, euro, and yen. Although, nobody is quite sure how that will work and what currencies it will be pegged to. Tether has a stable value, too, of course.

After his talk, Mnuchin flew off to Paris, where he met with finance ministers from six other powerful countries at the G7 summit. Everyone there agreed they need to push for the highest standards of regulation on Libra. 

Meanwhile, David Marcus, the head of the Libra project, got a grilling in Congress over privacy and trust issues. (You can watch the Senate hearing here and the House Financial Services Committee hearing here.) Nobody believes Facebook will keep its word on anything.

All of this is happening, of course, just after the social media giant got a $5 billion slap on the wrist for privacy violations following the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

The dumb tweet of the week award goes to Anthony Pompliano, co-founder of a digital asset fund Morgan Creek Digital, who says dollars aren’t moved digitally, they are moved electronically. For some reason, he has 250,000 followers on Twitter. The historic tweet even made it in FT Alphaville.

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak has joined an energy-focused blockchain startup in Malta. The Mediterranean island nation is gung-ho about blockchain. It is also a haven for money laundering and the place where a female journalist who tried to expose government corruption was blown up in 2017. 

U.S authorities have charged former Silk Road narcotics vendor Hugh Brian Haney with money laundering. The darknet market was shut down in 2013. Special agents used blockchain analytics to track down Haney and seize $19 million worth of bitcoin. 

This clever young man has made a business out of helping crypto exchanges inflate their volume. 

ConsenSys founder Joseph Lubin is being sued by a former employee for $13 million. The employer is alleging fraud, breach of contract and unpaid profits.

Former bitcoin core developer Peter Todd is being sued for allegedly touching people inappropriately.

And finally, bitcoin ransomware Ryuk is steadily making its way into China.  

 

 

News: NYAG calls Bitfinex out, Bitfunder founder off to jail, Roubini pissed at Bitmex

A few people asked me where I’ve been lately. I’ve been working! I recently started a full time job. I’m the editor of a website about ATM machines. I recently wrote Spanish authorities: bitcoin ATMs expose hole in AML laws” and Bitcoin ATMs: Why Vancouver doesn’t want them.” (By the way, if you are curious how criminals use bitcoin ATMs to clean money, this moneylaunder.com article does a nice job of explaining the process.) 

I also write a newsletter on money. You should sign up for it

On to the news — 

Much ado about exchanges

Crypto exchange Bitfinex is doing a lot more business in New York than it’s led us all to believe. The NYAG’s recent court filings — a Memorandum of Law and an affirmation from assistant Attorney General Brian Whitehurst, along with 28 pieces of evidence — reveal a full picture of the company’s dealings in the state.  

Why does it matter? Because his means NYAG has jurisdiction to push ahead with its investigation into Bitfinex and Tether’s ongoing shenanigans. Decrypt’s Ben Munster also points out that Bitfinex “loaned tethers to a New York trading firm.” There’s an open question as to whether the funds were ever paid back.  

Also, Bennet Tomlin had a good thread on the NYAG’s filing.

By the way, there are now nearly $3.9 billion tether sloshing around in the markets, pushing up the price of bitcoin, which briefly crested $13,000 on July 10. 

I nearly missed this bit of news from a few weeks ago: Ireland-based cryptocurrency exchange Bitsane went poof!, leaving its 246,000 users high and dry. Users began having issues withdrawing crypto from the exchange in May. And on June 17, the exchange’s website along with its twitter and facebook accounts vanished.  

Bitmarket, the second largest Polish crypto exchange, has shut down citing a loss of liquidity. Approximately 1,300 bitcoin are stuck on the exchange, and users are rightfully pissed off. They have formed a Facebook group and are planning a class-action lawsuit. The exchange was acting goofy before the shutdown. Reddit user u/OdoBanks says users were asked to change passwords and provide additional KYC for withdrawals.

Founder of bitcoin stock exchange Bitfunder will be spending 14 months behind bars for lying to the SEC about a hack that cost clients 6,000 BTC. Instead of telling his customers the truth in 2013, operator Jon Montroll misappropriated funds to hide the losses.  

Cryptocurrency exchange hacks don’t happen too often — only once every few weeks. Japan’s Bitpoint is the latest to make headlines. The exchange’s hot wallets were hacked to the tune of $32 million worth of crypto, most of which were customer funds. On Monday, the exchange found another $2.3 million missing on exchanges “that use the trading system provided by Bitpoint Japan,” according to Japan Today

(Update, July 15, 11:30 a.m. EST — previously, I indicated Bitpoint located $2.3 of the missing funds, but actually the exchange found more money missing.)

Speaking of Japan, the country’s top regulator says 110 crypto exchanges are waiting for licenses right now. Under Japanese law, crypto exchanges need to register with the Financial Services Agency to operate in the country. As of now, there are only 19 licensed exchanges in Japan. The FSA has been slow to license after the Coincheck hack

Binance burned 808,888 of its native BNB tokens — about $24 million worth. This is the eighth burn of BNB coins, which are totally not a security. The price of the remaining BNB goes up every time there is a burn. Keep in mind, until any crypto is converted to fiat, its value is completely theoretical. 

Screen Shot 2019-07-14 at 11.26.10 PMBitMEX, the Hong Kong-based bitcoin derivatives exchange, has finally released the tapes (round 1 and 2) from its “Tangle In Taipei,” a July 3 debate between Bitmex CEO Arthur Hayes and NYU professor Nouriel Roubini. The two have been going at it online.

A man is suing Gemini — the NY exchange operated by the Winklevoss twins — after $240,000 was stolen from his money market account and wired to Gemini, where it was used to to purchase crypto on the exchange.  

Due to heightened oversight on online crypto exchanges, users are increasingly asked to fork over their IDs and addresses. The shift is giving peer-to-peer exchanges, which typically don’t impose such KYC checks, a boost, according to Bloomberg

Other interesting stuff

Founders of the Tezos crypto platform object to sharing emails between them regarding the Tezos “fundraiser” because they are married. Steven Palley has the full story

New York City’s Monroe College was hit with a ransomware attack that shutdown the college’s computer systems. The attackers want the college to fork over $2 million worth of bitcoin to free up the computers.  

President Trump blasted bitcoin on Twitter. He is no fan of Facebook’s Libra either. There’s only room in this country for one currency, and that’s the almighty dollar.

The Federal Trade Commission has fined Facebook a gobsmacking $5 billion for privacy violations. It’s the biggest fine in FTC’s history. Surprise, surprise, Facebook’s stock went up on the news. 

An angry mob burned down the home of a man behind bitcoin ponzi scheme in South Africa after he admitted all the money was gone. 

Finally, police in China cracked down on a cartel of illicit bitcoin miners who stole nearly $3 million worth of electricity. A local power company tipped off authorities after they noticed a peculiar surge in power use.  

My story in Decrypt: “QuadrigaCX CEO traded millions in fake funds to fund luxury lifestyle, alleges trustee”

Ernst & Young released its fifth report of the monitor last night, and it was a doozy. I covered the report for Decrypt. If you have not read my story yet, check it out here.

The monitor’s report is 70-pages long, and I recommend finding a nice comfortable spot and reading all of it. It is page after page, paragraph after paragraph, of “What the hell?”

According to the report, from 2016 onwards, QuadrigaCX went completely off the rails. Gerald Cotten, the exchange’s now-deceased CEO, clearly had no interest in running a legitimate business. He treated customer funds like his own personal bank account—a bit like Bernie Madoff, only a lot more recklessly.

Cotten gambled with his customers’ money, went on lavish vacations, flew on private jets, and bought properties, an airplane, a yacht, whatever toys he wanted. Now most of the funds on the exchange are gone, and EY still has no clue as to where the cash proceeds went. The big question is, did Cotten really act alone?

QuadrigaCX co-founder Michael Patryn is not mentioned in the report. According to what we’ve been told, he completely stepped away from the business in early 2016. After that, Cotten allegedly became a recluse and ran the business into the ground single handedly.

EY has also released a three-part (1, 2, 3) sixth monitor’s report detailing the costs of professional services related to Quadriga’s Companies’ Creditor Arrangement Act. Moving forward, EY is now the trustee in Quadriga’s bankruptcy proceedings.

# # #

I wrote “Bitcoin ATMs—Why Vancouver doesn’t want them”

I started digging into Bitcoin ATM machines, and the research led me to write “Bitcoin ATMs—Why Vancouver doesn’t want them.” Vancouver, as we know, does not like Bitcoin ATMs. The mayor of the city wants them banned.

I suspect that the collapse of crypto exchange QuadrigaCX, which was based in Vancouver, also left a bad taste in the city’s mouth.

A source close to the matter told me that Quadriga had between two to four Bitcoin ATMs in its early days, but those were gone by 2017. The exchange was offering cash withdrawals. Where did all that cash come from? It’s own Bitcoin ATMs and later, the company had partnerships with other Bitcoin ATM operators, the source told me.

IMG-7392Recently, I visited a Bitcoin ATM in Los Angeles and spent time chatting with the owner of the machine. He told me that his machine charged a 7% transaction fee for bitcoin purchases—5% if you are selling bitcoin—and they only do ID checks for amounts over $280.

Bitcoin ATMs vary. Some charge up to 19%, and some only let you buy bitcoin and other crypto—no selling.

In other news, I am now the editor of ATM Marketplace and World of Money. I’ll be writing about cryptocurrency, but also covering ATM machines, money and payments in general. As long as I get to read, research and write all day, I’m happy. 

CLAM flash crash forces Poloniex to socialize $14 million worth of BTC in losses—what happened

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  CLAM dropped 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.

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 postPoloniex 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

Screen Shot 2019-06-06 at 10.36.34 PMIf 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 of Blackcoin (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 to new 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. 

History repeats 

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 removed in 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.   

Screen Shot 2019-06-08 at 7.20.19 AMAnd 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 also socializes 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.

None of this bodes well for Poloniex. Circle acquired the exchange in early 2018 with the intention of cleaning it up and dealing with a humongous backlog of support tickets. But at this level, Poloniex appears only slightly more competent than QuadrigaCX.

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The HODLcast: “QuadrigaCX with Amy Castor and David Gerard”

Sasha Hodder of The HODLcast interviewed me and David Gerard, author of “Attack of the 50-foot Blockchain,” about collapsed Canadian crypto exchange 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.

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News: LEO getting pumped, Cryptopia scrambles to save its data, Poloniex says it’s stopped ignoring customers

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

Screen Shot 2019-05-29 at 5.43.17 PMUNIS 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.

There are 1 billion LEO in circulation—660 million issued on Ethereum and 340 million issued on the EOS blockchain. 

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.

Tethers

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.

Whale Alert says $25 million worth of tethers were taken out of the supply and put into the Tether Treasury. Kara Haas tells me, don’t worry, $150 million Ethereum-based tethers were just issued, and they more than make up for the difference.

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.

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.

Poloniex 

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.

Coinbase

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 talking about 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.

Ted Livingston, Kik’s CEO says there was no promise kin would go up in value, like a stock. But that is not what at all what he implied during a presale pitch.

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.

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Related stories:
Social media startup Kik is kicking back—at the SEC
Turns out, you can make money on horse manure, and tethers are worth just that
“QuadrigaCX traders lost money on Cryptopia on the same day in January”—my first story for Decrypt

 

 

“QuadrigaCX traders lost money on Cryptopia on the same day in January”—my first story for Decrypt

Screen Shot 2019-05-28 at 6.56.36 PM.pngI 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.

More details in the article!

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News: Kraken sets out to raise millions, Circle is cutting staff, Bitfinex scores another tiny victory in court

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

Screen Shot 2019-05-24 at 12.12.57 AM

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 December, Kraken tried to raise money at a $4 billion valuation, and it reportedly raised $100 million early this year, which it used to buy Crypto Facilities, a regulated London-based crypto derivatives exchange.  

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 day prior, the companies had filed a motion to dismiss the case outright with three new court docs: 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.

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 with horse 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 said  recent 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.

QuadrigaCX

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.

Cryptopia

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.

Elsewhere in cryptoland

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.

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