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Bitcoin Exchange Kraken Joins The Mt Gox Investigation; The collapse still shrouded in darkness

Bitcoin exchange Kraken  announced on Wednesday that it had been chosen to support the investigation of Mt Gox’s collapse. The announcement was made at the second Mt Gox creditors’ meeting held in Tokyo District Court.

Kraken, is a San Francisco based bitcoin exchange known for its top share in Euro trading, that launched trading in Japanese yen in October. Payward Inc. is the corporation that operates it. Kraken was selected by the trustee in charge of the liquidation of Mt Gox, and approved by the Tokyo District Court to support the investigation of missing bitcoin and the distribution of remaining assets to the creditors.

Representative of Kraken and The Mt Gox Trustee
Jesse Powell, CEO of Kraken (left)  and Nobuaki Kobayashi (right) , trustee appointed by the Tokyo District Court to handle Mt Gox liquidation

 Nine months after Mt Gox, once the world’s biggest bitcoin exchange based in Japan filed for bankruptcy in February of this year after losing half a billion US $ worth of bitcoins that belonged to about 127,000 creditors around the world, darkness still enshrouds the police investigation. There is also an independent investigation launched by a handful of security and law experts from the bitcoin community in Tokyo.

After the first hearing held in July, Mt Gox’s creditors started questioning the ability and motivation of Nobuaki Kobayashi, the trustee appointed by the Tokyo District Court to liquidate Mt Gox’s assets.

“Because less  than 1% of the victims in this care are Japanese victims, the Japanese police and the trustee don’t seem to put all their efforts in finding out the truth, ” A creditor based in Tokyo explained his concerns.

Established in July 2011 in the State of Delaware,  Payward (Kraken)  was chosen because it “acts as the founding and principal member of DATA, a self-regulatory organization for bitcoin operators in the U.S., and JADA, in Japan,” Nobuaki Kobayashi explained in his report released on Wednesday. Payward accepted to support for Mt Gox’s bankruptcy distributions with no charge up to 500 hours in total of consulting service, after purchasing Mt Gox’s equipment formatted after deleting all the saved data and software.

“Mark Karpeles, the CEO of Mt Gox was in a bad position, having started first.” Jesse Powell, CEO of Kraken explained. “It’s very difficult to hire trustworthy, talented people who are capable of building a military grade security systems, and back then in 2010 or 2011, the market was so small, it didn’t really make sense to justify spending US$10 million in this infrastructure. So he had the misfortune to be the first and the last after what happened, although I consider there were probably things that he could have done better to prevent this from happening. We are not even sure of what really happened at this point.”

Despite numerous requests by creditors for transparency, the Japanese trustee said he was requested by the Metropolitan Police Department not to disclose the addresses managed by Mt Gox. After five months of frustration, some creditors finally see a light in the tunnel.

Skepticism about Kraken’s Ability to Solve The Problem

The arrival of Kraken seems to have put a bit of faith in the crowd of creditors who were afraid to leave their assets in the hand of a trustee who did not seem to understand bitcoin and who refused the help offered by the bitcoin community that put in place their own probe. “The more minds the better,” Jesse Powell the CEO of Kraken said, “but it would be up to the trustee to choose who enters the battle, so Kraken will be able to use the resources available.”

“It seems Kraken has been given a lot of responsibility, they now are dealing with finding the bitcoins, and giving the money back to creditors. I think as far as the bitcoin investigation and money returning goes, it’s now in good hands, ” a creditor said after the second creditors’ meeting that took place on Wednesday.

Some see Kraken as an opportunist. Others wonder if it will even take a look at the rumours of potential organized crime involvement in the collapse of Mt Gox.

“Probably Kraken is fairly trustworthy, their best effort may be more fair and cheaper than the trustee. It just seems grossly unprofessional of a bankruptcy trustee to just hand things over to another private company. It’s like if some hedge fund was given the task of sorting out the Bernie Madoff case. It’s just a way for Kobayashi to absolve himself of responsibility, ” A Mt Gox creditor told JSRC after the announcement of the involvement of Kraken in the investigation.

Rumors of organized crime involvement in Mt Gox collapse

The trustee in charge of Mt Gox’s liquidation, who never revealed the amount he is paying himself to do his job, said at a press conference held in Tokyo on Wednesday that he was indeed concerned by organized crime involvement in the business. “As the trustee of Mt Gox, I believe that it is important to discover ties to organized crime if there are any, and I am strongly thinking about doing so in the near future. However, when I was appointed by the Tokyo District Court to liquidate Mt Gox, it has not registered any additional clients and no trade was possible under my supervision after it filed for bankruptcy protection. I have been in charge of Mt Gox after its bankruptcy, so in that sense I believe there was no involvement of organized crime with Mt Gox. I do not know what happened before I stepped in. I am therefore not aware of any ties with organized crime, at this point.”

A former employee of Mt Gox said they repeatedly tried to report suspicious activities to authorities when they were still running, but never received a response of any kind.In Japan, politicians, banks, businessmen and the mob are traditionally linked. But all changed officially in October of 2011, when the Organized Crime exclusionary law went into effect. The new ordinances did not have exceptions for foreign companies and they make doing transactions with organized crime groups (the yakuza, extreme right wing etc) a criminal offense.

 

Japan is oddly perhaps the most bitcoin friendly country. The Japanese banking law doesn’t allow lenders to broker bitcoin transactions or set up accounts for customers to store the digital assets. At the same time, current rules reportedly don’t prevent brokerages and asset managers from managing clients’ bitcoins. Even Rakuten Super Logistics, an order logistics company owned by Japan-based e-commerce giant Rakuten, has begun accepting bitcoin payments for its shipping services.

In 2011, bitcoin was new to Japan and still is. Regulations are not yet set in place.

Tsutomu Okubo, a lawmaker from the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and former vice finance minister, called on the government to rectify the lack of regulation in March 2014, after Mt Gox filed for bankruptcy after being allegedly hacked. Officials from the Finance Ministry, Financial Services Agency and Bank of Japan responded they’re not in a position to oversee bitcoin.

Japan is oddly perhaps the most bitcoin friendly country. The Japanese banking law doesn’t allow lenders to broker bitcoin transactions or set up accounts for customers to store the digital assets. At the same time, current rules reportedly don’t prevent brokerages and asset managers from managing clients’ bitcoins. Even Rakuten Super Logistics, an order logistics company owned by Japan-based e-commerce giant Rakuten, has begun accepting bitcoin payments for its shipping services.

Bitflyer can’t face legal compliance requirements such as what exist in the U.S. because they don’t deal foreign customers, and they are backed by politicians in favor of bitcoin, such as Mineyuki Fukuda, head of the Japanese government’s IT Strategy Committee and its leading bitcoin proponent.

“Japan is way ahead of other countries when it comes to cooperation between bitcoin operators and regulators, which you don’t see in the US, Europe or Singapore,” Yuzo Kano, an ex-Goldman Sachs trader and CEO of Bitflyer said.

Banking sources say Japan’s government is falling behind the curve as bitcoin grew rapidly over the past five years. “Banks and governments don’t welcome bitcoin, because it screws their power system,” bitcoin lovers say. But Japan is a bitcoin paradise. It may also be a paradise for unsavoury elements.

Financial frauds with yakuza involvement are not rare in Japan. In the 1990’s, the Japanese government budgeted funds to help failing mortgage firms to keep going. At the time, government officials said that part of those companies’ loans involved organized crime money.

“Of course there is no guarantee that the same won’t happen to us. My co-founder and I worked together for at least 13 years, so I have faith in him, we are very cautious of who has access to certain things, and this requires signatures and people to approve, for example a new code for example. I think we are pretty well protected. We are always prepared for the worse.” Powell told JSRC. “Kraken is founded initially from the USA’s most strict compliances, it is the same in Japan, we proceed with a strict back ground check, including attempts to identify organized crime activities and trading.” Ayako Miyaguchi, the head of Kraken’s operation in Japan told reporters.

“As far as I am concerned we have no organized crime money transactions at Kraken. We have a very strong compliance and customer policy. So we are following that very closely. We report suspicious transactions, and we have strict limits on the amounts that a client can transfer. I don’t think we are an easy exchange to launder money through.” Powell explained.

Japan is the one of few countries in the world, with Finland not to consider bitcoin a currency but a commodity. Despite concerns over the possible hack committed against or within the Japan based exchange that collapsed in February, Mt Gox and despite concerns over bitcoin used for possible money laundering. In the U.S., each state has a different regulation for businesses that deal with crypto currencies, while Russia and China said bitcoin is illegal under current law.

In late 2011, the Olympus 1.7 billion dollar accounting scandal and the heroic stance taken by its British CEO, Michael Woodford, hit Japan’s corporate world and triggered a great amount of interest in the media because it brought up possible yakuza links in the cover-up, despite the company’s denial. Ironically, several years ago, Fujitsu Ltd., a security company hired by Mt Gox’s trustee, fired its president for alleged ties to the yakuza. It was an allegation denied by the president who took court actions to clear his reputation. Mizuho Bank has been in trouble in recent years of failing to deal with millions of dollars of loans made to yakuza related entities.In other words, it isn’t rare that corporate or financial scandals give rise to speculations over yakuza participation.

“I think it’s a very sad indictment of corporate Japan that that’s the working assumption,” Peter Godwin, managing partner at law firm Herbert Smith in Tokyo, told Reuters, when asked why the corporate controversies often stir talk about yakuza.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tokyo gets its first Bitcoin ATM–at The Pink Cow of all places

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While most ATMs in Tokyo are located in convenience stores, in train stations, or on important street corners, Tokyo’s first fully operational Bitcoin ATM is located in The Pink Cow, a Cal-Mex restaurant and bar in the middle of Roppongi. The bar is a popular expat hangout in the city, and is a gathering place for artists and musicians. More recently, the restaurant has been home to frequent gatherings of Bitcoin fans in Tokyo, and incidentally became the first restaurant in Japan to accept Bitcoins.

According to Jeff Quigley at Tech in Asia, as of Friday, the ATM had been used 75 times since it was unveiled. Despite the collapse of Bitcoin exchange, Mt. Gox, this February, when the theft of several hundred thousand Bitcoins forced the company to declare bankruptcy, it seems that faith in the virtual currency is still strong.

Just make sure that you don’t withdraw your entire savings while inebriated. The staff at The Pink Cow are notorious for being generous with the alcohol when they mix cocktails. (I would know since I worked behind the bar for a year.)

Mt.Gox: The Bitcoin Exchange Eruption Timeline

#MtGox: The Bitcoin Exchange Eruption Timeline

How did Mt.Gox, once the largest #Bitcoin exchange fall apart and why couldn’t it be saved. (To the best of my knowledge) Magic Trading Cards & Magic Money–not so far apart.

Mt.Gox claimed to be one of the oldest and most reliable Bitcoin exchanges. It didn't quite live up to its PR. It went bankrupt on February 28th.
Mt.Gox claimed to be one of the oldest and most reliable Bitcoin exchanges. It didn’t quite live up to its PR. It went bankrupt on February 28th.

  1. #MtGox eruption not criminal fraud; bad management, bad accounting, & system bugs that went unfixed  http://thebea.st/1mJVXlS 

     

  2. #Mtgox timeline Pt 1: 2009 Magic: The Gathering Online eXchange (Mt.Gox) created. 2010 Becomes Bitcoin exchange (a logical progression)
  3. #MtGox timeline Pt2: 2011 Computer genius Mark Karpeles takes over Mt.Gox; as Bitcoin exchange company thrives. But software bugs unnoticed
  4. #MtGox timeline pt3: Circa 2012 “double cheeseburger for one flaw” etc result in bitcoin theft/leakage; problem noted but not fixed.
  5. #MtGox timeline Pt.4: 2013 Failure to do account reconciliation as company grow results in missed gap between cold storage btw actual stock
  6. In other words, the bitcoins in cold storage weren’t properly matched with the online transaction data etc. Reconciliation is the accounting term that would apply here.

  7. #MtGox timeline pt5: 2013 delays in withdrawals, trouble with federal authorities, seizure of cash, system problems hurt firm’s reputation
  8. Mt. Gox achieved something amazing. A D4 rating from Teikoku Data Bank. It’s a legendary bad score.  http://thebea.st/1mJVXlS 

     

  9. #MtGox timeline pt6: 2014/01/19 CEO moves residence from Setagaya to Meguro, registers it February 3rd. February 7th, withdrawals halted.

     

  10. #MtGox timeline pt6: Circa 02/20 Nearly 850,000 Bitcoins ($500 million) suspected missing confirmed Friday 02/21

     

  11. #MtGox timeline pt7: 02/22 Mt.Gox staff & legal guys hold brainstorming session. Plan to fix company, minimize damage to#Bitcoin & users

     

  12. #MtGox timeline pt8: circa 02/22 Crisis Strategy Draft created to help convince key Bitcoin players to keep company solvent, restart.

     

  13. #MtGox timeline pt9: 02/23 Karpeles resigns from board of the Bitcoin Foundation which oversees & develops currency. Informs them of crisis?

     

  14. #MtGox timeline pt10: 02/22-02/24 Winklevoss twins, Second Market, 3rd parties shown Crisis Strategy Draft. One leaks it to Two-Bit idiot.

     

  15. #Mt.Gox Timeline pt11: 02/25 Crisis Strategy Draft leak forces hand, Mt.Gox shuts down website, stops all transactions
  16. Japan’s Big #Bitcoin Heist  http://thebea.st/1mJVXlS  Note: This was posted 11:50 am Japan time, 6 hours before Mt.Gox declared bankruptcy.

     

  17. #Mt.Gox Addendum 2: Press release of bankruptcy announcment allegedly started circulating to select media Thursday afternoon 02/27
  18. Inside Japan’s Bitcoin Heist  http://thebea.st/1mJVXlS  The total amount of bitcoins missing; 850,000 ($477 million). I’d heard 820,000. Close!

     

The bad aftertaste of Bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox’s collapse

Mt.Gox claimed to be one of the oldest and most reliable Bitcoin exchanges. It didn't quite live up to its PR. It went bankrupt on February 28th.
Mt.Gox claimed to be one of the oldest and most reliable of Bitcoin exchanges. It didn’t quite live up to its PR. It went bankrupt on February 28th with over 850,000 Bitcoin, worth $470 million at the time, missing. 

The full article appears in the Daily Beast. 

February 28th, 2014

Bitcoin, the virtual currency that has been racing toward acceptance as a genuine currency, had a colossal setback this past Tuesday, when a major Bitcoin exchange, Mt. Gox, based in Tokyo, went off-line.  Thousands of customers are unable to withdraw deposits and CEO Mark Karpeles is not talking to the press about what happened. Fears about the virtual currency’s security have multiplied with the closing of Mt. Gox. It appears that the theft of several hundred thousand Bitcoins from the company forced it to close the exchange. Speculation is rampant as to what exactly happened. On February 28th, the firm declared bankruptcy. 

The Daily Beast was able to speak with a former employee of Mt. Gox, on the condition of anonymity, due to a nondisclosure agreement with the company. According to the former employee’s testimony and other expert analysis, it seems very likely that the collapse of Mt. Gox was not a criminal fraud but the result of poor management, faulty accounting, and system bugs that went unfixed many months after being recognized by the CEO himself. The final nail in the coffin was the unauthorized release of an internal document that was supposed to serve as the groundwork for saving the company. It is unclear who leaked the document—which was an unfinished draft of a plan of action.

“Essentially,” said the former employee, “Mt. Gox was a dysfunctional organization. Nobody was doing accounting reconciliation and there was an exploitable fault in the transaction system that allowed people to get paid twice—or in other words, withdraw more or less the same amount of Bitcoins two times. Think of it this way—if Bitcoins were like frozen hamburger patties being served at a diner with a touchscreen menu, someone figured out that by tapping the screen twice you could get two hamburgers for the price of one. One day someone at the diner went to the freezer and realized that they were completely out of hamburgers—and they’d only served half the customers they thought they had.”

Bitcoin is a virtual currency that is produced by a computer program and is supposed to be extremely secure. Bitcoins.com explains it as follows “All newly mined Bitcoins, along with every transaction, are publicly recorded and verified through the network. This record is known as the blockchain and is one of the features that helps keep the system secure from fraud and abuse. Bitcoins cannot be duplicated or forged.”

And it does seem true that Bitcoins are very hard to forge or duplicate. Unfortunately, if you know what you’re doing, they may be easy to steal. Or if you’re not careful, they may be very easy to lose. Security in the transactions is paramount.

Flaws in the system became apparent on Feb. 7, when Mt. Gox was forced to halt withdrawals of Bitcoins. In a press release on Feb. 10, the company said it had suspended withdrawals because of a software flaw that would allow people trading the virtual currency to defraud the exchange. The announcement drew the ire of the Bitcoin community.

Jason Maurice, chief technology officer of Wiz Technologies Inc., says that Mark Karpeles, who corresponded on the Internet under the name MagicalTux, seemed to lack a good sense of cybersecurity. He asserts that the CEO admitted to flaws in the system on an Internet Relay Chat (IRC) in October 2013.

Maurice explains, “Mark seemed to acknowledge, but misunderstood the severity of the security issue, and didn’t implement a correct fix at the time. By February 2014, he realized the severity of the bug and came up with a proper fix, but by then it was too late, the damage had been done. He basically dismissed a multimillion-dollar bug in his software that any decent software engineer would have immediately realized was a huge issue. Any financial institution would have a huge quality assurance team to find such bugs, but for Mark it was all up to him. Quite amazing.”

Several attempts were made to contact Karpeles for comment or his version of events, but he did not reply as of this posting.

Maurice and his friends, who have a total of $40,000 in Bitcoins in limbo, have been exhaustively examining what went wrong with the firm. “From our analysis of [the record of Bitcoin transactions], it appears Mt. Gox might not only have leaked money through a bug, but might have also accidentally thrown away Bitcoins. It’s hard to believe this level of incompetence,” he said.

For the rest of the story, please go to The Daily Beast: Inside The Bitcoin Heist  which was posted on February 28th 11:50 am Japan time.  A few hours later on the same day Mt.Gox declared bankruptcy acknowledging that they had lost 850,000 Bitcoin, the  combined amount of company and customer Bitcoin. At the time of the announcement it was close to being valued at $470 million.