More than 100,000 users collectively owed at least $250-million by beleaguered cryptocurrency trading platform QuadrigaCX will have to wait another week to learn who will represent them in court.
Seventeen lawyers with insolvency and cryptocurrency expertise crammed a Halifax courtroom Thursday to submit arguments on who should represent the people who were registered as users with Quadriga, which abruptly shut down last month.
Most of that money is currently missing; efforts to decrypt devices that may contain clues as to the funds’ whereabouts have so far been unsuccessful.
Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Michael Wood said he will issue a written opinion next Friday to address how legal representation for Quadriga’s users ought to be decided. He will also address motions suggesting a committee of users ought to be appointed to represent the broader cohort of Quadriga’s users and communicate with them. While some are owed small sums, other creditors have lost millions.
“The roughly 100,000 creditors are by nature a vulnerable group," lawyer Ben Durnford told the court. "They are scattered across the globe. They are concerned and confused. It is crucial that some order be restored immediately and that affected users are able to speak with one voice,” he said, adding: “We suggest that the alternative is chaos.”
Many affected users have, through their lawyers, filed affidavits that include offers of help to trace Quadriga’s funds.
Zitong Zou, a Quadriga user and software engineer in Orillia, Ont., said in an affidavit he is owed the equivalent of about $560,000. He began using Quadriga in 2017, his affidavit reads, and he supports the idea of a five-member user committee to represent those who are affected.
Representatives for Quadriga have been unable to access the company’s funds since the December death of its founder and sole director, Gerald Cotten. Mr. Cotten suffered from Crohn’s disease and died suddenly while on a trip to India to open an orphanage with his wife, Jennifer Robertson.
At the time, Mr. Cotten operated Quadriga out of his home in Fall River, N.S. He used a small number of contractors but had no employees. Conscious of security, Mr. Cotten encrypted all of the devices he used for work. Now, $180-million remains unaccounted for and millions of dollars more are stuck in limbo in the form of bank drafts that financial institutions have refused to cash or are being held by numbered companies and payment processors.
Ryan Kneer, a Calgary resident, said in an affidavit filed Thursday that he is a “professional market maker of cryptocurrency markets.” He is one of the Quadriga users who have volunteered their expertise to assist the recovery effort.
In his affidavit, Mr. Kneer said he has been in communication with several other Quadriga users through an instant messaging application called Telegram and many have told him they do not have sufficient resources to hire legal counsel. In addition to being confused about the insolvency process, affected users are concerned about their privacy and “suspicious about what has occurred,” he said.
“There are unconfirmed reports circulating online that Quadriga’s cold wallets have been identified and cryptocurrency is already being moved out of them,” he said. (Cryptocurrency exchanges often keep some of their assets in offline storage locations, referred to as cold wallets, to protect them from hackers.)
“Affected users want a thorough and transparent investigation,” Mr. Kneer added.
Last week, Justice Wood granted Quadriga creditor protection under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act. He also appointed Ernst & Young as a monitor to oversee the complex process of recovering Quadriga’s funds with the aim of disbursing them to affected users.
Whichever counsel is ultimately selected to represent users will be paid in the form of an administrative fee on funds recouped, although hard numbers were not discussed in court Thursday. Instead, discussions focused on the need to keep costs down to avoid further increasing users’ losses.
Maurice Chiasson, a lawyer for Quadriga, said it remains unclear whether there will be any money to pay anyone. He stood up in court to address what he called “the elephant in the room.”
“As of today, there is no money to fund this process,” Mr. Chiasson said. “We hope and expect that we can secure funding in the very near future, but as of today, we don’t have it,” he said.
In a report filed earlier this week, Ernst & Young said an additional half-million dollars of bitcoin went missing after Quadriga “inadvertently” transferred the bitcoins to cold wallets on Feb. 6. The company previously said it has been unable to access them since Mr. Cotten’s death.
In court, Elizabeth Pillon, a lawyer for Ernst & Young, said the monitor had not been able to persuade the Bank of Montreal to honour $25-million in Quadriga bank drafts, which are being held by a third-party payment processor, Costodian Inc.
Mr. Chiasson told Justice Wood that some of the money is needed to continue paying for court costs and asked him to schedule a hearing to “bring urgency” to the matter. “Really what we’re sort of suffering with now is unresponsiveness,” Mr. Chiasson said. “This is meant to sort of focus people’s attention and say this is important – devote your attention to it.”
To date, the legal proceedings aimed at sorting out Quadriga’s financial woes have been paid for personally by Ms. Robertson. She has so far spent $250,000, Mr. Chiasson told the court.