News: Jennifer Robertson speaks (QuadrigaCX), BTC tumbles, Crypto.com hacked, SEC shoots down another Bitcoin ETF

“Bitcoin Widow” went on sale this week. Jennifer Robertson was busy giving interviews to promote her book. It’s the first time we’ve gotten to see her live and hear her voice.   

Robertson was married to Gerald Cotten, who ran QuadrigaCX like a Ponzi. He mysteriously died in India just before things fell apart. Robertson was clever enough to go to college and start a business, but somehow remained completely clueless when it came to her partner’s shenanigans. The lavish vacations, the houses, and private plane trips were nice, though. 

Globe and Mail interviewed Robertson. Actually, they interviewed the journalists who interviewed her. You still get to hear a little of Jen’s voice. The interview is pretty dry. No tough questions. (Globe and Mail) 

The National, CBC’s flagship current affairs program, was a lot tougher. As politely as possible, they asked why she wouldn’t simply allow Cotten’s body to be exhumed and checked to make sure it’s really him. I make an appearance on the show. (YouTube)

Matt Galloway on The Current spoke with Robertson at length. (The Current)

Galloway: “Did you ever ask why hundred dollar bills were scattered around your house?” 

Robertson:  “It was kind of a Gerry thing.”

As a follow-up to Galloway’s interview, CBC On The Coast interviewed me about QuadrigaCX and asked me what I thought about the book. Worth a listen! (CBC, My review of the book

BTC keeps falling

Bitcoin is down to $35,000 from its November record of nearly $70,000. The sell-off has outpaced that of the U.S. stock market. David Gerard opines his thoughts on what is driving down the price. (blog post)

He notes the crypto miners are holding on to their bitcoin. If they sell, they know they will crash the markets, so they’ve got to sit tight on their piles of BTC.

There are still $78 billion tethers out there. Tether hasn’t minted any new tethers in 2022, for some reason. And the Tether transparency page has a new look and feel. 

The Grayscale Bitcoin Trust is now trading at 28% below NAV, its lowest ever. (YCharts)

MicroStrategy stock is dropping in tandem with the price of BTC. MSTR tumbled nearly 18% this week. (And the SEC doesn’t care much for the company’s crypto accounting methods, either.) (CNBC)

Another exchange hack

Fortune favors the brave, or does it? Maybe not.

Crypto.com, the fourth largest crypto exchange, was hacked on Jan. 17 in a 2FA compromise. All told, the thieves got away with $34 million in crypto — 4,836 ETH, 443 BTC, and about $66,000 in another crypto. All funds are SAFU.

The hack was confirmed by Crypto.com CEO Kris Marszalek, but otherwise, the company has been murky on the details, noting “suspicious activities,” and referring to the event as an “incident.” (Crypto.com announcement, Techcrunch)

Crypto derivatives trading platform BitMEX aspires to become a “regulated crypto powerhouse” in Europe. Its European arm BXM Operations AG wants to purchase Bankhaus von der Heydt, a bank in Munich. BaFin, Germany’s financial watchdog, has yet to approve the transaction. The purchase price is undisclosed. (Bitmex blog, Decrypt)

Last summer, BitMEX agreed to a $100 million settlement with FinCEN and the CFTC. Regulators accused the Seychelles-based exchange of failing to maintain a compliant AML program.  

In an effort to clean up its image, BitMEX has hired former Coinbase managing director ​​Marcus Hughes as its chief risk officer. (Bitmex blog, WSJ)

Everybody still despises Binance.

Armed with fake credentials, journalist Hary Clynch went undercover to interview for a top position at Binance. Naturally, he was offered the job. Part two of his three-part story is up. (Disruption Banking)

In her latest blog post, Carol Alexander, professor of finance at Sussex, provides visual proof that price manipulation bots on Binance caused massive liquidations on July 25-26, 2021. (blog post

In public, Binance CEO CZ welcomes regulatory oversight and boasts about his sparkly AML program. Behind the scenes, he withholds information about finances and corporate structure from regulators, according to a report in Reuters.

Everything is “FUD,” says CZ. (Twitter)

Regulations

The SEC shot down a spot market Bitcoin ETF from First Trust Advisors and SkyBridge. The ETF didn’t meet “the requirement that the rules of a national securities exchange be ‘designed to prevent fraudulent and manipulative acts and practices’ and ‘to protect investors and the public interest,’” the regulator said.

In other words, all the things that the SEC previously objected to—wash trading, whale manipulation, mining manipulation, manipulative activity involving Tether, fraud and manipulation on exchanges, and so on—were never addressed in the proposal. (SEC, p. 15; Decrypt)

Meanwhile, in Europe, regulators are clamping down on crypto advertising.

Spain’s market regulator issued a mandate that ads for crypto assets must carry a warning that investors risk losing all their money. (Bloomberg)

In Singapore, the city-state is getting rid of bitcoin ATMs as it moves to dramatically limit consumer marketing of crypto. (Bloomberg)

In Italy, Consob, the country’s financial services regulator, has warned of risks linked to an increasing number of financially illiterate Italians investing in crypto. (FT)

And in the UK, the Treasury wants to bring advertising for the crypto industry under the same standards as other types of financial products. (Official statement, FT)  

Bitcoin miners running out of places to go

The bitcoin network consumes vast amounts of energy, mainly fossil fuels. As countries in Eastern Europe struggle to rein in electricity use in the coldest months of winter, they want the miners out. 

The Bank of Russia is doing all it can to pull the plug on crypto and make bitcoin mining and crypto trading illegal. (Bloomberg)

In Kosovo, where the government has temporarily banned bitcoin mining, miners are now rushing to get out of the business, selling their mining equipment at bargain-basement prices. (Guardian

And in the Ukraine, authorities bust another crypto mining farm illegally stealing power from the grid. (SSU)

NFTs and more NFTs

Every celebrity and big business wants to get into the NFT market, it seems.

Gamers won’t have it. They don’t like NFTs because they’re already familiar with broadly similar exploitative paid weapons, skins, loot, etc. When their favorite online games announce plans to incorporate NFTs, gamers push back. (NYT)

If only consumers would push back on this nonsense with a similar passion as gamers.

Dan Davies, author of “Lying for Money,” says gamers are more aware than most of AML compliance issues. He pointed out that Tencent shut down its online version of Call of Duty, after discovering the platform was being widely abused by criminals. (Twitter)

Scammers set up a new server at the URL previously used by Ozzy Osbourne’s NFT project, stealing over a hundred thousand dollars in ETH. (The Verge)

Flyfish Club is an exclusive NFT restaurant in New York City. When it opens in 2023, you can only enter if you buy an NFT. You still have to pay for your food in dirt fiat, because they won’t accept crypto in the establishment. Parent company Crypto VC Group has raised $14 million selling Flyfish tokens, which are being flipped on OpenSea. (Fortune

What would you expect from an NFT restaurant? Stephen Colbert investigates. (YouTube)

I see a new trend developing, and the SEC is not going to like it. BrewDAO just announced it wants to start a brewery. (Twitter)

Coinbase is teaming with Mastercard, so you can purchase NFTs with your credit card on its soon-to-launch NFT marketplace. (Coinbase blog, CNBC)

Walmart is considering creating its own crypto and selling NFTs. Of course, it is. (Bloomberg)

Meta wants to profit on NFTs as well. Facebook and Instagram are prepping a feature that will allow users to display their NFTs on their profiles. Meta is also working on a prototype for minting NFTs. (FT)

After spending $3 million on a rare Dune book, SpiceDAO is still looking for a way to justify the expense. It failed to negotiate IP rights. Now it wants to develop an entirely independent animated series. (Twitter)

RatDAO, which wants to accumulate blue-chip art, says it’s bought an unsigned Banksy print. Most DAOs I’ve looked at tend to focus on NFTs. (Twitter)

Cryptoland’s plans to buy a $12 million Fijian island have fallen through. The real estate agent selling Nananu-i-cake said the contract to sell it to Cryptoland’s backers fell through and the island is back on the market. Here is the listing, in case you’re interested. (Guardian)

One Jan. 18, Cryptoland founders Max Olivier and Helena López did an AMA. Molly White uploaded it to YouTube. It’s hysterical if you can stand to listen. If not, Molly has threaded the highlights.

Wikipedia editors have voted not to classify NFTs as art, sparking outrage in the crypto community. Beeple and Pak will not be included on its list of the most expensive art sales by living artists. (Artnet)

A women-led NFT project, Famed Lady Squad, is actually being led by guys, the same guys who are behind a bunch of failed NFT projects. (Input magazine

Other interesting bits

President Nayib Bukele, thinking Moody’s had downgraded El Salvador’s credit rating, said he “DGAF.” It turns out, Moody’s had not downgraded his country’s credit rating. Moody’s has rated El Salvador Caa1, a very high credit risk, since a downgrade in July. (Bloomberg)

Crypto media outlet CoinDesk is offering employees an equivalent of stock in its parent company DCG, which has its hands in hundreds of crypto companies. David Gerard notes that DCG has a history of pressuring CoinDesk employees to pump company interests. (Blog post) 

VC firm A16z wants more money for crypto investments. It’s seeking another $4.5 billion—more than double than what it raised less than a year ago. VCs are fueling the boom in everything crypto. (FT

MetaMask founder Dan Finlay acknowledges they’ve failed to remedy an IP address leak vulnerability that’s been “widely known for a long time.” (Twitter)

A flood of crypto rich are moving to Puerto Rico for the tax breaks, driving up real estate prices and making the natives unhappy (CNBC)

Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin and Elon Musk exchange tweets about synthetic wombs. (Twitter)

Dan Olsen posted a two-hour YouTube video explaining NFTs and the problems with blockchain in general. The video is going viral. (YouTube)

Martin Walker explains Web 3.0 in a 20-minute interview. (YouTube)

Crypto promoters often tell us it’s still “early days.” Molly White says the nauseating phrase sounds like it’s coming from people with too much money sunk into a pyramid scheme. (blog post)

Stephen Diehl has a great take on Web3, if you haven’t read it yet. (blog post)

Cryptocurrency is a giant Ponzi scheme. (Jacobin

Fais Khan illustrates that Coinbase Ventures-backed coins tend to underperform bitcoin after an initial pop on crypto exchange Coinbase—when the VCs cash out. (blog post)

Laura Shin’s book “Cryptopians” is coming out next month. It’s nearly 500 pages long. Public Affairs is the publisher. If you don’t have the time to read it, Patrick McGinty, who teaches in the English Department at Slippery Rock University, wrote up a great review. (Baffler)

If you like my work, consider supporting my writing by subscribing to my Patreon account for as little as $5 a month. If you are feeling generous, you can always subscribe for more.

News: ‘Dead Man’s Switch’ streaming in US, Kazakhstan switches off the internet, volcano bonds, 6-hour rug pull 

Dead Man’s Switch: a crypto mystery, a film about failed Canadian crypto exchange QuadrigaCX, is out in the U.S. You can now stream it on the Discovery Channel

I’m in the film, along with fellow bitcoin skeptic David Gerard. You can read the reviews in the New York Times, the New York Post, and the Wall Street Journal. My picture is in the WSJ!  

I wrote a review of Jennifer Robertson’s book “Bitcoin Widow.” She was married to Quadriga CEO Gerald Cotten. Her book comes out Jan. 18, near the three-year anniversary of when she announced Cotten’s death to stunned investors—a month after he died! David Gerard also wrote a scathing review of the book, which you can find here

A new year has begun. I wrote up my crypto predictions for 2022. Like several other skeptics, I thought bitcoin would crash months ago. I still think it will crash. All the conditions are ripe for a crash. It’s just taking a little longer than we anticipated. 

Kazakhstan switched off the Internet

Amid anti-government protests, Kazakhstan—the world’s second biggest bitcoin mining hub next to the U.S.—switched off the Internet on Jan. 5. (Netblocks)

A few hours after the blackout, bitcoin saw a 12% drop in its hashrate. The incident shed light on how much bitcoin is being produced using fossil fuels. (Fortune)

Kazakhstan’s energy system has been struggling to keep up with increased crypto mining in the country, driven by the rise in bitcoin’s price and a rush of miners to its borders after China banned bitcoin mining last year. The electricity in Kazakhstan is some of the world’s dirtiest—70% coal-powered.

Countries that once welcomed crypto miners with open arms now want them gone because of the strain they put on their power networks. (Fortune)

After suffering blackouts, Kosovo recently banned crypto mining. Last month, Kosovo’s largest coal-fired plant closed due to technical issues, forcing it to import 40% of its electricity at higher prices. If it’s going to survive this energy crisis, the miners need to go. (BBC

Elsewhere, Iran is putting another moratorium on bitcoin mining. Argentina also recently went after bitcoin mining companies following blackouts. (La Politica Online, Spanish)

Volcano bonds

El Salvador, which adopted bitcoin as a national currency last year, is creating roughly 20 bills to serve as a legal framework to issue $1 billion bitcoin bonds, aka “volcano bonds.” 

Alejandro Zelaya, the country’s minister of finance, told El Mundo that the bills will cover regulations about issuing securities as cryptocurrency to ensure the viability of the bonds, which President Nayib Bukele originally proposed in November. (El Mundo, Spanish; Reuters)

Half of the $1 billion raised by the bond issuance will go toward buying BTC and half will be used to fund Bitcoin City, a crypto utopia at the base of a volcano. The idea is that the city will harness the geothermal power generated by the volcano for its electricity—ergo the term “volcano bonds.”  

Blockstream, the company responsible for a huge chunk of bitcoin’s code, along with iFinex—the parent company of stablecoin issuer Tether and crypto exchange Bitfinex—are partnering with El Salvador to create the volcano bonds. The bonds will be issued on Blockstream’s Liquid Network. Bitfinex will be the book runner for the bonds.  

Not only will Bukele destroy what is left of El Salvador’s economy with his insane plan, but he will attract hordes of scammers to the country. Bukele is, at this point, trading public bitcoin on his phone, and bragging about it on Twitter. David Gerard has a full update. (DG’s blog)

Binance up to its old tricks 

We learned a lot about Binance in 2021. Looks like nothing has changed.

Binance does not have a securities registration in Ontario. Yet, incredibly, after promising the Ontario Securities Commissions (OSC) that it would stop allowing Ontario residents to use its platform after Dec. 31, the crypto exchange turned around and told its users not to worry.

“As a result of ongoing and positive cooperation with Canadian regulators, there is no need for Ontario users to close their accounts by December 31, 2021,” Binance said in a letter to its users. It turned out Binance hadn’t spoken to any OSC staff at all. (Bloomberg)

Understandably, the OSC was pissed off. “This is unacceptable,” the regulator said in a statement. “Crypto asset platforms that have or will be applying for registration with securities regulators should be aware that misrepresenting their registration status raises concerns about the fitness of the firm and its principals for registration.” (OSC statement)

Binance blamed its actions on a “miscommunication.”  

In India, Binance-owned crypto exchange WazirX was busted for tax evasion. The goods and services tax authority in Mumbai says the exchange dodged paying Rs 40.5 crore ($5.4 million) in GTS.

WazirX lets you trade bitcoin in two ways: using Indian rupees or WRX, its native crypto. If a trader sells bitcoin for WRX instead of rupees, they pay lower fees. 

Binance figured it only had to pay GST on commission earned in rupees but could skip out on paying taxes on commission earned in WRX. A GST of 18% was applicable on these coins. At the end of the day, WazirX ended up handing over Rs 49.2 crore ($6.6 million), including penalties and interest. 

Zanmai Labs Pvt., which manages WazirX, told the media it was a mistake. The tax code was ambiguous. (India’s press information bureau, The Economic Times)

Samsung’s ‘groundbreaking’ new TV feature: NFT support  

You can now display your Bored Ape NFT on your 65” TV. Your guests will be so impressed. 

Samsung is offering extensive support for NFTs as part of its 2022 TV lineup—“the world’s first TV screen-based NFT explorer and marketplace aggregator, a groundbreaking platform that lets you browse, purchase, and display your favorite art—all in one place.” Basically it’s offering support for JPGs. What will technology think of next? (Press release, ArsTechnica)

The electronics maker has also opened up a metaverse store in Decentraland, an Ethereum-based virtual world, based on its flagship store in New York. (Press release, Decrypt)

The comments in the ArsTechnica coverage are gold. In response to the NFT TVs, one reader said:  

“Thank Christ. It’s really a colossal pain in the ass to display my NFTs now.

First I have to fire up Twitter and spend like 20 minutes laughing at the last guy who got scammed into transferring his token to some Nigerian prince.

Then I have to wade through the hundreds of good samaritans who are thoughtfully pasting my man’s lost ape into replies.

I have to find just the right one to save to my camera roll.

Then I have to wait like hours for my Canadian lingerie model friends to come over so we can talk about investment opportunities and that guy in Starbucks who made such a biting observation about student loan forgiveness that the whole place clapped.

Then I have to freaking cast my camera roll to the TV so that everyone there can really see and understand the rare variations in my apes. Which, really, is all I need a TV for in the first place.”

Six-hour rug pull

On Dec. 31, a new token called $YEAR was airdropped. It was set up as a “year in review” of your Ethereum transaction history. It quickly morphed into a painful lesson for investors. 

$YEAR came from a Twitter account called EtherWrapped. Users could connect their wallets and view a history of ETH and ETH NFT transactions over 2021. Then, EtherWrapped would hand out a token reward based on the user’s history. Several folks on Twitter warned that it was a honeypot.

The creator wasted no time. Six hours later, he pulled the rug on the project, draining 30 ETH from the $YEAR liquidity pool, and sending the token’s value to zero. Ladies and gentlemen, the future of finance!

Twitter user @meows.eth posted a thread explaining how the rug pull took place. (NFT Evening, Twitter)

Matt Damon is making everyone ill

Actor Matt Damon has hit peak cringe. The actor appeared in a Jan. 2 NFL Super Bowl ad—tagline “fortune favors the brave”—for Crypto.com, a crypto exchange and NFT marketplace. (Youtube)

In the ad, he struts about equating some of the greatest human accomplishments with buying shitcoins and NFTs of bored apes. His performance has sparked a backlash online. 

FT’s Jemima Kelly says “there is something grotesque about seeing a man whose net worth was recently valued at $170m shilling for a platform that is already making so much money that it can afford to spend $700m rebranding Los Angeles’ Staples Center as the Crypto.com Arena.” (FT)

Tim Draper still supports Elizabeth Holmes

A jury convicted Elizabeth Holmes of fraud on Jan. 4. As Bloomberg’s Matt Levine puts it: “Theranos raised a lot of money from investors who did not do too much due diligence, because the world was awash in money and investors got careless; that is much, much, much, much more true now, and Theranos looks a little quaint.” (NYT, Bloomberg)

Tim Draper—aka ”Bitcoin tie guy”—proves once again he is completely delusional. He is still supporting Holmes, even after she was convicted. He told Fortune: “This verdict makes me concerned that the spirit of entrepreneurship in America is in jeopardy.” (Fortune)

Unsurprisingly, Draper also supports President Bukele’s bitcoin efforts in El Salvador. “This is a great video from President @nayibbukele of El Salvador. He is a fresh face of visionary global politics speaking plainly and clearly about #bitcoin and #health at a time when most governments are flailing,” he tweeted, pointing to Bukele’s latest ad campaign. (Twitter)

Also in the news

Bitcoin is decentralized. Just 0.01% of bitcoin holders control 27% of the currency in circulation (WSJ)

Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong spent $133 million on a Bel-Air eyesore. This is what happens when you have wads of money and no taste (WSJ)

In a last ditch effort to save “The One,” a Los Angeles real estate monstrosity he has spent over a decade creating, Nile Niami wants to launch “The One Coin.” I’m sure it is totally not a security. (LA Times)

Mozilla, the nonprofit behind the Firefox web browser, has paused accepting crypto donations following a backlash, triggered in part by a Mozilla founder Jamie Zawinski. (The Verge)

“Hi, I’m sure that whoever runs this account has no idea who I am, but I founded @mozilla and I’m here to say fuck you and fuck this. Everyone involved in the project should be witheringly ashamed of this decision to partner with planet-incinerating Ponzi grifters,” Zawinski tweeted.

If you like my work, please consider supporting my writing by subscribing to my Patreon account for as little as $5 a month.