Italian Court Orders Bitgrail Founder to Refund $170M of ‘Missing’ Cryptocurrency
An Italian court has ruled that Francesco Firano, founder of defunct cryptocurrency exchange Bitgrail, was at fault for the disappearance of $170 million worth of the nano digital currency on his exchange last year. Firano, who called himself “The Bomber,” is now “required to return as much of the assets to his customers as possible.”
Court Seizes Firano’s Personal Assets to Repay Victims
In its ruling, the Italian Bankruptcy Court, which enlisted the services of a court-appointed technical expert, concluded that both Bitgrail and Firano personally be declared bankrupt and forfeit their assets.
According to documents released by the Bitgrail victims advocacy group, the court’s decision, delivered Jan. 21, authorizes the seizure of Firano’s personal assets. So far, more than $1 million worth of assets have been seized, including a luxury vehicle, the group said. Digital assets worth several million dollars have also been confiscated from Bitgrail accounts and moved to accounts managed by trustees appointed by the court.
The documents show that Firano repeatedly mishandled security matters pertaining to the private keys of Bitgrail users, including his alleged transfer of client funds into wallets belonging to the exchange. Firano had failed to put in place suitable safeguards to prevent repeat, unauthorized withdrawals of nano from the exchange, the court said.
That’s despite tens of millions of dollars worth of nano going ‘missing’ on several occasions due to duplicate withdrawals being fraudulently made from a single request due to a bug. The court berated Firano for not appropriately disclosing the suspicious transactions to his customers.
For example, the court found that the nano reported lost by Firano on Feb. 9, 2018 had actually been removed from the exchange months earlier, between July 2017 and December 2017. In total, about 10 million nano tokens left the exchange clandestinely during this period, with Firano’s alleged full knowledge, but he did nothing about it.
The most damaging detail relates to how, just days before announcing the $170 million ( 17 million nano) theft, the Bitgrail founder moved 230 BTC (about $1.8 million at the time) into a personal account on another exchange called The Rock Trading, in a bid to swap it for euros. The documents show that Firano had also tried to withdraw money through a bitcoin ATM linked to that exchange.
The court appointed expert concluded:
Therefore it was the Bitgrail exchange that actually requested to the node multiple times to allow the funds to leave the wallet (funds that in fact, had already left the account after the first request) and not the Nano network that allowed multiple withdrawals. The shortfall reported by Firano in February was caused by a transfer request generated by Bitgrail multiple times upon receiving a single request from the user.
Victory for Investors as Firano Seeks Way Out
Meanwhile, Francesco Firano attempted to cheat his way out of the mess. After nano withdrawals were closed on the Bitgrail exchange in January 2018, Firano promised to repay investors 20 percent of their funds, but only “if they agreed to sign a waiver foregoing any legal action against him.”
Later, he announced plans to reopen the exchange and release a new token called Bitgrail Shares, which would be used to reimburse the victims over time. Users called him out, wary that it was an elaborate exit scam, and opted to go to court. Firano argued in a losing case that his exchange was a mere provider of services and that the currencies deposited on the exchange were “regular” since he could not freely use the deposited coins.
A Bitgrail advocacy group has called the court ruling “both a huge win for crypto users and a cautionary tale for cryptocurrency exchange owners, who have been provided with a clear example of how not to run an exchange or handle a loss of funds.”
What do you think about this turn of events in the Bitgrail case? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.
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