Judge extends Quadriga’s creditor protection, and EY squabbles with third-party payment processor

Screen Shot 2019-04-18 at 12.45.52 PMPOSConnect, a third-party payment processor holding funds on behalf of failed Vancouver-based crypto exchange QuadrigaCX, has come up with more excuses to delay handing over the money.

Today, at a short and mostly procedural hearing held at the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia, the main topics were extending Quadriga’s creditor protection and dealing with lingering issues related to Quadriga’s third-party payment processors, mainly POSConnect.

Justice Michael Wood agreed to extend the stay until June 28, unless Quadriga’s Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) proceedings are terminated before then. Quadriga officially entered into a bankruptcy earlier this month. 

The rest of the 30-minute proceeding was mostly taken up by a back-and-forth between POSConnect’s lawyer and Elizabeth Pillon, a lawyer for Ernst & Young, the court-appointed monitor in Quadriga’s CCAA procedures.

At issue, POSConnect is sitting on CA$281,000 of Quadriga funds. EY wants the payment processor to deliver CA$278,000 right away. The plan is to leave CA$3,000 to cover rolling monthly fees associated with keeping the account open. 

POSConnect recently granted George Kinsman, EY’s senior vice president, online access to Quadriga’s documents and transaction data on the platform, and EY would rather pay POSConnect CA$500 a month than risk the firm cutting off all online access.

Pillon said more than 500,000 transactions worth CA$400 million in Quadriga funds were funneled through POSConnect—and sorting all that out is going to take time.

Meanwhile, POSConnect is reluctant to hand over any funds at all. The firm argues that it is due CA$22,000 in legal fees—an amount the POSConnect lawyer called “insignificant” compared to the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent so far in efforts to put Quadriga’s financial affairs in order.

EY is running short on patience. “POSConnect has thrown out more hurdles in respect to their obligation to delivers statements and property than any other third-party payment processor,” Pillon told the judge.

As she explained, EY has been reaching out to POSConnect since February 6 to find a means to get information and funds. Yet it wasn’t until late yesterday that POSConnect put forward $22,000 for legal fees and an administrative cost of $350 an hour to provide reporting—without providing any accounting to support those fees.  

Justice Wood said he did not have enough information before him to determine what reasonable legal fees would be for POSConnect. POSConnect will be added to an existing order for other third-party processors, which will require another hearing anyway.

Wood expressed regret that he would no longer be overseeing the Quadriga proceedings. He has been promoted to chief justice of the Appeal Court of Nova Scotia.

Thanks to TheWholeTruthXX for sending me an audio of the hearing. 

 

News: 51-foot yacht for sale, Bitfinex enables margin trading with Tether, and “Fake Satoshi” threatens legal action

Spring is in the air! What are your summer plans? If you are considering buying a boat—or maybe even an “almost new” 51-foot Jeanneau with “very, very few hours” for half a million USD—now would be the time!

Screen Shot 2019-04-13 at 7.26.10 PM

The yacht belonged to Quadriga’s now-deceased CEO Gerald Cotten. Here is a video of him putting Canada’s plastic money into a microwave. Here he is tossing Winnie the Pooh into a bonfire. And this is him playing with Pokémon cards.

The latest on QuadrigaCX

I wrote about how Michael Patryn and Cotten appear to have been working together at Midas Gold, a Liberty Reserve exchanger, prior to founding Quadriga. David Z. Morris at BREAKERMAG covered the topic as well. (He credited me, so I’m real pleased about that.)

At a court hearing on April 8, Quadriga was given the go-ahead to shift into bankruptcy. The move will save costs and give Ernst & Young (EY) more power as a trustee. 

“The trustee can also sell QuadrigaCX’s assets and start lawsuits to recover property or damages,” Evan Thomas of Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt told Bitcoin Magazine. “The trustee will collect whatever it can recover for eventual distribution to creditors.”

An “Asset Preservation Order” for Jennifer Robertson, Cotten’s widow, was filed on April 11. Law firm Stewart McKelvey is setting up three separate trusts to “collect and preserve” any surplus funds from estate assets, personal assets and corporate assets. Depreciable assets, such as Cotten’s yacht, will be sold.

Per the order, Robertson will continue to receive her drawings from her business Robertson Nova Property Management “in accordance with current levels, for the purposes of satisfying ordinary living expenses.” She will also have access to cash from the “personal assets” account to maintain her properties and to cover legal expenses.

Robertson has 10 days from the court order to provide EY with a list of all her assets—including cash on hand.

A cap on pay for Miller Thomson LLP and Cox & Palmer has been raised from CA$250,000 to CA$400,000. The team will continue to represent Quadriga’s creditors in the bankruptcy.

Quadriga’s third-party payment processors now have 10 business days (as opposed to five previously) from when they receive this court order to deliver the following to EY:

  • VoPay—CA$116,262.17.
  • Alto Bureau de Change—assets and property.
  • 1009926 BC—all records and transaction-related information.
  • POSConnect—access to Quadriga’s online account to George Kinsman, who is a partner at EY.
  • WB21 (now Black Banx)—all records and account statements related to its Quadriga dealings.

The next hearing to discuss issues remaining from the Companies’ Creditor Arrangement Act, including those tied to third-party payments processors, is scheduled for April 18.

Other crypto exchanges

Popular US-based crypto exchange Coinbase suspended trading of BTC-USD pairs for two hours on April 11 due to a “technical issue” with its order book. BTC-USD is a critical trading pair due to its volume and its impact on bitcoin price measures.

It appears that somebody dumped a load of BTC into the exchange’s buy orders causing liquidity to dry up. Coinbase doesn’t want that to happen, so likely that is why it wiped the books, cancelling any outstanding buy or sell orders.

Coinbase Pro, Coinbase’s professional exchange, is continuing to expand its altcoin reach. The exchange is listing three more altcoins: EOS (EOS), Augur (REP), and Maker (MKR). Coinbase first committed to listing MKR in December, but according to The Block’s Larry Cermak, due to low volume, Coinbase decided to hold off listing MKR.

Crypto credit cards are back in vogue. Coinbase has launched a Visa debit card. The “Coinbase Card” will allow customers in the U.K. and EU to spend their crypto “as effortlessly as the money in their bank.” The exchange says it will “instantly” convert crypto to fiat when customers complete a transaction using the debit card. PaySafe, a U.K. payment processor, is the issuer of the card. In the past, these crypto Visa cards have been known to suddenly lose access to the Visa network, so fingers crossed.  

Another executive is leaving Coinbase. The firm’s institutional head Dan Romero has announced he is leaving after five years. This is the third executive to depart Coinbase in six months. Director of institutional sales Christine Sandler left last month, and ex-vice president and general manager Adam White quit in October.

Switzerland-based crypto exchange Bitfinex has lifted its $10,000 minimum equity requirement to start trading. This will undoubtedly bring more cash into the exchange. “We simply could not ignore the increasing level of requests for access to trade on Bitfinex from a wider cohort than our traditional customer base,” CEO Jean-Louis van der Velde said in a blog post (archive).

Meanwhile, Bitfinex customers are complaining (here and here) that they are unable to get cash out of the exchange. Now some are saying they are having trouble getting their crypto out of Bitfinex as well. 

Reddit user “dovawiin” says, “Ive been trying repeated attempts for 2 weeks to withdraw funs and it always says processing. Ive submitted multiple tickets with delayed answers. Ive cancelled and attempted again a few time after waiting 48Hours with no results. Im currently trying again and nothing for over 24 hrs. This is ridiculous.”

Bitfinex also enabled margin trading on Tether. Margin pairs include BTC/USDT and ETH/USDT. Tether has already admitted to operating a fractional reserve, so this is basically adding more leverage to what’s already been leveraged. I’m sure it’s fine though—nothing to worry about here.  

Johnathan Silverman, a former employee of Kraken, is suing the crypto platform for allegedly failing to pay him for work he did. Kraken says it got out of New York in 2015. Silverman says the exchange still maintained an over-the-counter trading desk in the state, which requires licensing for crypto businesses. Kraken told Bloomberg, Silverman “is both lying and in breach of his confidentiality agreement.”

Finally, Malta-based Binance, one of the largest crypto exchanges by volume, is partnering with blockchain analytics firm CipherTrace to boost its AML procedures.

Other interesting stuff

All hell broke lose on Twitter Friday when news got out that Craig Wright is making legal threats against Twitter user “Hodlonaut,” who has been publicly calling Wright a “fraudster” and a “fake Satoshi.” Wright has never been able to prove that he is Satoshi.  

In a letter shared with Bitcoin Magazine, SCA ONTIER LLP, writing on behalf of Wright, demands that Hodlonaut retract his statements and apologize, or else Wright will sue him for libel. The letter even includes this bizarre prescribed apology:

“I was wrong to allege Craig Wright fraudulently claimed to be Satoshi. I accept he is Satoshi. I am sorry Dr. Wright. I will not repeat this libel.”

Hodlonaut deleted his Twitter account upon receiving the news. And the crypto community formed a giant backlash against Wright. Preston Byrne is assisting Hodlonaut pro-bono, Peter McCormack is selling T-shirts that say, “Craig Wright is a Fraud,” and Changpeng Zhao, the CEO of crypto exchange Binance threatened to delist Bitcoin SV—the token spearheaded by Wright and billionaire backer Calvin Ayre.

Ayre is also demanding apologies related to some photos of him circulating on Twitter with extremely young-looking women. Coin Rivet writes, “We have agreed to pay Mr Ayre substantial damages for libel. We have also agreed to join in a statement to the English High Court in settlement of Mr Ayre’s complaint.”

China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) released guidance that includes shutting down Bitcoin mining. “The risk to Bitcoin in the longer term is other governments taking their cue from China—and taking proof of work more seriously as a problem that needs to be dealt with,” writes David Gerard.

Another Bitcoin mining company has gone belly upBcause llc filed for Chapter 11 in Illinois. (Steven Palley uploaded the docs on Scribd.) The company is based in Chicago, but its mining rigs are in Virginia Beach. In January 2018, Virginia Beach Development Authority gave the firm a $500,000 grant to build the $65 million facility. Bcause promised to create 100 full-time jobs, with average salaries of $60,000 a year. 

But by January, the price of Bitcoin was already on its way down—so much for all those jobs. At least the neighbors won’t have to suffer the noise anymore.

Last summer, Virginia Beach resident Tommy Byrns, told Wavy News:

“The issue is the noise, the relentless noise … it’s kind of created an atmosphere where we can’t talk to each other in the backyard. You have to go in the house to talk … this was pushed through without any warning into anybody … and now look what we have.” 

Crypto, the movie, is out. Gerard wrote a full review for DeCrypt on his new battery-powered AlphaSmart Neo 2 keyboard—a 1990s flashback that keeps him from shit posting on Twitter. The film was mediocre—but it stars KURT RUSSELL.

If you’ve read this far, consider supporting me on Patreon. Writing takes time and resources, and I need your help—even if it’s only $5/month—to keep this blog going. 

 

Quadriga: Patryn, Cotten, and Midas Gold—a Liberty Reserve exchanger

Screen Shot 2019-04-09 at 5.18.37 PMThe now-defunct Canadian crypto exchange QuadrigaCX was founded in November 2013. Where did its co-founders Michael Patryn and the now-deceased Gerald Cotten first meet? Did they exchange pleasantries in the Toronto Bitcoin community? Did they meet online? Or did they have other prior business dealings?

New evidence uncovered by Reddit user “QCXINT” (he’ll be posting more on Reddit soon) suggests that Cotten appears to have been involved with Patryn at Midas Gold, a Liberty Reserve exchanger, set up by Patryn in 2008.

Patryn and Midas Gold

Patryn, is formerly Omar Dhanania convicted felon who was arrested in connection with online identity theft ring Shadowcrew.com in 2004. He was 20 at the time. Working out of his home in Southern California, he was a moderator on the forum. He also offered Shadowcrew members an electronic money laundering service. Send him a Western Union money order and—for a fee of 10% of a transaction—he would filter your money through e-gold accounts. E-gold was an early centralized digital currency. Dhanani served 18 months in a US prison and got out in 2007.

The following year, Patryn, now in Canada, after the US said, “You can’t live here anymore,” began to move on with his life, picking up from where he left off. In April 2008, he founded Midas Gold Exchange. He was listed as the company’s sole director under the name “Omar Patryn,” with a company address in Calgary. A few months earlier, the digital currency exchange service launched on M-Gold.com (Here is an archive of the site taken from its early days, and here is an archive showing an updated design taken just before things took a dive).

In January 5, 2008, the earliest entry on the website reads:

“We have finally launched this website, and are requesting that clients place all future orders through the Contact Us page. We have, of course, been in business since 2005 and hope to continue providing you with the same great service throughout the new year. Thank you once again for your business, and have a happy New Year!”

There are no names of actual people anywhere on the site. But an October 17, 2009 entry gives the impression a whirl of activity is going on behind the scenes.

“We apologize for the delays experienced for many clients during the course of this week. We are currently undergoing a massive corporate restructuring. During this time, some exchange directions are temporarily disabled. All pending orders should be processed within one business day.”

Digital currencies listed on the site included E-Gold, HD-Money, WebMoney, WMZ E-Currency, AlterGold E-Currency. Midas Gold even started accepting bitcoin in June 2011. But Liberty Reserve was by far its main money maker.

How Liberty Reserve worked

A Costa Rica-based centralized digital currency service, Liberty Reserve was like PayPal for the criminal underground. You could use it to anonymously transfer the system’s digital currency LR, worth $1 apiece,* to anyone else who had an account on the system. The system served millions of users around the world before May 2013, when it was shut down by the U.S. government.

(*All dollars listed in this article are USD)

To set up an account on libertyreserve.com, all you needed was a valid email address. You could make up whatever fake, silly name you wanted, because the site had virtually no KYC/AML. It did not validate identities, and you could send huge amounts of money without anyone raising an eyebrow. 

You could not fund your Liberty Reserve account directly. If you wanted to buy LR, you had to go through a third-party exchanger, such as M-Gold. If you wanted to cash out of your LR, you also had to go through an exchanger. 

As an exchanger, M-Gold.com would buy LRs in bulk and sell them in smaller quantities, typically charging a 5 percent transaction fee. This setup allowed Liberty Reserve to sidestep having to collect banking information on its users, which could leave a financial trail—exactly what criminals want to avoid when choosing a digital currency. 

Liberty Reserve went into operation in 2005. Eight years later, the system had more than 5.5 million users worldwide and processed a combined value of more than $8 billion. Most of that volume came from the U.S.

During 2009 to 2013, Liberty Reserve was in full swing. These were the sunshine days of criminal activity. A huge number of transactions were related to high-yield investment programs (HYIPs)—better known as ponzis schemes—credit card trafficking, stolen ID information and computer hacking.  

Cotten’s email

A data dump—in one of the court exhibits (see attachment #180 for GX 1305) related to the takedown of Liberty Reserve—shows that Midas Gold ranked 342 of the top 500 Liberty Reserve accounts in volume.

The name on the account is Omar Patryn, but the email address linked to the account is geraldcotten@gmail.com. What does that mean? It means whoever owned that email had the authority to operate the Midas Gold account for Liberty Reserve. They could reset the password, enable or disable 2FA, and authorize transactions. 

The data indicates Midas Gold bought up more than $5 million worth of LR. At 5 percent of a transaction, that meant profits of around $250,000—not a lot, but decent wages.

Screen Shot 2019-04-09 at 10.49.15 AM
Rank: 342, Category: Exchanger, Associated website: http://www.m-gold.com, All currencies: $5,221,489.02, LR: $5,081,353.88, Account name: Midas Gold Exchange, First name: Omar, Last name: Patryn, Email: geraldcotten@gmail.com

The email suggests that Cotten and Patryn may have worked at M-Gold.com together—though its not clear if Cotten was involved from the beginning or joined later. If anything, this could even suggest that Cotten had more control over Midas then Patryn.

Pause for a moment — if you were going to be involved in a dodgy business, why would you use an email address that directly pointed to you? I know I wouldn’t. If you are still wondering, “Was that really Cotten’s email?” The answer is, “Quite possibly—yes.”

We think this is his email because the person appears to have used that same email address for several domain registrations, including, cloakedninja.com, where you could buy proxy sites to hide your IP address, and celebritydaily.net, an entertainment news blog. A historical WHOIS data snapshot of these site reveals they both have a registration address of 346-1881 Steeles Ave W Toronto. Quadriga Fintech Solutions, the owner and operator of QuadrigaCX, is linked to the same address. 

Screen Shot 2019-04-09 at 3.56.21 PM.png

Patryn’s Liberty Reserve account

Patryn had his own account on Liberty Reserve, but his account had no associated website. He appears to have had at least three other exchanges at the time—HD Money (archive) and E-cash World and Triple Exchange (archive). It’s possible he was selling LR through those sites as well as Midas Gold, and was just using the one account. Or Cotten could have operated Midas alone, while Patryn handled the other businesses.

Approximately $18.4 million worth of LR went through Patryn’s Liberty Reserve account. Of Liberty Reserve’s 500 largest accounts by volume, his ranked 88. If he took a 5 percent cut of every transaction, he would have amassed a healthy $920,000.

Screen Shot 2019-04-09 at 12.32.59 PM
Rank: 88, Category: Exchanger, Associated website: [field empty], All currencies: $18,653,708.71, LR: $18,416,444.50, Account type: Currency, First Name: Omar, Last Name: Patryn, email: admin@patryn.com
A passage from the court documents explains:

“Data obtained from Liberty Reserve’s servers reflects the extensive use of the company’s payment system by criminal websites. The Government analyzed the top 500 accounts by transaction volume, i.e. funds sent and received, to attempt to determine the type of activity associated with each account. The total transaction volume for these accounts is approximately $7.26 billion, or approximately 43% of the total volume of transactions on Liberty Reserve’s entire system.”

Also according to the analysis, of the top roughly 500 accounts, 44 percent were associated with exchangers, 18 percent could not be categorized, and the remaining 38 percent were categorized as follows:

“157 of the accounts, accounting for approximately $2.6 billion in transactions, were associated with some form of purported ‘investment’ opportunity. The vast majority of these accounts were linked to websites that, on their face, were clearly ponzi schemes, i.e., HYIPs. Others, at best, were associated with unregulated ‘forex’ (foreign currency trading) websites—which are likewise known to be prominent sources of fraud.”

Ruh Roh

Screen Shot 2019-04-09 at 12.57.29 AMGood things never seem to last, and in May 20, 2013, Liberty Reserve founder Arthur Budovsky was arrested in Spain for running a massive money laundering enterprise. Days later, the domain libertyreserve.com was seized.

Shortly afterward, US authorities seized more than 30 domains registered as Liberty Reserve exchangers in a civil forfeiture case, including M-Gold.com. According to court docs, “the defendant domain names were used to fund Liberty Reserve’s operations; without them, there would not have been money for Liberty Reserve to launder.” 

Following the shut down of Liberty Reserve, users were told to contact the court to recoup their lost funds—on the basis they were conducting legit business. According to court docs filed in April 2016: “Notwithstanding that Liberty Reserve had more than 5 million registered user accounts, only approximately 50 individuals have contacted the Southern District Court of New York since May 2013.” Most appeared to be victims of HYIPs and other scams. And only one Liberty Reserve exchanger contacted the court about a potential claim—and that claim was not pursued.

A few months after M-Gold.com was seized, QuadrigaCX launched in beta. The rest is history, or history in the making, depending how you look at it. 

Did you like this story? Please support my work on Patreon, so I can keep on doing it.

 

News: EY goes after Quadriga’s payment processors, more exchange hacks, and the SEC tells us what we already know

I had to take my website offline for a few hours Tuesday, so if you were searching for one of my stories and got a weird message, my apologies. I asked WordPress to downgrade my site from a business plan to a premium plan, and when they did, a bunch of my content disappeared, so I had to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again.

Big thanks to my now 18 patrons, who are making it easier for me to focus on writing about crypto. If you like my work, please consider supporting me on Patreon, so I can keep doing what I am doing.  

Now onto the news, starting with Quadriga, the defunct Canadian crypto exchange that I won’t shut up about. (Read my timeline to get up to speed.)

Ernst & Young (EY), the court-appointed monitor charged with tracking down Quadriga’s lost funds, released its fourth monitor report, which reveals more money going out then coming in. The closing cash balance for March was CA$23,268,411. Incoming cash for the month was CA$4,232, and total disbursements was CA$1,463,860—most of which was paid to professionals. A full half of that (CA$721,579) went to EY and its legal team.

EY is trying to chase down money held by Quadriga’s payment processors. It has drafted a “Third Party Payment Processor Order” for the court to approve on Monday. If that goes through as is, several payment processors, including WB21, will have five business days to handover funds and/or Quadriga documents and transaction data. If they don’t comply, they will be in contempt of court. A shift from CCAA to bankruptcy proceedings will also give EY more power to go after funds as a trustee

Christine Duhaime, a financial crimes lawyer who worked for Quadriga for six months in 2015 to early 2016, wrote “From Law to Lawlessness: Bits of the Untold QuadrigaCX” for CoinDesk, where she talks about how Quadriga went off the rails following its failed efforts to become a public company.

In the article, Duhaime—who in February called for a government bailout of Quadriga’s creditors (archive)—openly admits to having lost CA$100,000 in funds on the exchange. She claims her involvement with the exchange stopped in early 2016. “I’m glad we were let go by QuadrigaCX for being one of the ‘law and order’ folks,” she said.  

I have been corrected on detail here:

She does not mention this in her article, but in 2015, she also owned 20,000 shares of Quadriga stock. It is possible she has since sold the holdings.

Preston Byrne, an attorney at Byrne & Storm, PC, tweeted, “No offense to @ahcastor but this claim that @cduhaime may have owned shares in Quadriga looks to be incorrect. She’s listed as the principal contact for an SPV, and the SPV is the named purchaser. A retraction is in order.”

SPV stands for special purpose vehicle, typically used by firms to isolate them from financial risk. I’ve reworded the paragraph as follows:

This 2015 British Columbia Report of Exempt Distribution, a document of Quadriga Financial Solutions’ ownership, lists Duhaime as the contact for 1207649 B.C. Ltd, which owns—or owned—20,000 shares of Quadriga. I was unable to find the corporate files for 1207649 B.C. The address in the report matches that of Duhaime’s office.  

Update (April 9): I found the corporate files. The actual company name appears to be 1027649 B.C. Ltd.—with the numbers “2” and “0” transposed. The company was founded on February 16, 2015 and dissolved on August 1, 2017. The sole director is “Anne Ellis,” and the registered office is Duhaime Law.

According to court documents, Cotten and Quadriga co-founder Michael Patryn had been seeking to buy back shareholdings after Quadriga’s public listing failed, so it is possible one of them may have bought back those shares as well. I reached out to Duhaime for comment a few times, but she has not responded. 

Duhaime may have left Quadriga behind, but she continued to have business dealings with Patryn, who we now know is convicted felon Omar Dhanani

She and Patryn co-founded Fintech Ventures Group, which calls itself “an investment bank focused on digital currency, blockchain, and AI-focused technology.” According to a January 2016 archive of the company’s site, Duhaime was Fintech Venture’s “Digital Finance Maven & Co-Founder.” (Interestingly, former Quadriga director Anthony Milewski worked there, too, as the company’s “Investment Relations Extraordinaire.”) 

Duhaime and Patryn were also both advisors at Canadian crypto exchange Taurus Crypto Services, according to this June 2016 archive. (Milewski shows up here again, this time as an advisor.) The exchange was founded in 2014 and shut down in January 2017, when the business shifted to over-the-counter trades.  

Like Duhaime, Patryn also claims his involvement with Quadriga ended in early 2016. Although the Globe and Mail said that in October 2018, “it received an e-mail pitch from an ‘executive concierge’ company called the Windsor Group offering up Mr. Patryn for interviews to discuss virtual currencies and describing him as a Quadriga director.” Patryn told the Globe he did not know what the Windsor Group was, nor had he authorized anyone to pitch him as a Quadriga director, as he never served on the board.

Patryn had a personal website michaelpatryn.com, but it got taken down. Here is a 2011 archive and here is a 2014 archive. From 2016 on, the archives point to his LinkedIn profile, where he now goes by “Michael P.” having dropped all but the first initial of his last name. According to his LinkedIn, he has been an advisor for numerous cryptocurrency platforms going back to November 1999. I guess that means his work at Shadowcrew in 2004 and the 18 months he spent in jail for conspiracy to commit credit and bank card fraud and ID document fraud qualifies as advisory services.

Patryn appears to enjoy the limelight. Several reporters told me they had no trouble reaching him. At one point, Patryn even went into the “Quadriga Uncovered” Telegram group—basically, the lion’s den, where hundreds of pissed off Quadriga creditors sat waiting on their haunches —where I am told he calmly deflected accusations.

Meanwhile, I’ve been practicing my authoritative stare and baritone.

Other exchanges

Elsewhere in cryptoland, there have been a number of exchanges hacks. Singapore-based exchange DragonEx was hacked on March 24 for an undisclosed amount of crypto.

Blockchain data firm Elementus suspects that Coinbene, another Singapore exchange, was also hacked. On March 25, Elementus noted that $105 million worth of crypto was on the move out of the exchange. Coinbene totally denies it’s been hacked, claiming that delays in deposits and withdrawals are due to maintenance issues. 

A third exchange, Bithumb was hacked on March 30. The South Korean crypto exchange lost 3.07 million EOS and 20.2 million XRP, worth around $19 million. Bithumb thinks it was an insider job.

Helsinki-based LocalBitcoins, a once go-to for anonymous bitcoin transactions, has added know-your-customer (KYC) identity checks to comply with new laws in Finland. The change goes into effect in November. Per the company’s announcement, this is actually good news for bitcoin, because it will create a “legal status for crypto assets, which should improve significantly Bitcoin’s standing as a viable and legit financial network.”  

A study by reg-tech startup Coinfirm found that 69 percent of crypto exchanges don’t have “complete and transparent” KYC procedures. And only 26 percent of exchanges had a “high” level of anti-money-laundering procedures.

With crypto markets in the dumps, exchanges are looking for new ways to attract volume. To that end, San Francisco-based Coinbase is launching a staking service to lure in institutional investors. The service, which starts with Tezos (XTZ), will pay investors to park their money in XTZ. The coins are kept in offline cold wallets. The catch is that the interest will be paid XTZ, and of course, crypto is highly volatile. 

The price of XTZ went up 70 percent on the news.

Cryptocurrency exchange Binance is launching a new fiat-to-crypto exchange in Singapore later this month. (It’s been launching these crypto onramps all over the word.)

Binance also says it’s planning to launch its decentralized exchange (DEX) later this month. The DEX is built on a public blockchain, Binance Chain. Basically, Binance is looking to create an economy for binance coin (BNB), which is totally not a security.

Other interesting news bits 

Screen Shot 2019-04-05 at 11.03.29 AMThe the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission issued a “Framework for ‘Investment Contract’ Analysis of Digital Assets.” There is not a lot new to see here. A footnote in the document makes clear this is “not a rule, regulation, or statement of the Commission,” just some thoughts from the SEC’s staff about how they interpret existing securities laws. 

Stephen Palley, partner at law firm Anderson Kill, appeared on Bloomberg sporting a beard to explain the framework—definitely worth five minutes of your time to listen to.

Justin Sun, the founder of blockchain project Tron, bungled a Tesla promotional giveaway. After a widespread cry of foul play, he decided to make it up to everyone by giving away—two Teslas. This wasn’t the first time a Tron promotion raised eyebrows.

Nocoiner David Gerard wrote a Foreign Policy piece on “How Neo-Nazis Bet Big on Bitcoin (and Lost)” that was translated for Newsweek Japan.

The ever outspoken Jackson Palmer did a good interview with Epicenter Blockchain Podcast on the history of Dogecoin and the state of cryptocurrency in 2019.

Nicholas Weaver, who gave the “Burn it with Fire” talk at Enigma, spoke to Breaker about why cryptocurrencies don’t really work as currencies.

Finally, Dream Market, the last standing marketplace from the once infamous “big four” sites that dominated dark web trading in the mid-2010s, announced plans to shut down.

 

 

EY recommends Quadriga shift to bankruptcy, moves to preserve Robertson’s assets and wrestles with payment processors

Ernst & Young (EY), the court-appointed monitor in Quadriga’s creditor protection procedures, filed its fourth monitor report with the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia on April 1.

In the latest twist in the ongoing Quadriga saga, EY is proposing Quadriga shift from its Companies’ Creditor Arrangement Act (CCAA) proceedings into proceedings under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act (BIA).

Bankruptcy offers key advantages. Namely, it would remove the need for several professionals, leaving more money to repay Quadriga’s 115,000 creditors. According to court docs, $250 million CAD ($190 million USD) in crypto and fiat were on the exchange when it collapsed, but likely only a fraction of that will be found.

In a bankruptcy, EY would become a trustee. That means Quadriga’s newly appointed chief restructuring officer (CRO) would no longer be needed. Company directors, Jennifer Robertson (the widow of Quadriga’s dead CEO Gerald Cotten) and her stepfather Tom Beazley, would also step out of the picture. (Robertson has already indicated, she doesn’t want to continue serving as a director anyway, which is why she opted for a CRO.)

Quadriga also won’t be needing a representative counsel. Last month, Stewart McKelvey,  stepped down from the CCAA proceedings over a potential conflict of interest. The firm was representing both Quadriga in its CCAA proceedings and handling Cotten’s estate. Quadriga has not hired a replacement—and it won’t need to for a bankruptcy. 

Cox & Palmer and Miller Thomson LLP, the legal team representing Quadriga’s affected users, would stay on. The recently formed seven-person committee that serves as the voice for Quadriga’s creditors, would also continue with their work. 

But here is where things get interesting—as trustee, EY would be given additional investigatory powers without further relief from the court that will be of assistance in investigating the business and affairs of Quadriga, “including the right to compel production of documents and seek examination of relevant parties under oath.”

Finally, bankruptcy would allow for the potential sale of Quadriga’s operating platform.

Preserving Robertson’s assets

In late January, after Cotten’s death and before Quadriga filed for creditor protection, Robertson was moving aggressively to protect her newly acquired assets. She moved two properties into the Seaglass Trust, and Cotten’s airplane and yacht both went up for sale. EY has put a stop to any more of this by filing an “asset preservation order.”

During the course its investigations into Quadriga’s business and affairs, EY says it became aware of occurrences where the corporate and personal boundaries between Quadriga and Cotten were not formally maintained. EY notes that it appeared “Quadriga funds may have been used to acquire assets held outside the corporate entity.”

The asset protection order involves all assets held by the Cotten Estate, Robertson and the Seaglass Trust, and Robertson Nova Property Management—the company that Robertson purchased several properties under between 2016 and 2018. The order will allow EY’s investigation of Quadriga to continue “without concern that assets possibly recoverable for the applicant’s stakeholders may be dissipated,” the report said.

Likely Robertson is agreeing to the plan because, according to the report, EY “temporarily discontinued its preparation for a mareva injunction pending the negotiation and agreement of the draft Asset Preservation Order.”

A mareva injunction would have completely frozen all of the assets. Under an asset preservation order, Robertson is able to maintain control of her properties. She just can’t sell or transfer them. She has agreed to provide a list of relevant assets to EY. And she will be working with EY on monetizing some of the assets to preserve their value.

Wrestling with third-party payment processors 

Screen Shot 2019-04-03 at 12.29.10 PMQuadriga had no company bank accounts. Instead, it relied on a patchwork of third-party payment processors. As a Quadriga customer, you would send cash to one of these payment processors, and Quadriga would credit your account with Quad Bucks, which you could then use to buy crypto on the platform. When you put in a request to withdraw fiat from the exchange, a payment processor would wire you money. 

After Quadriga ceased operating on January 28, several of these third-party payment processors were left holding money on behalf of Quadriga and its users. EY mentions the following payment processors in its fourth report:

  • POSconnect 
  • VoPay  
  • Billerfy     
  • Costodian  
  • ePADregistry  
  • WB21 (now Black Banx) 
  • 700964 Inc (NB. Inc)  
  • 1009926 (BC Ltd) 
  • Robertson Nova Consulting Inc (RNCI)
  • Alto Bureau de Change

The monitor has been wrestling to get funds from several of these companies, a few of which weren’t exactly at arm’s length from Quadriga. RNCI was operated by Robertson — who earlier told the court she was not involved Quadriga’s operations. Apparently Cotten used RNCI banks accounts to transfer money to Quadriga customers. Robertson is cooperating though. She says RNCI is not currently holding any Quadriga funds, and she is working to get bank statements of all transfers her company made to EY. 

NB and BC were both run by Quadriga contractors. NB was run by Aaron Matthews, Quadriga’s director of operations, and BC was run by Aaron Vaithilingam, Quadriga’s former office manager. 

EY has in its possession 1,004 bank drafts, worth $5,824,340 CAD, written out to BC. It had trouble depositing those checks, because BC, the company, had dissolved. (This is yet another example of how sloppily Quadriga handled its affairs.) Now that BC has been restored, Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) is asking for additional documents to deposit the bulk drafts. But Vaithilingam is not responding to EY’s letters.

EY has also reached out to WB21, the third-party payment processor holding on to roughly $9 million USD ($12 million CAD) in Quadriga funds. WB21 recently changed its name to Black Banx, and it has an office in Canada.  

EY wrote to Michael Gastauer, the sole director of WB21, in February, requesting the company return any Quadriga funds to EY. WB21 responded by saying that Quadriga’s account was was closed in December 31, 2018, and it was entitled to withhold funds if there was “reasonable doubt that the end user has engaged in fraudulent activity.” On March 9, EY wrote again requesting copies of the agreements. WB21 wrote back saying it was only holding $11.77 CAD and $5.53 USD and that it “might be able to provide further information” upon conclusion of an internal investigation.

EY is not buying it, and you can bet it’s probably had enough of these shenanigans. The monitor is convinced WB21 is holding “a significant amount of funds.” The monitor also writes that WB21 has been uncooperative and has not provided “even basic info” and that it is inappropriate for WB21 to continue holding funds pending some investigation.

(Related story: “Diving into WB21—the company holding $9 million of Quadriga money“)

Here is another surprise—EY just discovered that Jose Reyes, who runs Billerfy and Costodian, operates yet another third-party processor, which has also received funds from Quadriga. Despite all the work Reyes has done with EY trying to sort out the $26 million in Bank of Montreal (BOM) drafts, he neglected to mention his other company ePAD also held Quadriga money. EY sent letters requesting account information, but so far, Reyes has not responded. (Read the interpleader order for more history on Reyes.)

EY also wrote to POSconnect who is supposedly holding $331,764 CAD in Quadriga funds. POSconnect followed up stating that it only owed $300,000, but that under the terms of its agreement with Quadriga, it would continue holding the funds until April 28. The monitor wrote again requesting immediate return of the funds.

VoPay is supposedly holding $217,000 CAD on behalf of Quadriga. In February, VoPay told Quadriga’s counsel that it was not in a position to return the funds, because it had gotten legal threats from Quadriga customers. VoPay confirmed it is holding $116,262 CAD for Quadriga and requested indemnity from EY, which EY says it can’t provide and again requested VoPay give back the money asap.

Alto Bureau de Change is a currency exchange shopfront in Montreal. Alto believed it had never done business with Quadriga, but EY noted a transfer from Quadriga to Alto of $160,000 CAD worth of bitcoins and $30,000 CAD processed on behalf of Quadriga by NB Inc. EY believes that Alto currently holds either $20,876 or $36,213 of Quadriga funds.

EY is seeking a court order to get several of the third-party payments processors to hand over funds and/or any documentation related to Quadriga.

The monitor’s research into Quadriga’s missing funds is winding down. It plans to file its final monitor report in a few weeks. Oddly, this report did not mention anything about recovery of the platform’s historical data on AWS—a big issue in the third report.

The next hearing is scheduled for April 8.

 

Blockchain analytics firm CipherBlade steps in to launder ShapeShift’s image

Screen Shot 2019-03-21 at 11.13.16 PMShapeShift was none too pleased when the WSJ put out a report in September 2018 claiming that the crypto exchange was being used to facilitate money laundering.

In an article titled “How Dirty Money Disappears Into the Black Hole of Cryptocurrency,” WSJ said it did an independent investigation and learned that ShapeShift facilitated at least $9 million worth of money laundering over several years.

Founded in 2013, with headquarters in Colorado, ShapeShift made a name for itself early on by allowing anyone to instantly switch out one crypto for another—while requiring no personal information. That changed in September 2018 when the firm announced it would soon require a log-in. ShapeShift didn’t specify why it added know-your-customer identity checks, but likely regulatory pressure was behind the move.

Nonetheless, the WSJ story was bad press for ShapeShift, one of the oldest of the crypto exchanges. The last thing you want when regulators have their eyes on you is to be associated with criminals. Of course, this was not the first time ShapeShift had been linked to criminal activity. In August 2017, WannaCry ransomers also tried to funnel their bitcoin through the exchange. ShapeShift responded by freezing their accounts.

Erik Voorhees, the exchange’s founder and CEO, fought back against WSJ’s claims on Twitter“We are aware of the poorly-researched piece written against us by someone at WSJ. The implications are disingenuous and misleading,” he said when the story came out. He also posted a lengthy rebuttal online.  

In February, WSJ struck again, this time stating that ShapeShift allegedly received hundreds of thousands of ether from Canadian crypto exchange QuadrigaCX in the months before its CEO, Gerald Cotten, died under mysterious circumstances, taking with him the secret to the whereabouts of 100s of millions of dollars in customer funds.  

The second WSJ report does not address what happened to Quadriga’s missing funds, only that, according to two independent researchers, some ether left the online accounts of the platform and moved through ShapeShift before Quadriga became insolvent. But the implication was the same—money laundering. 

To defend its reputation, ShapeShift “requested” CipherBlade, a hitherto unknown blockchain analytics company, to do a separate investigation. On Thursday, the analytics firm unveiled the results of what it said was a months-long project in a Medium post under the headline “How Truth Disappears Into the Black Hole of Shoddy Journalism.”

It what it claims was a recreation of the 2018 WSJ report, CipherBlade announced that “the WSJ’s $9 million ‘laundering’ claim was overstated by a factor of 4x.”  

It is important to clarify what the new report actually says. It does not vindicate ShapeShift. It only says the laundering was less than what WSJ said. But money laundering is money laundering, and no matter how you slice or dice it, or who else is allowing it, it’s still money laundering.  

CipherBlade said its analysis was based upon publicly available data and that it made extensive use of the “txstat” function of ShapeShift’s public API. The company also denies that ShapeShift or anyone else paid for the investigation. “We did this as pro bono work because CipherBlade has an interest in preserving the reputation of highly compliant and helpful organizations like ShapeShift,” the firm said

Crypto trade publications jumped on the redemptive news. “WSJ’s ShapeShift Exposé Overstated Money Laundering by $6 Million, Analysis Says,” wrote CoinDesk. (The pub also included a glowing comment from Voorhees, who said that “Crypto is bringing light, truth, and openness to finance.”) The Block published a story with the headline, “WSJ’s ShapeShift money-laundering claims greatly overstated, says CipherBlade.” 

Meanwhile, Voorhees took the opportunity to once again condemn WSJ on social media. “A respectable publication would issue a retraction or correction. WSJ made up false claims against [ShapeShift] both quantitative and qualitative, in order to push an anti-crypto, pro-bank surveillance agenda. WSJ may lie, but blockchains don’t,” he tweeted.  

One question nobody seemed to be asking was, “Who is CipherBlade?”

In short, CipherBlade is a firm with links to hundreds of shell companies and a director who has associations to Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca, one of the world’s largest providers of offshore financial services—but I’m sure, none of that means anything.  

The company is based in Pittsburgh. Its registered office is located at Nwms Center, 31 Southampton Row, London. And the company is incorporated in the Marshall Islands.

On its website, the eight-month-old CipherBlade claims to have “recovered millions of dollars of stolen funds, prevented dozens of ICO scams, and professionally handled PR disasters and other emergency situations.” The company was founded in August 2018. 

You can file “incident reports” on CipherBlade’s website. A basic report costs $100. Adding a police report brings the price to $350. The platform accepts payments in bitcoin, ether and go—the latter being an obscure coin that mainly trades on Binance. The company does accept cash, but only via bank wires.

The only employee listed on CipherBlade’s website is Richard Sanders, the company’s chief security officer and co-founder. His bio reads a bit like an Internet tough guy. He “served in US army Special Operations Forces” and “rose to site security lead at Google.” A spokesperson for the company going by “Matthew” (no last name given) told me in an email that the company does have other employees—they just aren’t on the website. 

Matthew paints a picture of a company doing James Bond-level work. Sanders is the public face because his background, experience, training, and connections “hedge the risk he is exposed to,” Mathew said. He added that Sanders likes “to joke that we should state on our website that all death threats should kindly be addressed to him directly.”

The company’s only human director is Genevieve Magnan, a 36-year-old woman, who is a citizen of Seychelles, an archipelago island off of the Indian Ocean. Seychelles is “an offshore magnet for money launderers and tax dodgers,” according to a 2014 International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) report

According to her LinkedIn profile, Magnan is the corporate administrator for Seychelles-based AAA International Services, a “corporate services provider” — essentially, a company that helps other companies set themselves up in off-shore jurisdictions.

CipherBlade describes Magnan as a nominee director, whose only role is to be publicly visible in paperwork, such as the company registry. Matthew explained to me that the purpose of this company setup is to keep most of the CipherBlade team “shielded,” based on the nature of its work. “We’ve worked cases that involve very dangerous individuals and groups, including nation-state actors,” he said.

A little more digging pulls up a maze of companies. Magnan, for instance, holds shares of Sera Company, a holding company for an issuing company based in Cyprus (with a placeholder name “The Bearer”) that holds shares in 20 other companies.   

Screen Shot 2019-03-21 at 11.24.04 AMShell companies are ghost companies that have no significant assets or operations of their own. They are not illegal. In fact, ICIJ, which houses the leaked Panama Papers database—where I got a lot of the information for this story—makes it clear that “there are legitimate uses for offshore companies and trusts.”

I don’t want to suggest or imply that CipherBlade or any of the companies that it is linked to have done anything improper—as Matthew said, CipherBlade’s setup has a purpose, obviously. However, shell companies lend themselves to illegal activity. Criminals know how to use them to move money and create a house of mirrors to fool the system.

As examples, one company Magnan is listed as being a director of — Big365.com—is the recipient of a disgruntled review on Forexpeacearmy. “Jeff_calgary” claims the firm disappeared with his money. Magnan also appears to be the director of StocksM, which another Forexpeacearmy user describes as a high-yield investment, aka ponzi, scheme.

Where am I going with all this? Nowhere, other than, when a company issues a report that downplays money laundering on a crypto exchange, you may be interested in finding out just how that company actually knows about the subject—of money laundering, that is. The answer may surprise.

 

Thanks to and Cas Piancey and David Gerard, who inspired and contributed to this story.

Quadriga’s representative withdraws from CCAA hearings over ‘potential’ conflict of interest

Screen Shot 2019-03-15 at 10.14.59 PMStewart McKelvey, the law firm that has been representing Quadriga in its Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA), is stepping down due to a “potential” conflict of interest.

Maurice Chiasson, a partner at the law firm, sent a letter to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia on March 13. He explained that his firm was stepping down in response to concerns brought up by court-appointed monitor Ernst & Young.

Stewart McKelvey was representing both Quadriga in its CCAA hearing and the estate of the firm’s dead CEO, Gerald Cotten. The letter hints that new information has surfaced since February 5, when the hearings began.  

“We have been advised that the concerns regarding a potential conflict have arisen as a result of information, which has come to the attention of the monitor since the start of the CCAA process,” Chaisson said in the letter.  

He adds that, “Notwithstanding that no information has been disclosed, which provides a basis to conclude there has been or is the potential for conflict, we are of the view that the appropriate course in these circumstances is to withdraw from our representation of the application companies in the CCAA process effective immediately.”

The firm will continue to represent the estate of Jennifer Robertson, Cotten’s widow.

Chetan Phull, a Toronto lawyer, who specializes in crypto and blockchain, told me it is uncertain why Stewart McKelvey is not insisting that the conflict be disclosed. 

“It is even more curious why the firm believes the best course of action is to withdraw, without any evidence of a conflict or potential for conflict,” Phull said.

He noted that a conflict could arise from less obvious aspects of this case, such as whether Robertson breached a duty of care owed to the “corporate applicants” (meaning Quadriga CX) or a dispute with regard to how the firm’s legal fees should be paid.  

“At the end of the day, the letter is intentionally vague, probably to avoid raising issues that would prejudice the applicants,” Phull said.

Roughly $220 million CAD ($165 million USD) is still missing or unaccounted for after Quadriga became insolvent. Meanwhile, Robertson seems to have done okay. 

In a will signed weeks before his death on December 9, Cotten left an airplane, a yacht, and properties worth millions of dollars to his new bride. Robertson was also left in charge of Quadriga, since she inherited a large share of stock in the company.

Even while Quadriga users were experiencing delays in getting cash out of the exchange, Cotten and Robertson were buying up properties. Between mid-2016 and late-2018, the two bought 16 properties, worth $7.5 million CAD ($5.6 million USD), according to CBC.

Before Quadriga filed for creditor protection on January 31, Robertson removed Cotten’s name from the ownership of four Nova Scotia properties, took out collateral mortgages on all four and moved at least two of the properties into the Seaglass Trust, according to the Chronicle HeraldIt is not clear if Stewart McKelvey set up the trust.

Robertson is owed $300,000 CAD ($225,000 USD), which she put up to kick off the CCAA process. On March 5, the court deferred an order to pay her back.