Mt. Gox questions remain as judge rules lawsuit will proceed

The class action lawsuit against former Mt. Gox CEO Mark Karpeles will proceed as planned, an Illinois federal judge has ruled.

The suit concerns the infamous Mt. Gox scandal in which millions of dollars’ worth of Bitcoin disappeared from the platform’s hot wallet, ultimately leading to the exchange being unable to return deposited Bitcoin to their customers and leading to the exchange’s demise in 2014.

The ruling comes in response to the latest attempt by Karpeles to have Gregory Greene’s suit thrown out. This time, Karpeles had filed a motion for summary judgment, looking to avoid the suit altogether by arguing that the plaintiff had altered the factual basis for his claim, which should entitle the defendant to summary judgment.

The judge rejected that argument, saying that to the extent that Greene’s suit had been altered, it was only to add detail in response to findings throughout the discovery phase of the lawsuit. It means the action will proceed as planned. Depositions will continue through October, and Greene must file a motion to certify the class on behalf of whom he seeks to pursue the action by the end of September.

That the suit can proceed (for now) offers renewed hope that the Mt. Gox users who lost the Bitcoin they had trusted to the exchange might get some resolution. Somewhat incredibly, the mystery of just what went on at Mt. Gox in the months and years leading up to February 2014’s shutdown is still outstanding. Karpeles maintains that Mt. Gox was the victim of a large-scale theft which carried on undetected for years before the final closure in 2014.

The level of trust afforded to Karpeles and Mt. Gox has eroded in the time since 2014 as more parts of the overall picture have emerged as third parties analyse and investigate the data available.

The excuses proffered by Mt. Gox and Karpeles as to how they let what was at the time the biggest digital asset exchange in the world slide into bankruptcy have been spotty. Mt. Gox initially claimed that hackers used malleability attacks—where the hacker intercepts, changes and rebroadcasts a transaction in a way that causes the initiator to believe the transaction was not confirmed—to empty the Mt. Gox vault, causing the exchange to collapse and countless users out of pocket.

A research in 2014 found that at least after January 2013, only 302,000 Bitcoins could have been involved in malleability attacks, with just 1,811 of those likely to be relevant to Mt. Gox. Ultimately the report could only account for the loss of 386 Bitcoin via these attacks, leaving hundreds of thousands still unaccounted for. Having the data only go back to 2013 leaves open the possibility that the majority of the exchanges malleability attacks occurred in the run up to 2013, but that begs the question why nothing was noticed or no action was taken up until Mt. Gox locked their withdrawal function at the beginning of 2014.

Researchers at China’s Sun Yat-sen University uncovered evidence of widespread market manipulation on the exchange, which pointed to Mt. Gox itself as a culprit. The team canvassed all transactions which took place on the Mt. Gox exchange between 2011 and 2013—and found many transactions in which Bitcoin was being traded at prices significantly higher or lower than the market value for the coin.

Setting the relatively generous bar of transactions in which the price was 50% higher or lower than the market price, the researchers found that 2.8% of the total transactions on the exchange qualified. They also uncovered a slew of accounts with highly suspicious trade activity—one account made 749 transactions with itself in one day, and that same account bought and sold with another account more than 150 times in a 24-hour period.

Regardless of the outcome of Greene’s suit, Mt. Gox and Karpeles are far from paragons of honesty and fairness, even assuming Mt. Gox was indeed hacked and that the hack was what led to the exchange’s demise.

In addition to the evidence of widespread manipulation on the exchange, Karpeles is serving a suspended sentence in Japan for falsifying data to artificially inflate Mt. Gox’s holdings. Criminal charges were also brought accusing Karpeles of embezzlement and aggravated breach of trust for his conduct while serving Mt. Gox, but the Court acquitted him of those charges. The Japanese court took the view that Karpeles falsified records to hide the extent of the Bitcoin leakage, but did not find any criminal evidence that would support a guilty verdict on the other charges.

Greene’s U.S. action is a civil suit, so the standards of evidence accepted by the court will be lower than those used in the criminal case in Japan.

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