Mt. Gox Bitcoin exchange's epic fall from grace draws government attention
Japan’s top government spokesman said authorities are gathering information on the situation at Tokyo-based Bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox, where trading halted amid concerns that hundreds of millions of dollars worth of bitcoin are missing.
“The relevant agencies and ministries such as the police and the Ministry of Finance are trying to grasp the actual situation,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press conference on Wednesday.
“After understanding the actual situation, the government shall make appropriate responses but at this point in time the government is still trying to gather information,” Suga said.
The statement marks the first time the Japanese government has spoken about the situation at the embattled exchange, once the world’s largest for trading bitcoin.
Tokyo’s Metropolitan Police Department had no comment on any potential inquiries into the situation surrounding Mt. Gox, where trading halted on Tuesday.
The exchange has received a subpoena this month from U.S. federal prosecutors in New York asking it to preserve certain documents, The Wall Street Journal reported late Tuesday, citing an anonymous source familiar with the matter.
A spokeswoman at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York declined to comment. The report also said the Federal Bureau of Investigation was monitoring Mt. Gox's situation; a spokeswoman there declined to comment as well.
Meanwhile, the transcript of a chat purportedly held with Mt. Gox CEO Mark Karpeles was posted to an online forum.
While it was not possible to verify whether the chat is genuine or a hoax, Karpeles apparently said that bitcoin in Mt. Gox is “temporarily unavailable” and not lost. He added that he and his colleagues have not given up on trying to save the exchange.
When asked about a document published online that suggests 744,408 bitcoin had gone missing from Mt. Gox, Karpeles apparently said the document is “more or less” legit. The sum would be worth about $443 million at current prices.
A photo apparently posted to the chat by Karpeles shows an ID badge for Cerulean Tower, home to a virtual office that is the exchange’s last known address.
A message posted on the Mt. Gox website said “a decision was taken to close all transactions for the time being in order to protect the site and our users.”
Karpeles is still in Japan, he said later Wednesday in a statement that was posted to the site. He said he was working with the support of different parties to find a solution to the exchange’s issues.
Users are the big losers
Bitcoin investors were downcast at the latest developments, with some believing their funds are gone forever.
“I had my remaining portion of 25,000 bitcoin from the Bitcoinica fiasco stuck in Mt Gox,” bitcoin investor Roger Ver said in an email.
“I don’t expect to ever get it back. I suspect the truth is that it was one of the most mismanaged companies in the history of the world.”
“By all accounts it seems the money is gone and there won’t be much to sue for,” Aaron G, who did not want his last name used, said in an email.
He and fellow investor Kolin Burges held a week-long protest outside the offices of Mt. Gox owner Tibanne, which still lists Mark Karpeles as CEO, before police forced them to clear out.
“I’m more interested in seeing justice done, and that’s where I’ll put my efforts. I won’t be satisfied until Mark sees the inside of a jail cell.”
“I am devastated by the impact this will have on customers of Gox and I am angry at the irresponsible behavior of Mt. Gox and especially Mark Karpeles that will damage the lives of many people,” Andreas Antonopoulos, chief security officer at bitcoin wallet service Blockchain, said in an online statement.
“We must all draw hard lessons from this experience and use them to make our community stronger. A few individuals cannot nullify the positive and inspiring work of thousands.”
Updated at 3:45 p.m. PT to include an update posted on the Mt. Gox site and comments from U.S. law enforcement agenices.