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.

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: 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.

# # #

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

 

 

Turns out, you can make money on horse manure, and tethers are worth just that

Screen Shot 2019-05-23 at 9.22.35 AM

Did you know, there is an actual business for horse manure?  

“It’s wild,” one horse farmer told Stable Management. “You can take this stuff that nobody wants and turn it into something of value.”  

You can do something similar in the crypto word. Shitexpress was a service that delivered horse poop anywhere in the world for bitcoin. Now, instead of sending actually poop, you can send tethers, a stablecoin issued by a company of the same name, Tether Limited.  

Tethers are a major source of liquidity in crypto markets. In lieu of the US dollar, you can use them to enter and exit positions in times of volatility. As such, tethers are responsible for the health and wellness of dozens of crypto exchanges, including Binance, Huobi, Bittrex, OKEx, Poloniex and others, that don’t have direct banking.

Inner workings

When Tether first entered the world in 2015, tethers were promised as an I.O.U. For years, Tether assured us that every tether was worth $1—as in, one actual US dollar that Tether had on hand that you could redeem your tethers for.  

Tether and its sister company Bitfinex, one of the largest crypto trading platforms by volume, are now being sued by the New York Attorney General. As court documents reveal more of the companies’ inner workings, people are asking: What are tethers worth? Is one tether worth a dollar? Less than a dollar? What can I get for my tethers?

For a while, the thinking was, well, maybe one tether is worth 74 cents, because in his first affidavit, filed on April 30, Stuart Hoegner, Bitfinex and Tether’s general counsel, said tethers were only 74% backed. In other words, Tether was operating a fractional reserve, kind of like a bank, but sans regulatory oversight or deposit insurance.

Tether updated its terms of service on February 26, to let you know tethers weren’t fully backed, but if you weren’t paying close attention—i.e., checking the Tether website every single day—you may have missed it. Tether says it can amend, change, or update its terms of service “at any time and without prior notice to you.”

Now, it’s looking like one tether is worth whatever someone gives you for it. If someone gives you bitcoin for a pile of tethers, hurray for you, that is the value of your tethers. If the person who got your tethers can pass them off to someone else for bitcoin, or another crypto of value, then yay for them! It’s called the greater fool theory, and, so far, it seems to be working—Tether is still trading on par with the dollar.   

But if you take those tethers to Tether, the company that, so far, has shoveled $3 billion worth of them onto the markets, and say, “Hey, can I redeem these for dollars, like you have been promising me all these years?,” they will most certainly tell you, “Sorry, no.”

Are you verified?

You can only redeem tethers under certain conditions, such as you bought loads of them directly from Tether—and you are not a US citizen.

In Hoegner’s recent affirmation, filed on May 21, he says you have to be a “verified” Tether customer to redeem tethers. 

“Only verified Tether customers are entitled to redeem tether from Tether for fiat on a 1:1 basis. There is no right of redemption from Tether on a 1:1 basis for any holders of tether who obtained the tokens on a secondary market platform and who are not verified Tether customers; on the contrary, such holders of tether have no relationship with Tether and are expressly precluded from redeeming tether on a 1:1 basis for Tether.”

In that paragraph, Hoegner reminds us three times—just to make sure we understand his point—that whoever you are and however you ended up with your tethers, the company is under no obligation to give you cash back for those tethers.

Per Tether’s terms of service, only those who bought tethers directly from Tether Limited—aka “validated users”—can redeem tethers. Anyone who got tethers on the “secondary market,” meaning, an exchange, is not able to redeem those tethers.

As court docs reveal, from November 2017 to December 2018, you could only buy tethers for cash directly from Bitfinex. Per Tether’s website, as of November 27, 2018, you could once again buy tethers directly from Tether. However, you have to buy a minimum of $100,0000 worth. According to Tether’s definition, Bitfinex is a secondary market.

Also, if you want to redeem tethers on Tether, you have to redeem a minimum of $100,000 worth at a time, and you can’t redeem more than once a week.

Further, if you live in the US, you have zero chance of ever redeeming your tethers for cash. Hoegner says that as of November 23, 2017, Tether ceased servicing customers in the US, and at this time, “no longer provides issues or redemption to any US customers.”

To summarize, if you are a US citizen holding a bag of tethers, Tether will give you nothing for them. If you acquired tether on Bitfinex or some other exchange, Tether owes you nothing. And if you don’t like that, too bad, because Tether also says in its terms that when you buy tethers, you waive any rights to “trial by jury or proceeding of any kind whatsoever.”

Wait, this doesn’t look like a dollar!

If you are one of the lucky few who purchased $100,000 or more worth of tethers via Tether’s website—and you are not a US citizen—and would like to redeem 100,000 or more of them, you may or may not get actual dollars back any time soon.

In its terms of service, Tether says it “reserves the right to delay redemption or withdrawal” of tether in the event of illiquidity—meaning, if they don’t happen to have cash on hand today. The company also says that it reserves the right to pay you “in-kind redemption of securities and other assets” held in its reserves.

Screen Shot 2019-05-27 at 12.06.21 PMBasically, that equates to, you could get shares of iFinex (Bitfinex and Tether’s parent company) or LEO tokens (a new token Bitfinex recently created) or whatever is in the soup bowl that day. And you may end up with something that has as much real world value as horse manure—just not as good for the roses.

Update (May 27): This story has been updated to reflect that if you buy or redeem tethers from Tether, you have to buy or redeem a minimum of $100,000 worth.

 

 

# # #

New York Supreme Court: Bitfinex may not touch Tether’s reserves for 90 days

Screen Shot 2019-05-16 at 8.30.44 PMBitfinex will not be able to dip into Tether’s reserves for 90 days, except to maintain normal business activities, according to a New York judge. The crypto exchange must also “promptly” hand over documents to the New York Attorney General (NYAG).

On May 16, New York Supreme court judge Joel M. Cohen granted Bitfinex’s motion to modify a preliminary injunction obtained by the NYAG. The judge called the original ruling vague, over broad, and not preliminary, meaning it lacked a specified time limit. He also held that the Martin Act—New York’s powerful anti-fraud law—“does not provide a roving mandate to regulate commercial activity.”

Decision and order

NYAG’s original petition consisted of two parts: a directive to Bitfinex and Tether to “produce evidence,” and a preliminary injunction to ensure that the respondents maintain a status quo while the NYAG’s investigation is ongoing.

In his 18-page decision and order, the judge granted the directive—Bitfinex and Tether still have to surrender documents—and agreed to modify the preliminary injunction, so as not to restrict the companies’ “ordinary business activities” any more than necessary.

The modified injunction spells out the following:

Tether cannot loan, extend credit or transfer assets—outside of its ordinary course of business—that would result in Bitfinex having claims on its reserves.  

(In an earlier letter to the court, iFinex, the parent company of Bitfinex and Tether, claims that Tether’s business model depends on it “making investments and asset purchases with the proceeds it derives from selling tethers.” Presumably, since this is an ordinary part of the company’s business, Tether can continue to invest its reserves, though it is not clear how it is investing the funds.)

Tether and Bitfinex cannot distribute or dividend any funds from Tether’s reserves to executives, employees, or agents of Bitfinex—except for payroll and normal payments to contractors and vendors.  

The companies are barred from destroying or altering any documents and communications, including material called for by the NYAG’s 2018 investigative subpoenas.  

If the NYAG wants to extend the 90-day injunction, two weeks before the injunction expires, it must submit a letter to the court. Bitfinex will then have seven days to submit a response. Based on that, the judge will decide whether to hold a hearing.

Victory, for now…

In a post on its website, Bitfinex revels in its victory. The exchange claims the NYAG sought the April 24 order “in bad faith” and vows to “vigorously defend” against the agency’s actions. Bitfinex adds that it remains committed to protecting its customers, its business, and its community against the NYAG’s “meritless claims.”

Most tether holders (the NYAG calls them “investors”) entered into their contracts under the assumption that tethers were fully backed. Each tether was supposedly worth $1—until late February, when Tether changed its terms without actually telling anyone.

Around the same time, Tether made a questionable loan to Bitfinex for $900 million. (Both companies are run by the same individuals, and the same people signed the agreement on either side.) Bitfinex has already dissipated $750 million of those funds. The remaining $150 million appear to be safe—at least for now.

To note, the investigation into whether Bitfinex violated the Martin Act is still ongoing. As a result of today’s ruling, Bitfinex still has to hand over documents and communications about its “business operations, relationships, customers, tax filings, and more.” The NYAG has been requesting those documents since November.

A transcript of the hearing is available here, courtesy of The Block. 

Update (May 19): I updated this story to clarify that there were two parts to NYAG’s original order. Additionally, I noted that Tether can still invest its reserves.

Update (May 21): I added a link to the full transcript of the hearing.

# # #

Related stories:
Bitfinex to NYAG: You have no authority! We did nothing wrong!
NYAG: Bitfinex needs to submit docs and stop dipping into Tether’s reserves
The curious case of Tether: a complete timeline of events

 

News: Money laundering in real time, Binance has you covered, maybe, and Bitfinex ready to IEO with LEO

A lot is going on in cryptoland right now—most of it involves investigations, a New York Attorney General (NYAG) lawsuit and missing funds, but I don’t want to sound negative.

The destiny of all crypto exchanges is to be hacked, apparently. Last year, thieves stole $950 million worth of cryptocurrency from exchanges. So, in many ways, it’s not surprising to hear that Binance, the largest crypto exchange by volume, got hacked a second time.

Binance, all funds SAFU

Thieves looted more than 7,000 BTC from Binance in a single transaction. The hackers, however, are not free yet! They still need to move that $41 million worth of BTC into fiat,  a feat that typically requires layering funds into smaller and smaller amounts (generally using a script of some sort), moving it through coin mixers, and then funneling it through various exchanges until they can exit into cash. 

Thanks to blockchain, we can watch this money laundering happen real time. The first transaction out of Binance consisted of of 44 outputs. The hackers have since consolidated the bitcoin into seven addresses of mostly amounts. Now we wait.

After the hack, Binance suspended all deposits and withdrawals for seven days. Traders on the platform can’t dump their bitcoin—or their tether. If bitcoin were to crash, they would be trapped. Fortunately, bitcoin is not crashing—it’s pumping. As I write, bitcoin is now at $6,800, having shot up $1,000 within a week.

According to one expert, the boost is partially due to “a rare alignment of celestial bodies forged in an ancient supernova”—thus, number go up. Makes total sense to me.

Binance says it has an insurance policy—its SAFU fund—to cover losses on the exchange. Nobody knows for certain what is in that fund, because there has never been an outside audit, but Binance’s CEO CZ says they have enough bitcoin to cover the losses. Phew!

In a recent blog post, CZ also said the exchange is revamping its security measures, including its 2FA, API and withdrawal validation processes. Also, withdrawals and deposits should resume “early next week.”

Bitfinex’s legal woes

If you need to get up to speed with the Bitfinex and Tether saga, I covered the NYAG lawsuit in my previous newsletter. Robert-Jan den Haan also wrote a complete timeline of Bitfinex’s history with its third-party payment processor Crypto Capital.

We have podcasts, too. I discuss the Bitfinex drama with Sasha Hodder on HodlCast, and Robert talks about it with Laura Shin on her Unconfirmed podcast.

In response to the NYAG’s court order, Bitfinex submitted a motion to vacate. The NYAG filed an opposition, and Bitfinex responded. At a hearing on May 6, New York Supreme Court judge Joel M. Cohen called the preliminary injunction “amorphous and endless.” The prelim will stand, but he is giving both parties a week to sort it out.

Bitcoin was selling at a 6% premium on Bitfinex—a sign that traders are willing to pay more to get rid of their tether and get their funds off the exchange. The price of bitcoin on the exchange was so off-kilter that CoinMarketCap, a website that aggregates bitcoin pricing from top exchanges, stopped pulling from Bitfinex.

The Bitfinex premium disappeared when Binance halted withdrawals on its platform, Larry Cermak doubts it has anything to do with Binance though. He thinks it’s because Bitfinex started processing cash withdrawals again.

Twitter user “Bitfinex’ed,” disagrees. When bitcoins and tethers are stuck on Binance,  that effectively reduces the supply and makes it that much easier to pump the market, he told me. He think prices will crash when Binance reopens withdrawals.

“I am lion, hear me roar”

Screen Shot 2019-05-10 at 9.39.37 PMBitfinex has a $851 million shortfall due to issues with Crypto Capital. How is it going to fix that? Here is an idea: Why not just print more money?

The exchange’s latest plan is a token sale, or exchange traded offering (ETO), on its own platform. It will be selling a new token LEO—as in lion.

Earlier this week, iFinex, the parent company of Bitfinex, released a white paper outlining the business proposition behind the token offering. Each LEO is worth 1 USDT, which is worth $1 USD. This is not the first time Bitfinex has issued a new token to pull itself out of a financial mess. (It created a BFX token after it was hacked in 2016.)

Bitfinex shareholder Dong Zhao told CoinDesk that iFinex has received hard and soft commitments of $1 billion for the token sale. Perfect. That should definitely eleviate all of Bitfinex’s money problems.

QuadrigaCX

Ernst & Young, the trustee for failed Canadian crypto exchange QuadrigaCX, released a preliminary report describing the company’s assets and liabilities. In a nut, Quadriga has US$21 million in assets, but owes creditors US$160 million.

Elsewhere

Recently, Negocie Coins, a crypto exchange that you probably have never heard of, rose to number three on CoinMarketCap’s top exchange’s list sorted by volume. How is this even possible? Clay Collins, founder of market data company Nomics, made a video, explaining how crypto exchanges use ticker stuffing and volume spamming to game the system.

FinCEN has released a new “interpretive  guidance” for money services businesses using cryptocurrency. If you are not sure if you are a money transmitter, David Gerard breaks it down for you. Sasha Hodder also covers the new guidance in Bitcoin Magazine. And there were several tweet storms—here, here, and here.

The FinCEN document has far reaching implications, such as, it appears Lightning Network (LN) operators qualify as money transmitters. Emin Gün Sirer says he is not surprised “given how similar LN is to hawala networks, and given the role hawala networks played in financing terrorism pre-9/11.”

The US banking committee is concerned about Facebook’s attempt at a cryptocurrency—Facebook coin—and how the social media giant is treating people’s’ financial information. It’s published an open letter with questions for Facebook.

Redditor u/BioBiro, who needed to acquire bitcoin for a totally legal purchase, complains about the rigamarole he had to go through. Among other things, “Now there’s two pictures of me and my driving license on their server for the rest of time, I guess.”

Consensus, CoinDesk’s big money maker conference, kicks off in New York next week. Last year it had 8,500 attendees, pulling in ~$17 million in ticket sales—and that’s before sponsorships. Arthur Hayes, CEO of bitcoin derivative exchange BitMEX, was one of several who rolled up to New York Hilton Midtown in a lambo.

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Bitfinex to NYAG: You have no authority! We did nothing wrong!

Screen Shot 2019-05-06 at 5.42.29 PMBitfinex has filed yet another rebuke to the New York Attorney General’s ex parte court order.

The April 24 order basically tells Bitfinex to submit documents and stop dipping into Tether’s reserves, which it has done, so far, to the tune of $750 million.

Bitfinex filed a motion to vacate or modify the order on May 3. On Friday, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) opposed the motion. And on Sunday, Bitfinex filed a response to the opposition. The reply memorandum in further support of the motion to vacate or modify the order was filed by law firms Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP and Steptoe & Johnson LLP.

In the memo, Bitfinex argues that “nothing in the Attorney General’s opposition papers justifies the ex parte order having been issued in the first place.” It lists a bunch of reasons for this—essentially, a lot of “buts,” which equate to Bitfinex saying, “It wasn’t me, you can’t prove it, and anyway, nobody was harmed by the thing I totally didn’t do.”

Here is a summary—also, I am not a lawyer. 

But, tethers are not a securities!

The OAG claims Bitfinex violated the Martin Act, New York’s anti-fraud law, which grants the agency expansive powers to conduct investigations of securities fraud.

Bitfinex argues that the OAG did not even try to explain how tethers (the dollar-backed coins issued by Bitfinex’s affiliate Tether) qualify as securities or commodities in the first place. In its opposition, this is what the OAG did say, in a footnote:

“The Motion to Vacate wrongly suggests that an eventual Martin Act claim stands or falls on whether ‘tethers’ are securities or commodities. It does not. The Bitfinex trading platform transacts in both securities and commodities (like bitcoin), and is of course at the core of the fraudulent conduct set forth in OAG’s application.”

This looks like an attempt by Bitfinex to pull the OAG into the weeds, and the OAG is not going there. The fact that Bitfinex does trade in securities and commodities (the CFTC considers bitcoin a commodity, and the SEC considers most ICO tokens to be securities) is enough to bring Bitfinex under the OAG’s purview. ‘Nuff said. 

But, this is so disruptive!

The ex parte order is “hugely disruptive,” says Bitfinex, because it freezes $2.1 billion of Tether reserves—what’s currently left to back the 2.8 billion tethers in circulation—prohibiting any investment of any kind, for the indefinite future. 

In other words, Bitfinex feels like it can do whatever it wants with the cash that tether holders gave it for safe keeping. Tether works like an I.O.U., which means Bitfinex is supposed to hold onto that money for redemptions only.  

The big reason Bitfinex wants to bend the rules here is that it is desperate for cash to stay in operation. If it can’t get that cash from somewhere, the exchange is potentially in danger of running aground, or getting into even more trouble with regulators. At this point, Bitfinex is even trying to raise $1 billion in a token offering. 

But, we didn’t do anything wrong!

Bitfinex argues it has not committed fraud. It has taken hundreds of millions out of Tether’s reserves, but that is okay, because it updated Tether’s terms of service to make it clear that reserves could include loans to affiliates. What’s more, Bitfinex says it updated the terms before it drew a line of credit from Tether for $900 million.

(It has so far dissipated $750 million of that loan—which was signed by the same people on either side of the transaction—with access to another $150 million.)

In its memo, Bitfinex says:

“This disclosure gave anyone holding or considering buying tether the opportunity to take their money elsewhere if they chose, defeating any allegations of fraud.” 

In fact, Tether did update its terms of service on its website on February 26, 2019, but it did so silently. It was not until two weeks later, when someone inadvertently stumbled upon the change, that the news became public. In contrast, a bank would totally be expected to reveal such a move—at the very least, to its regulators.  

The OAG also claims that in mid-2018, Bitfinex failed to disclose the loss of $851 million related to Crypto Capital, an intermediary that the exchange was using to wire money to its customers. Bitfinex argues that, as a private company, it had “no duty to disclose its internal financial matters to customers.”

If Bitfinex were to go belly up all of a sudden, traders could potentially be out of their funds, but apparently, that is none of their business. Also, Bitfinex went beyond not disclosing the loss. It even lied about it, telling its customers that rumors of its insolvency were a “targeted campaign based on nothing but fiction.”  

The OAG’s opposition to Bitfinex’s move to vacate, literally has an entire section (see “Background”) that basically says, “We’ve caught these guys lying repeatedly, here are the lies,” which Bitfinex does not even address in its memo.

But, nobody has been harmed!

The OAG’s job is to protect the public, but Bitfinex says “there has been no harm to tether holders supposedly being defrauded, much less harm that is either ongoing or irreparable.” Particularly now, it says, after it made the details of its credit transaction—the one where it borrowed $900 million from Tether—fully public.  

“Holders of tether are doing so with eyes wide open,” Bitfinex says. “They may redeem at any time, and Tether has ample assets to honor those requests.”

Ample assets, that is, as long as everybody doesn’t ask for their money back all at once. Bitfinex’s general counsel Stuart Hoegner already stated in his affidavit, which accompanied the company’s move to vacate, that tethers are only 74% backed.  

Tether’s operation fits the definition of a fractional reserve system, which is what banks do, which is why banks have a lot of rules and also backing and deposit insurance.  

But, “the balance of equities favors Bitfinex and Tether!”

Bitfinex and Tether would be fine, if the OAG would just go away. The agency is doing more harm than good, Bitfinex argues. 

The exchange argues that a preliminary injunction would not protect anyone, but would instead cause “great disruption” to Bitfinex and Tether—”ultimately to the detriment of market participants on whose behalf the attorney general purports to be acting.”

It maintains that it needs access to Tether’s holdings because it needs the “liquidity for normal operations.” That is, Bitfinex admits it does not have enough cash on hand, without dipping into the reserves.

But, what’s good for Bitfinex is good for Tether. “For its part, Tether has a keen interest in ensuring that Bitfinex, as a dominant platform for Tether’s products and known affiliate, can operate as normal,” the company says. 

Besides, the OAG has no business “attempting to dictate how two private companies may deal with one another and deploy their funds,” says Bitfinex.

It maintains the OAG’s actions have actually done harm. In the weeks leading up the order, the crypto market was rallying after an extended downturn. In its court document, Bitfinex writes: 

“This rally was halted by this case, which resulted in an approximate loss of $10 billion across dozens of cryptocurrencies in one hour of the April 24, 2019 order becoming public.”

Not only that, but Bitfinex itself was harmed by the publicity brought on by the OAG’s lawsuit. The exchange says the balance of it cold wallets “have fallen sharply, an indication that customers have been drawing down their holdings.”

It is likely that Bitfinex is going to have to surrender the documents the OAG is asking for at some point—and that may be what it is trying to avoid. Its attempts to vacate the OAG’s order appears to be an effort to buy time, while it scrambles to figure out how to come up with the nearly $1 billion it needs to stay afloat—a token sale may be just the thing.

Update:

On May 6, New York Supreme Court judge Joel M. Cohen ruled that the OAG’s ex parte order should remain in effect, at least in part. However, he thinks the injunction is “amorphous and endless.” He gives the two parties a week to work out a compromise and submit new proposals for what the scope of the injunction should be.

On May 13, iFinex, the parent company of Bitfinex and Tether, submitted this letter and this proposed order to the court. Among other things, iFinex is asking for a 45-day limit on the injunction and to replace three paragraphs—one of which would allow Tether employees to get paid using Tether’s reserves.

For its part, the OAG submitted this letter and this proposed order. The OAG is not opposed to Tether’s employees being paid, but it wants Tether to to pay its employees using transaction fees—not reserves.

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What happened next?
NY Supreme Court Judge: Bitfinex may not touch Tether’s reserves for 90 days

Related stories:
NYAG: Bitfinex needs to submit docs and stop dipping into Tether’s reserves
The curious case of Tether: a complete timeline of events

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