Coinbase, QuadrigaCX
Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong gave a wide-ranging AMA. | Source: Flickr/TechCrunch

Exit Scam? Mismanagement? Coinbase Digs Into Failed Crypto Exchange QuadrigaCX’s ‘$150 Million Loss’

Brian Armstrong, the CEO of Coinbase, one of the world’s largest crypto exchanges, said that the company conducted internal research on the QuadrigaCX case.

QuadrigaCX has been claiming that Gerald Cotten, its CEO, passed away with sole control over its cold wallets containing $150 million in various cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin and Ethereum.

However, independent researchers claimed that there is not enough evidence to prove the existence of cold wallets operated by Cotten. Armstrong also stated that balances from the QuadrigaCX cold wallets were moved out in early 2018.

In a statement, Armstrong shared a theory established by the Coinbase team, emphasizing that it is pure speculation. Until the official investigation of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is complete, no details in the case can be confirmed.

What’s the Theory of QuadrigaX’s Loss of $150 Million?

As Kraken CEO Jesse Powell said, the story laid out by the QuadrigaCX team that its CEO passed away with $150 million is highly suspicious solely because researchers have been unable to track the cold wallets in question.

The theory of the Coinbase team on the QuadrigaCX case has the highest chance of being close to the nature of the real incident, which remains unconfirmed, because it shows the potential motive of the exchange to announce the loss of $150 million in crypto.

In mid-2017, QuadrigaCX, the largest cryptocurrency exchange in Canada, suffered a critical smart contract bug. At the time, the company said that the bug led to the loss of substantial profits but it claimed that it will no impact on the core operations of the exchange.

QuadrigaCX said in June 2017:

While this issue poses a setback to QuadrigaCX, and has unfortunately eaten into our profits substantially, it will have no impact on account funding or withdrawals and will have no impact on the day to day operation of the exchange.

The company may have attempted to salvage the exchange by employing a variety of strategies. But, as the bear market arrived in early 2018, the company struggled with liquidity, which could have led to the inability of the exchange to process withdrawals.

As CCN reported, software engineer Tong Zou lost $422,000 in life savings he obtained working for over 7 years in the U.S. for companies in the likes of Walmart.

Speaking to Bloomberg, Zou said that he filed for withdrawal as early as October 2018. The exchange never got back to the developer and Zou discovered the QuadrigaCX situation through media reports.

“I wasn’t using it for trading — I just wanted to move my money over to my Canadian bank account. What I didn’t know was that my withdrawal would be pending or incomplete and it never got deposited in my bank account. I’ve been waiting four months so far,” Zou said.

In consideration of the series of events that occurred prior to the scandal, Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong said that the Coinbase team speculates that the death of Gerald Cotten was used to salvage the company out of a devastating situation.

Armstrong explained:

This implies that at least few people inside Qadriga knew that they were running fractional. If so, then it’s possible that untimely death of their CEO was used as an outlet to let the company sink.

Is it Possible it’s Just an Exit Scam?

The investigation on QuadrigaCX is still ongoing and the intricacies of the case remain undisclosed and as such, anything remains a possibility.

If QuadrigaCX intended to pull off an exit scam, it could have found a better timing to do it, ideally in the bull market when digital assets were valued substantially higher.

While the possibility that the entire case is merely an exit scam remains a strong possibility, it is difficult to conclude the accuracy of any theory until all of the details of the case are revealed.