Raphael Nicolle and the Founding of Bitfinex

Raphael Nicolle is the founder of Bitfinex. Before that he had an interesting path.

By day a helpdesk technician, during his free time Raphael became active under the account ‘unclescrooge‘ on BitcoinTalk. From this account he makes some interesting posts, including occasional climate change denialism, saying he would invest in illegal businesses, and at least one joke about underage prostitution to make bitcoin. First he got into pyramid schemes, schemes that were not legally registered, and then he got really into pyramid schemes, and then he started defending a pyramid scheme scammer (repeatedly), and then he lost all the bitcoins he gave that scammer.

Shortly after this, Raphael decides he will start his own OTC desk and his own lending program. People will lend him Bitcoin and he will guarantee them a 2% return per week. To make this money he said he would be performing arbitrage, which he described as ‘buy low and sell high’. (Astute readers will note that this at best an extraordinarily simplified definition of what arbitrage is.) This program appears to not have taken off, perhaps due to questions from other forum members about his advocacy for pyramid schemes in the past. The text of the post was later deleted.

After this Bitfinex launched! (Though Raphy could be found still trying to do what look like OTC trades.) Bitfinex was a brand new ‘Meta-Exchange’ that would allow people to trade at either Mt. Gox or at Bitstamp through the BitFinex interface. They also had their own exchange that was based on stolen Bitcoinica code. Bitcoinica was an exchange that was rife with security issues that had recently shut down. The unique feature for Bitfinex that made it attractive (besides the ability to aggregate liquidity across multiple exchanges) was the fact that they had margin and lending integrated into the platform. However, the fact that it was built on stolen code with a multitude of issues in the early months. However, eventually they started to even out. However, there were still some interesting posts including at one point Raphael even made sure to point out that his exchange was a bucket shop. (This was a fact that Vitalik Buterin had warned about in Bitcoin Magazine.)

Raphael gradually took a less and less public role in Bitfinex until (according to his LinkedIn) left his role as CTO the same month that the Bitfinex hot wallet was hacked. He is now interested in anti-aging and looking for an executive producer (he should get in touch with the chairman of Deltec).

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My Appearance on The Blockchain Debate podcast with Larry Cermak and Patrick McKenzie

You can find it here.

I had a ton of fun recording this podcast, however, due to time constraints I was not able to get to all my notes on whether or not Tether acts in good faith. I would like to summarize a few of the things I was not able to get to here:

  1. Bitfinex has used the bank accounts of friends and family of Bitfinex in order to service withdrawals.
  2. The firm who provided Tether’s last attestation is no longer operational, and Freeh, one of the lawyer behind it UPDATE: is no longer a lawyer is no longer practicing law, but may still be licensed.
  3. Tether advertised no KYC swaps between Bitcoin and Tether.
  4. Tether held tens of millions of dollars in the bank account of their General Counsel.
  5. The founder of Bitfinex was promoting ponzis right up until he announced Bitfinex.
  6. The founder of Bitfinex once described his own exchange as a bucket shop.

There are many more, but I just wanted to give you a taste of some of the stuff we ran out of time to get to.

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A List of Funds/Companies who Fundraised Through Havelock Investments

NOTE: THIS MAY BE UPDATED OR CHANGED AS I DEVELOP A BETTER PICTURE OF OWNERSHIP OF THESE COMPANIES, UPDATES WILL BE LABELED AS SUCH.

Havelock Investments was an early platform in the cryptocurrency space that allowed for a variety of companies to fundraise.

Havelock Investments was purchased by the Panama Fund, S.A. in 2013. The CEO was Daniel Tsai. (archive)

ASICMINER – Asicminer was described as a leader in the bitcoin mining space. Creating mining equipment and running their own mining farm. You can find details about it here. (Archive)

HAVELOCK INVESTMENTS MINING FUND – Havelock Investments Mining Fund was Havelock’s fund investing in Bitcoin mining.

KORB AND CO. INVESTMENTS MINING FUND – This is another fund that was meant for purchasing Bitcoin mining rigs. You can find the most recent copy of their website here.

SATOSHI DICE – Satoshi Dice was a game started by Eric Voorhees (archive). Satoshi Dice was a gambling service where you could send a Bitcoin transaction to a specified address and could potentially receive significantly more in response. Eric Voorhees was charged with offering unregistered securities for these sales of ownership in SatoshiDICE and FeedZeBirds. (archive)

VIRTEX – CAVirtEx was an early Canadian Bitcoin Exchange. Stuart Hoegner (archive), the General Counsel for Bitfinex and Tether, was the lead attorney when Coinsetter acquired CAVirtEx.

CRYPTO CAPITAL CORPCrypto Capital Corp is a payment processor, infamously used by Bitfinex, and with the principals under US indictment. Crypto Capital claimed that a significant portion of their assets are being held in Poland, Bitfinex’s lawyers claim to not believe this.

LABCOINLabcoin was a company that claimed to be working on Bitcoin ASIC mining technology.

SANDSTORM – Sandstorm was an ‘investment fund’ which claimed to use the Bitcoins invested in it to make more money. It appears to have likely been an unsustainable high yield investment. You can find public copies of their ‘financials’ here. (archive)

THE MINISTRY OF GAMES – This was a company that ostensibly was focused on game development and publishing.

XBOND – XBond was issued by ThickAsThieves and was intended to be a perpetual fixed yield bond paid by the Bitcoin holdings of ThickAsThieves. (archive)

CASINOBITCO.IN – CasinoBitco.in [public files can be found here (
1. Prospectus (archive)

2. PR Release (archive)

3. Bitcoin Gaming Market Analysis (archive)

4. 2nd Press Release (archive))] was a Bitcoin casino that later rebranded to Monster Byte.

[1. Q3 2017 Financials (archive)

2. Q4 2017 Financials (archive)

3. Q1 2018 Financials (archive)

4. Q2 2018 Financials (archive)

5. Q3 2018 Financials (archive)] They now do white label cryptocurrency casinos. They are linked to Nessie (formerly at nessie.io (archive), now redirecting to crypto.eu) and MoneyPot (archive from when MonsterByte owned it) (domain now sold). I think it is valuable to remember that Stuart Hoegner (archive), the General Counsel for Bitfinex and Tether, is a “lead attorney to major bitcoin and altcoin poker brands”. It is unknown whether or not BitcoinRush/CasinoBitco.in/Monster Byte is among them.

COGNITIVE MINING – The listing on Havelock is not available. It appears to have been a way to invest in Bitcoin mining based on their archived site.

DEALCO.IN – The listing on Havelock is not available. The page (archive) currently directs to what seems to be LocalBitcoins but includes a feature where you talk to the person first.

NEO & BEE – The listing on Havelock is not available. You can see it on the right panel on various archives of Havelock. It appears to have ended due to misappropriation of funds. (archive)

MINTSPARE – The listing on Havelock is not available. Mintspare (archive) seems to be a way for people to trade in electronics for Bitcoin.

PetaMine CryptX – The listing on Havelock is not available. This appears to be another mining fund. They eventually shut down. (archive)

RENTAL STARTER – This was an investment into a real estate fund that was investing in Ohio but was operated by Full Power Asia Investment LTD.

SEEDCOIN FUND – This listing on Havelock is not available. Seedcoin (archive) was a crypto incubator out of Hong Kong. GoCoin the Brock Pierce cofounded company was incubated here.

BIG TREND CAPITAL INVESTMENT – The listing on Havelock is not available. It is unclear what they did.

ALCHEMINER – Alcheminer was a company that created ASIC mining hardware.

SEVENTH CONTINENT – Seventh Continent was trying to create a bitcoin denominated marketplace. Their website is still live here. (archive) They were in part funded by the Lifeboat Foundation’s Bitcoin Endowment. Stuart Hoegner (archive), the General Counsel for Tether and Bitfinex was a member of the Lifeboat Foundation. (Archive of a cache of his bio on the page)

A-ADS.COM – This company was a bitcoin online advertising network that claimed to not gather private information. They seem to still be open. (archive)

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An Introduction to the Tether/Bitfinex Controversy

Bitfinex is one of the historically largest Bitcoin exchanges and Tether is by far the largest stablecoin. Each potentially has significant influence over the industry on their own, and their interconnectedness makes this more of a concern. However, since both were founded years ago and many of the events have happened and been in revealed in bits and spurts it can be difficult to understand their place in the cryptocurrency environment. This will hopefully serve as a basic introductory document that will then prompt further research.

Continue reading “An Introduction to the Tether/Bitfinex Controversy”

A List of Companies Who Worked With Crypto Capital

Crypto Capital is the money processor famous in both the QuadrigaCX case and the Bitfinex and Tether cases. Bitfinex famously handed them approximately $1 billion without even a contract. This is a list of companies who have worked with them for my own reference as I do research:

AirBEx – No longer open

MIMEX – No longer open

1BTCXE – No longer open (appears to have been owned by Crypto Capital)

Coinapult – No longer open

1EX.Trade – ‘There has been no trading activity in the last 24 hours’

MonetaGo – Appears to be still be open

BitMEX – https://www.forbes.com/sites/tatianakoffman/2020/10/01/bitmex-exchange-charged-with-failing-to-prevent-money-laundering/

Chip Chap – No longer open

Charna Crypto Exchange – No longer open

X-Coins – No longer open

WLOX (White Label Open source eXchange) – Last commit 7 years ago https://github.com/9cat/wlox

Kraken – Second largest United States exchange by volume (as this is being written)

Bitfinex – Well…

Decentralized Capital – Was a stablecoin, now closed

Bitt – Still open

Foxbit – No longer open

The Rock Trading – Still open

BTCC – No longer open

CEX.IO – Still open

QuadrigaCX – https://www.financemagnates.com/cryptocurrency/news/quadrigacx-trustee-recovers-30m-creditors-seeking-171m/

Exmo – Still open

Sunday Reads – Links I Found Interesting 6/9

Mapping human microbiome drug metabolism by gut bacteria and their genes

A fascinating look at how the microbiome may affect drug metabolism. Important to remember that the game does not end at pharmacogenomics and we need to be paying attention to the complex interplay of numerous complex systems to understand drug action.

Deep learning can predict microsatellite instability directly from histology in gastrointestinal cancer

Thanks to the ‘magic’ of deep learning we may be able to better predict which patients are going to respond to immunotherapy in gastrointestinal cancer with cheaper tests. More people treating their cancer certainly sounds good to me.

CCR5-∆32 is deleterious in the homozygous state in humans

The gene that was CRISPR-ed in those Chinese babies makes it more likely you die. This isn’t even accounting for the potential off-target effects. Turns out the thing we all knew was unethical is in fact unethical. Who da thunk?

Principles of and strategies for germline gene therapy

Following in the same vein as the previous article we take a theoretical look at the potential for these germline therapies.

The Sweetgreenification of Society

Interesting Substack post about the increasing stratification of society through the lens of boutique businesses.

RNA sequence analysis reveals macroscopic somatic clonal expansion across normal tissues

From one, many. Our bodies are a huge mess of different mutations each of which could or could not be maybe contributing to diseases. Thinking of yourself as having one genetic identity is flawed.

A Jaunt Down Financial Fraud Lane

A fun article taking a look at some of the numerous scams in the cryptocurrency ecosystem. I am partial to the disaster that is EOS.

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Key Excerpts and Commentary from NYAG/Tether Court Transcript

First of all link to the transcript: https://www.docdroid.net/Wk3pePO/transcript-may-16-2019.pdf

Second of all congrats to @lawmaster and The Block for a great scoop.  https://t.co/22w3xY8mc8 Now let’s get down to business.

Bitfinex is still being hesitant to hand over documents to the NYAG.  They have struggled to get access to documents relating to the transfer from Tether to Bitfinex, and this suggests to me that either the documents don’t exist or there is a very good reason they are not being shared.

Screen Shot 2019-05-21 at 5.03.56 PM

This is directly contrary to what Bitfinex has claimed to the public wherein they have claimed that they have been fully cooperative. https://www.bitfinex.com/posts/356 Archive link: https://web.archive.org/web/20190521220643/https://www.bitfinex.com/posts/356Screen Shot 2019-05-21 at 5.05.47 PMHowever, I’m sure that there is no reason to think that Bitfinex is hiding something. No reason at all.Screen Shot 2019-05-21 at 5.09.29 PM

Shortly after this we learn very interesting things, Tether’s lawyer admits to Tether investing in Bitcoin:

Screen Shot 2019-05-21 at 5.13.37 PM

Luckily we have a sharp judge here who quickly gets to the meet of the issue and correctly points out that this seems contrary to the nature of a “Stablecoin”.Screen Shot 2019-05-21 at 5.14.31 PM

The Tether lawyer responds by confirming what we all suspected since the ToS change is that other assets includes cryptocurrencies:Screen Shot 2019-05-21 at 5.15.35 PM

The Tether lawyer then continues basically saying they will not produce documents and will instead appeal and challenge every single step of the way:Screen Shot 2019-05-21 at 5.17.11 PM

The Tether lawyer then also says that they do not think there is any amount of dollars they need to keep in reserve:Screen Shot 2019-05-21 at 5.19.17 PM

The Tether lawyer then takes the classic Tether defender tactic of it’s okay because banks do it too:Screen Shot 2019-05-21 at 5.20.19 PM

The judge quickly ascertains the issue with this and points out that this effectively means there is no reserves:Screen Shot 2019-05-21 at 5.21.18 PM

The Tether lawyer responds by saying it’s okay, if they need to they’ll earn money some other way, pay it back, and just delay redemptions:

Screen Shot 2019-05-21 at 5.22.23 PM

A little further down the NYAG reveals that Bitfinex/Tether executives get lump sum payouts from the unsegregated Tether accounts where no reserves have to be kept:

Screen Shot 2019-05-21 at 5.25.12 PM

The NYAG also reveals the juicy tidbit that the largest redemption ever was less than $25 million:

Screen Shot 2019-05-21 at 5.29.07 PM

Why is this particularly juicy? Well let’s take a quick trip over to their treasury address on Omni: https://omniexplorer.info/address/1NTMakcgVwQpMdGxRQnFKyb3G1FAJysSfz/1 here it does not take long to find bigger transactions coming in than that like this: https://omniexplorer.info/tx/572792736c6846998ac0b8c532d0317f7d8460886ce900bb6005260ed66cd80a So somethign is seriously amiss here.

Now relevant to this entire document is the issue of disclosure. Tether claims that they are not in the wrong because once they started using other assets they disclosed it.  However, is that true? I will contend it is not. Let us consider Tether’s own website: https://web.archive.org/web/20150521003646/https://tether.to/faqs/

In 2015 Tether openly admits to exchanging Bitcoins for Tethers without KYC. Now it is possible, but in my opinion unlikely that they still had sufficient fiat reserves at that point, but I think it is plausible to doubt that and to believe that Bitcoins have often been a part of the backing.

Screen Shot 2019-05-21 at 5.48.34 PM

In conclusion: Tether has paid executives dividends out of non-segregated accounts, does not feel a need to keep cash reserves, is buying bitcoins with reserves, and cannot handle a rush to redeem.  Their largest claimed transaction is also smaller than multiple apparent redemptions on the blockchain.

Update 5/23/19: I remembered in a dream last night that Tether discussed in their whitepaper people being able to redeem for bitcoins. https://tether.to/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/TetherWhitePaper.pdf

tetherbits

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A Guide to a Hypothetical Internationally Coordinated State Level Attack On Bitcoin

There was a recent comment by Joseph Stiglitz in which he expressed his desire to “shut down the cryptocurrencies”.  This prompted me to seriously consider how one would go about shutting down or seriously damaging Bitcoin. This is not an easy problem because Bitcoin is designed to be a remarkably resilient system, however, I do think with coordinated international action a significant amount of damage could be done.  My proposed plan relies partially on how Bitcoin does difficulty adjustments.

Every 2016 blocks (~2 weeks) the difficulty of Bitcoin mining adjusts so that blocks continue to come approximately every 10 minutes.  This is important because the hashrate dedicated to mining Bitcoins has varied significantly over time, and so this helps keep block time relatively stable.  However, major swings in hashpower can significantly change the time between blocks.

Furthermore, it is important to remember that Bitcoin mining tends to run with a pretty narrow profit margin, and as such major swings in price can significantly affect the profitability of miners on the network.

So knowing these things, how do we attack Bitcoin? Step 1 is to start buying up old mining hardware.  Because mining demands a high level of efficiency to be profitable old generations of miners are rapidly abandoned as miners with access to more efficient technology can reap larger rewards.  However, if you do not care about profitability you can acquire these miners. Now make sure you keep them off the network, you do not want people to know that you are acquiring hashpower as it would cause suspicion.  Right after a difficulty adjust bring all of your hash online and wait until the next difficulty adjustment.

The next step is to try to negatively affect the price as much as possible in as short of a time as possible.  These steps need to occur right after the difficulty adjustment after you brought your hash online. You will accomplish this price with drop with two primary techniques. The first, as a major state level actor you have seized and safeguarded Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies in the normal course of law enforcement actions. You will now sell it all, or as much of it as humanly possible.  Instead of trying to maximize your potential monetary gains from these sales you will instead try to sell them on the lowest liquidity places you can access, with the goal of throwing off indices and inciting further selling from major holders. While you are doing this you will simultaneously try to pull a major source of liquidity from the market. If there exists for example a poorly regulated exchange and stablecoin who combine for a significant portion of the liquidity in the market you will seize them right as you begin to sell.  Allow as many people as possible to stampede for the exits.

Now we must do everything we can to reduce hashpower on the network.  Turn off all of the hashpower you brought onto the network, and simultaneously coordinate with China to convince them to cutoff as many of their miners as possible.  Seize any mining hardware you reasonably can and keep it off the network for now. This drop in hashpower, combined with a major drop in price will cause many previous profitable miners to now be mining at a loss.  Many will choose to turn off their machines rather than lose money continuing to mine. The lower the hashrate goes here the less usable the network is. Block times will lengthen and people will grow increasingly frustrated and apt to sell, perpetuating the cycle.  Whenever anyone sells mining hardware buy it.

Now you wait for the next difficulty adjustment.  This will take longer than it normally will because the time between bloks has vastly increased.  However, Bitcoin is a stubborn beast and there are likely some people who have isolated themselves reasonably well from state intervention and will mine to keep it alive.  Once the difficulty adjusts again, you will again deploy your hash which should now be even more. If you control the majority of hash you will mine empty blocks making the network entirely useless.  The only transactions you will allow through are those meant to help you sell your block rewards. You will sell your entire block rewards with the goal of continuing to push the price even lower.

If you do not control the majority of hash, but do control >25% you will selfish mine and continue to try to identify other miners on the network and seize their hardware.

Regardless of whether or not you are controlling the majority of the hash the next difficulty adjustment should come quick, in less than two weeks.  Again you will withdraw your hash and let block times lengthen, but now transactions will be going through, giving desperate people a chance to sell.

Lather, rinse, and repeat.  Eventually you will control the majority of hashpower and once this happens you will force the community to make incredibly tough decisions.  These could include changing the hashing algorithm or changing how difficulty adjustments work. These decisions are likely to be contentious and will therefore further fragment the community.  If these contentious issues result in forks you will see people on each side of the fork trying to dump the other side of the fork, further depressing the price. Even if some vague semblance of a Bitcoin is left standing after this attack it will be a shell of its former self and you will have demonstrated to people that it is more vulnerable than they have ever believed.  Enjoy your continued monopoly on money printing.

Note: Typos have been fixed from an early edition of this article

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