A company called Telegram Open Network Limited was registered in Britain on February 28 under the name Pavel Durov, the founder of Telegram. Telegram, a chat app with 200 million monthly users, is a commonly used platform for ICO teams and investors to interact with each other.
The company’s new crypto project, Telegram Open Network, has raised a massive $1.7 billion in funding for its token sale so far and will offer services like file storage, private VPN and encrypted browsing platforms, services for decentralized apps and decentralized browsing, as well as micropayments and P2P payment capabilities.
Telegram Open Network seems to have been created in an effort to divert funds away from the genuine project, and likely would have succeeded if the scam hadn’t been exposed. Their legal registration as a company could have legitimized the project in the eyes of potential investors, but the project came to Telegram’s attention recently, and a tweet on April 6 revealed that it was totally unconnected to the official project.
The company claimed to have $1.13 billion in paid-up capital in their registration, something which raised suspicions – such a sum would have invited a massive tax bill under British law, which led British investors to question the authenticity of the project. Upon closer inspection, it was noted that Durov is listed as the director, founder, and secretary of the scam company, but the registration details describe his as a British citizen, whereas he is actually a citizen of St Kitts and Nevis after making a $250,000 donation to the sugar industry on the small island nation.
Apparently, the registration process for British companies is not as rigorous as might be expected – applicants are expected to verify their own details with no real oversight, and the process can be completed online for under $20 at Companies House. Despite the low barriers to entry, registration of a company can enable scammers to deceive victims who look only as far as the legal registration without investigating the fine details, a common occurrence in the fast-paced cryptocurrency investment space.
Telegram’s ICO made $850 million last week alone on top of $850 million raised privately in February according to documents lodged with the SEC. Many investors have already profited by flipping their tokens before the sale has even gone public. With demand for places in the huge ICO booming, it’s not difficult to imagine how the fake company could have deceived real investors eager to participate in the action.
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