A major Canadian cryptocurrency exchange is in the spotlight following the sudden death of its founder, which has left customers unable to access $190 million in funds.
Gerald Cotten, the 30-year-old founder of QuadrigaCX, died in India on Dec. 9, 2018 due to complications from Crohn’s disease, according to a sworn affidavit by his wife, Jennifer Robertson. At the time of his death, Cotten was the only person with the password to access the customers' funds.
Robertson says that she has received online threats as a result of the bizarre deadlock.
Cotten’s death has also fueled conspiracy theories, according to his widow. “There has been a significant amount of commentary on Reddit and other web based platforms about the state of Quadriga, Gerry’s death (including whether he is really dead) and missing coins,” Robertson writes, in her affidavit, which was obtained by CoinDesk.
The CEO’s death certificate is attached to Robertson’s affidavit.
The Globe and Mail reports that Cotten signed a will on Nov. 27 that included a $100,000 provision for his two pet chihuahuas. The diligent preparation of the will and the apparent lack of contingency planning around the customer funds has left many people scratching their heads.
In the turmoil following Cotten’s death, QuadrigaCX has applied for creditor protection in the Nova Scotia Supreme Court. A preliminary hearing on the application is scheduled to take place Tuesday.
“For the past weeks, we have worked extensively to address our liquidity issues, which include attempting to locate and secure our very significant cryptocurrency reserves held in cold wallets, and that are required to satisfy customer cryptocurrency balances on deposit, as well as sourcing a financial institution to accept the bank drafts that are to be transferred to us,” QuadrigaCX said, in a statement posted on its website on Jan. 31. “Unfortunately, these efforts have not been successful.”
Citing court filings, the Chronicle Herald notes that “cold wallets” harness technologies such as USB drives and electronic devices that are not connected to the Internet.
“A cold wallet or cold storage is located offline and is a safe space to secure coins,” explains Robertson, in her affidavit.
In her court filing, Robertson notes that Cotten’s laptop is encrypted and she does not know the password or recovery key. “Despite repeated and diligent searches, I have not been able to find them written down anywhere,” she writes.
A security expert has also been unable to unlock Cotten’s laptop and an encrypted USB key, according to the court filing. “Efforts to recover the business records are ongoing,” Robertson explains.
Cryptocurrency experts have expressed their surprise at the unusual situation. Taylor Monahan, CEO of cryptocurrency specialist MyCrypto, says that the deadlock highlights the need for a “multi-signature wallet” where a number of people have access to sensitive data.
“Ideally, the cold storage wallet would be a multi-signature wallet where the keys that control the individual accounts are kept very, very, secure and in multiple physically separate locations,” she explained, in a statement emailed to Fox News. “Just like a company has a bank account with multiple signers, the cold storage would be controlled in that fashion and perhaps by the same people. Depending on the size of the operation, it would likely be the CEO, possibly the CTO, perhaps a board member or CFO type person, or another trusted party.”
“Even if a company were to choose not to utilize multi-signature wallets for whatever reason, there should always be multiple backups in physically distinct locations,” she added.
"The Quadriga situation is quite shocking," added Emin Gun Sirer, associate professor of Computer Science at Cornell University. "What's even more surprising is the exchange's inability to locate their own funds on the blockchain."
Blockchain is a protocol that acts as a public ledger of cryptocurrency transactions. "The one thing that blockchain businesses can do that no other fiat business can is to provide public evidence of financial transactions," Sirer told Fox News, via email. "It's astounding that this exchange has not been able to produce a list of addresses under their control."
Cotten was in India to open an orphanage when he died, Sky News reports.
Fox News has reached out to QuadrigaCX with a request for comment on this story.
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