The reported death in India of Gerry Cotten, the founder of Canada’s largest crypto exchange Quadriga, has left a growing financial scandal. Photo: Facebook

When the owner of a Canadian crypto exchange died suddenly in the Indian city of Jaipur in January, he apparently took with him all the access codes to millions of dollars of digital currency.

The reported death of Gerry Cotton, founder and one time CEO of Quadriga – for many years the largest cryptocurrency exchange in Canada – has raised more than a few questions. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police have been looking into the implosion of Quadriga since Cotten’s death was announced.

Now, as the confusion only deepens, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation is also investigating Quadriga. 

In February, under increasing pressure and scrutiny from disgruntled investors, the company appointed accountancy firm Ernst & Young as an independent auditor and applied for creditor protection with the supreme court of Nova Scotia. Court documents filed in Nova Scotia Supreme Court showed as many as 115,000 people are owed about $140 million.

Ernst & Young have just released a report saying they have identified six separate crypto wallets that were used to store the exchange’s digital assets. However, the auditor claims the wallets do not contain anywhere near the estimated CAN$250 million that is missing. Some reports say the wallets are actually empty.

According to a Fortune report, the FBI and RCMP have contacted the management of the US based Kraken crypto exchange to try and get some help in tracking down the missing Quadriga millions. 

Kraken CEO Jesse Powell said that he does not believe that Cotten ever transferred the $136 million that Quadriga claimed was held in “cold storage wallets”, which are ones disconnected from the internet. Examining transactions on the blockchain, or public ledger, suggested that someone moved the Quadriga assets to “hot wallets” which are ones based online at another exchange.

Kraken has now announced a $100,000 reward for the “tip(s) that best lead to the discovery of the missing funds”. Powell added that the gesture was partly to give some credibility to the industry following the debacle. “Our mission is to accelerate the adoption of cryptocurrency so that the world can benefit from greater financial freedom and inclusion,” a Kraken statement said.

Powell tweeted that “the best hope that [Quadriga] clients have” is that Cotten was keeping client funds in other exchanges. “Unfortunately”, addedPowell, there is “nothing at Kraken. Hopefully, others are looking. (It) could be (that) accounts were created under different names (and therefore) might take some real digging to find.”

Further blockchain investigation revealed that some of the funds were moved in Ethereum to the Binance, Bitfinex, and Poloniex exchanges just before Quadriga collapsed. Quadriga’s lawyer, Richard Niedermayer, said the firm was not aware of any probes by the law enforcement agencies. He added that he could not comment on allegations of impropriety by the company.

Suspicions deepened as it was revealed that Cotton filed a will just 12 days before his death granting his entire estate and millions of dollars to his wife. Further dodgy business practices by the Canadian exchange have been discovered such as the co-founder being involved in crypto money laundering.

The plot is thickening as the fiasco unravels. There are now dozens of conspiracy theories and the Canadian press are frantically digging into the backgrounds of Cotten’s wife – who allegedly has changed her name three times and has bought property worth millions of dollars in the last two years – and also the co-founder of Quadriga, who allegedly has been convicted of identity theft and fraud.

The next Ernst & Young report is scheduled to be released this week. This story has a long way to go.

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