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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Predictions and Outcomes

At one point I tried to learn about a token called Kimchi. That token no longer has any volume or value to speak of.

I decided to summarize some facts about the failed crypto entrepreneur Jacob Kostecki. Today, the class action lawsuit against him has entered default judgement.

I wrote about a deeply exploitive scam called The Billion Coins. Unfortunately, that coin is still active and is still taking advantage of people. They have tried to rebrand to make themselves look more official, but are still the same group of scum.

I once wrote about a worthless token called slidebits. Now the creator himself removed the blockchain from his app.

I wrote an article presenting a bearish case for a token when I was applying to a crypto hedge fund. That token has a market cap 1/10 of it’s all time high. Though I must admit, it has not seemed to be affected by any of the issues I pointed out. Sometimes things just break your way.

I wrote an article taking an in-depth look at the Basis Protocol. In that article I suggested both that part of the system could be a security. Basis shut down to avoid securities scrutiny.

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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

The Time Brock Pierce DMed Me

Image of Brock Pierce DMing me with the following messages: "If you seriously want to short tether i can find the long", "Would have to be substantial to justify all costs to be compliant"

One of the best things about Twitter is all the different people that you get to meet and communicate with. For example, the founder of Tether (infamously sued for child sexual abuse and arrested in a house full of child pornography) would semi-regularly talk to several of us Tether skeptics in threads. In one he even told us that we knew more about Tether than he did (despite founding it):

Around this same time I received a direct message out of the blue from the one and only Brock Pierce who offered to help me short Tether, the ‘dollar-backed’ stablecoin that he had created. This was a very unexpected message, as I had never messaged with Brock before, and I had never before seen someone offer to help someone else short an asset they created.

My response to this was, “I am not an accredited investor, nor do I have enough funds to make the costs worth it”, but my internal monologue was more like, “what in the ever-loving fuck is going on.” I was a college student when this happened, and apparently Brock Pierce was under the impression that now only did I have a deep desire to short Tether, but enough money to make his own efforts in facilitating this trade worthwhile. Even more strange, is that his initial message seems to be responding to a point where I said that I would be interested in shorting Tether, but in reviewing my tweets I cannot seem to determine a single time that I have ever done that.

Zooming out from the batshit absurdity of this moment we are left wondering, what in the world motivated Brock to think this was a good idea? Who decides that the solution to the problems of the beleaguered asset of their own creation is more people shorting it? Who decides that the best person you should contact out of the blue is a college student who angrily yells at you on Twitter? Who decides to spontaneously ‘run’ for president? Who decides to promise to donate more money than they have ever had? Who decides it’s a good idea to hang out in a house filled with child pornography with a fugitive from the law? The answer to all of these is Brock Pierce.

(Important note: Brock Pierce was released from custody without charges being filed after his arrest and the child sexual abuse lawsuits against him were dropped. However, it is true that Pierce did go to Spain with Marc Collins-Rector after his (Marc’s) indictment.)

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$FEW Care About This

If there is one thing that crypto can regularly provide it is drama. Today, the controversy (or at least one of them) centers around a token called Few. The token seems to have started when Sam Ratnakar decided to invite a small number of influential people from cryptocurrency to work on an “Experiment”. Each would receive an equal proportion of the tokens and a small proportion would be reserved for liquidity.

Archive link just in case: https://web.archive.org/web/20200923022606/https://twitter.com/mrdotboson/status/1308538094463844352

Many members of the telegram who received the token seem to have an honest desire to build something. However, the Telegram was also quickly filled with ‘jokes’ about pumping and dumping the token.

Archive link: https://archive.li/x07W6
https://web.archive.org/web/20200923023443/https://twitter.com/bluekirbyfi/status/1308533204224110592

Now let’s give all of these people the benefit of the doubt and assume they were working honestly with the goal of building something important. Even still they are doing it in what seems to be an inexplicable manner.

Generally, tokens should be created in order to serve a purpose. You decide on a project, a protocol, something, that in order to function optimally requires a token. What happened instead here seems to be that the token was created, distributed to a list of people with influence in crypto, many of them started “jokingly” shilling it on Twitter, and there was still no reason for the token to exist.

My intuition, and I hope I am wrong, is that the earliest creators and shills of $FEW were not doing it entirely as a joke. I believe many of them were experiencing FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and in order to rectify that feeling settled on creating their own token, airdropping it to a small group of influencers, and then “influencing”, so that they too could share in the mania.

Even if it was all a “joke”, where’s the punchline? Is it a meta point that most tokens are worthless? Is it a commentary on the large amounts of wealth that generally accrue to the earliest and most connected in crypto? Is it supposed to be a mockery of the “great team” method of crypto investing? None of those feel convincing to me, and I am left with a sadness about the state of cryptocurrency.

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Learning about Kimchi

There is an obsession passing through crypto over ‘yield farming’. I have very little idea what yield farming is. In order to learn what it is I am going to look into a coin that recently launched that I saw people tweeting about called Kimchi. I chose this coin as it came out the same day that I made my first batch of kimchi. This post will be a log of my trying to understand this coin.

First, I need to figure out what is yield farming. As far as I can tell yield farming works by placing your token into a Uniswap (or similar auto market maker) contract that is against a dollar equivalent (often Tether or USDC). In order to understand the impact of this I have to zoom out again and refresh my memory of how Uniswap pools work.

[Aside I learned while researching this: Tether and Binance violate the ERC-20 standard by not returning an integer boolean when transfer() is called and both instead return nothing.]

Each pool consists of two ‘ERC-20’ tokens (as discussed above they do accommodate some non standard implementations) (this also means that the contract does not natively handle Eth and instead must use WEth which is ether wrapped in an ERC-20 compliant token). When you make a swap in this pool the token you transfer is exchanged for the proportional value of the other token in the pool. Say there is 1 Eth in the pool and 100 USDC and you swap 0.05 Eth then you will receive 4.747 USDC. This amount may seem odd at first glance, but Uniswap charges a 0.3% fee on the trade which is paid out to those who have contributed their assets to the pool. (Note: this examples ignore gas fees)

So now we need to zoom out slightly more and focus in on the liquidity providers. The way these pools work is that you deposit your tokens to the contract as a liquidity provider and then are paid a liquidity token which represents your proportional ownership of the fees for that contract. This token can be transferred, traded, and lent (this is where some of the more complex interactions come into play) and to receive your payout of the liquidity fee your liquidity token must be burned. On contracts with decent volume you can receive meaningful returns from contributing your tokens to the contract and thus people are incentivized to contribute to further liquidity.

Okay now I feel like I have a strong enough understanding of these systems to actually look at the token in question Kimchi. In the past when assessing new contracts my instinct has always been to read the whitepaper, however Kimchi and many other of the ‘new’ tokens do not have whitepapers. So that stymied somewhat, however Kimchi does tell us it was forked from Sushi and Yuno. I was optimistic that one of these would have a whitepaper. They do not. Sushi however does have a Medium post. Perhaps that will help us understand their system.

The first change is that the liquidity token provided in Uniswap is replaced with a Sushi token that gives an ONGOING right to fees deposited into the contract. I emphasized that in case any securities lawyers come across this article. The way this works is that the majority of the liquidity fee is distributed to active liquidity providers in the same way that it is with Uniswap, but a small portion of it (1/6) is converted to Sushi and issued proportionally to Sushi stakers. Every block Sushi are minted and 90% are distributed to Sushi stakers and the remainder go to the ‘Dev Fund’.

Now we can shift back to Kimchi and try to figure out how it differs from Sushi. First, they mint more tokens in each block. Second, they offer preferential rewards for some pairs. Looking around on Twitter it appears that YUNO the other token they forked from had a backdoor, and Kimchi preserved that backdoor but made it impossible to exploit by tying it to a non-functional contract. https://twitter.com/emilianobonassi/status/1300925536747876354

This also means that there is no real governance or changes that can happen with Kimchi, whereas Sushi claims to be working on governance.

Now we need to zoom out one more time and look at yield farming as a whole and why these tokens are popping up in the first place. Many different DeFi products like Compound issue governance tokens to users and this has incentivized a large amount of liquidity to flow into them. Furthermore, there are people who will contribute their token to liquidity on Compound, and then use the resulting token representing their lent token on Compound as liquidity on Uniswap (or Sushi or whatever). The ability for the same collateral to be used in multiple places, and producing yields in multiple places that can then also be used to generate yield seems to be the basis of yield farming.

My fundamental and deep seated issue with all of this is that this all seems to be happening with such speed that any kind of due diligence is skipped. There are no whitepapers. There are no security audits. There is no community due diligence before money starts pouring in. Many of these contracts have admin keys that allow for the creators to mint a large amount of tokens, to remove liquidity, to change the contract in other ways. This does not seem to be the future of money, but instead a mad cash grab built with the assumption that the black swan will never happen. That the stacked yields won’t eventually succumb to abnormally large withdrawals, or exploits, or extraordinary market conditions. Inevitably they will. I hope every single person with funds committed to them are fully aware of that risk.

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