Roger Ver with cryptocurrency background

Roger Ver: The notorious nexus in exchanges’ BSV delisting campaign

For ‘crypto’ insiders, one’s opinion on Bitcoin SV (BSV) appears less based on the technology’s merits than on how closely one is linked to Roger Ver.

On May 13, the High Court of Antigua and Barbuda postponed a hearing in the defamation case brought by Dr. Craig Wright against Roger Ver. The hearing was to discuss a jurisdictional challenge by Ver, who previously convinced a different court that the U.K. wasn’t the appropriate jurisdiction. Wright subsequently filed his claim in Antigua and Barbuda, where both individuals have established ties. No date was specified for the rescheduled hearing.

Ver got himself into this fine mess in April 2019 by releasing a YouTube video intended to derail the growing recognition that Wright was the individual behind the Satoshi Nakamoto pseudonym credited with authoring the 2008 Bitcoin white paper. Ver accused Wright of being “a liar and a fraud” and dared Wright to sue him for saying so.

Having renounced his U.S. citizenship following his release from prison for selling explosive material online, Ver posted the video from his residence in Japan. Ver quickly deleted his video after someone pointed out that libel is both a civil and criminal offense in Japan, but Ver had already crossed the Rubicon and Wright filed his defamation suit the following month.

As hard as it might be for neophytes to believe, these two legal combatants were once on the same side—or at least, so it initially seemed—in their goals for Bitcoin. Indeed, they were once allies in the effort to undo the damage that a cabal of BTC protocol developers had done to Bitcoin following the launch of Satoshi’s game-changing technology.

Won’t get fooled again

A few years after Wright’s doxing by Wired and Gizmodo, the newly exposed Satoshi teamed up with a number of individuals—including Ver and CoinGeek founder Calvin Ayre—to put Bitcoin back on its original path of becoming a viable form of peer-to-peer electronic cash.

Their primary mission was to undo the sabotage inflicted by the so-called Bitcoin Core developers, who viewed Bitcoin as an inert store of value. Under this system, rank-and-file users who attempted to use the BTC token as currency would find themselves pushed onto the developers’ proprietary Lightning Network ‘Layer 2’ solution.

Ver, Wright and others opposed to this scheme began a reclamation project that involved expanding the size of the individual blocks on the Bitcoin blockchain to handle a greater number of transactions than the Core-constrained 1 megabyte limit would permit. The result was BCH, which made its debut in 2017 with 8MB blocks, rising to 32MB blocks the following year.

But niggling issues that had been simmering under the surface quickly rose to the fore. Ver wanted to add new opcodes not contained in the original Bitcoin protocol that Wright believed would encourage illegal activities, which would not only slow regulatory acceptance of Bitcoin but also expose developers to potential legal actions.

Wright was also not content to cap the Bitcoin block size at 32MB, instead seeking to realize the claims he made in an email to Mike Hearn in 2009; namely, that Bitcoin “never really hits a scale ceiling” and could handle a transaction volume to rival the Visa credit card network—a necessary step for Bitcoin to become a global payments network.

Non-technical fissures had also been developing between the two camps. Ver, a self-described anarcho-capitalist, had hardened his anti-government views during his federal prison stint and thus he embraced Bitcoin as a means of crippling state power by lessening its control over financial levers.

Ver has described his introduction to Bitcoin through a radio show extolling its use on the drugs/weapons dark web marketplace Silk Road. Ver called it “the opportunity I’ve been waiting for my whole life. This is kryptonite to the state in the government’s ability to control people. I want to promote that full time.”

Ver has gone on to promote so-called ‘mixers’ that further obfuscate one’s transactions from prying eyes, even as such services are the first stop made by hackers, extortionists and rug-pullers looking to launder their ill-gotten gains.

Wright, meanwhile, maintained that Bitcoin needed to work with regulators and authorities if it was ever to achieve mass adoption. This wasn’t at all out of character, as Satoshi had discouraged allowing Wikileaks using Bitcoin in its early days because he didn’t want Bitcoin associated with anti-governmental muckrakers like Julian Assange (with whom Wright had an online run-in years prior).

In due course, Ver—who up to this point had roundly endorsed Wright’s identity as Satoshi—began publicly claiming that Wright had “fooled” him. Ver added that he felt it was his duty to “bash the ideas that are put forth by Craig in regards to the use case of Bitcoin, not being permissionless and regulators and this and that.”

Needless to say, Wright and Ver went their separate ways. With Ver’s opposition no longer a sticking point, the stage was set for Bitcoin SV (BSV) to stake its claim as the only protocol that remained true to the Bitcoin described in the white paper.

Delisting-a-go-go

Around the time that Ver was calling Wright a fraud, Binance, the world’s largest crypto exchange by trading volume, announced that it would ‘delist’ BSV, allegedly in retaliation for Wright’s legal actions against others who publicly labeled him a fraud.

Binance’s move was swiftly followed by the Kraken and Shapeshift exchanges while the Blockchain.com crypto wallet also eliminated support for BSV. Other exchanges, such as Coinbase, declined to list BSV in the first place, despite BSV’s significant market cap. (True to form, Coinbase continues to list countless tokens of a decidedly ephemeral nature.)

BSV supporters such as Ayre described the delisting campaign as “market manipulation,” noting that “Craig doesn’t own BSV, nor does anybody, so this appears to be very unprofessional.” Castle Island Ventures partner Nic Carter concurred, arguing that “If fraud from the chief promoters is sufficient reason for a delisting from Binance… almost everything should be delisted.”

Of course, no such sweeping purge occurred, making the anti-BSV campaign look all the more personal. In January 2021, Shapeshift founder Erik Voorhees defended the delisting by claiming that “ostracism” was one of the “important tools to set and enforce standards of behavior, without the State.”

Voorhees, like Ver, harbors no great love for governments, possibly because Voorhees, like Ver, has had his own run-ins with the authorities. That’s far from the only thing Ver has in common with Voorhees, or for that matter with any of the other principals behind the major exchanges that participated in BSV’s ‘ostracism.’ In fact, both in personal and professional terms, Ver could well be described as this group’s lowest common denominator.

The indignance of Ayre and BSV’s supporters turned out to be well founded: years after the delisting, in August of this year, a £9 billion class action lawsuit (known as a CPO in the U.K.) was filed with the UK’s Competition Appeal Tribunal. The defendants are Binance, Kraken, Shapeshift and Bittylicious.

The four are accused of colluding to delist BSV without good reason, with the effect of distorting or reducing the level of competition within the UK. 

That the four defendants were so open in their collective effort to undermine the competitiveness of BSV by delisting the asset is one thing. However—as is usual with the behemoths that so often play gatekeeper to digital asset projects—there is evidence of collusion almost everywhere you look.

Binance / CZ

Early on, Ver earned the nickname ‘Bitcoin Jesus’ for his aggressive proselytizing on Bitcoin’s behalf. Ver also put his money where his ample mouth was, making significant investments in many early Bitcoin-related projects, some of which went on to become fixtures in the present crypto economy.

The aforementioned Blockchain.com wallet began life as Blockchain.info in a two-bedroom apartment in the U.K. city of York. In July 2012, Ver provided seed funding for the startup, a significant enough contribution to earn him the title of co-founder.

In December 2013, Changpeng ‘CZ’ Zhao joined Blockchain.info as the company’s head of development. CZ had only learned of Bitcoin earlier that year but then “bumped into” Ver on a trip to Japan, which led to CZ joining the company. With Blockchain.info having only three employees at the time, CZ ended up working closely with Ver and discovered they had a lot in common.

CZ didn’t stay at Blockchain.info for long, leaving to join China-based crypto exchange OKCoin as its new chief technology officer in June 2014. Here again, CZ didn’t stay long, leaving in February 2015 amid acrimony regarding a contract with Ver that CZ negotiated on behalf of the company in December 2014.

The contract—what CZ (in a since-deleted statement) called “a simple gentleman’s agreement” between himself and Ver—was for OKCoin’s management of Ver’s Bitcoin.com site, under which the company would pay Ver a share of the site’s advertising revenue. But the company’s boss Star Xu found the terms to be overly favorable to Ver and refused to honor the deal.

In the increasingly public squabble, OKCoin said it refused to send Ver any more money due to the potential blowback the exchange might suffer from U.S. authorities. OKCoin noted that Ver had been cited in a recent U.S. Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) document detailing a $700,000 penalty imposed on Ripple Labs for “willful violations” of the Bank Secrecy Act. Ver had balked at completing know your customer (KYC) documents in order to conclude his purchase of $250,000 worth of XRP tokens and ‘essentially threatened to go elsewhere’ if Ripple didn’t play ball (which they ultimately did).

Exchange plans

After leaving OKCoin, CZ mulled opening his own ‘crypto’ exchange, but a crypto-to-crypto version with no fiat on-ramps (reportedly on the basis that avoiding fiat would keep him off the regulatory radar). Ver reportedly advised CZ that running an exchange was more of a headache than it was worth, and CZ later said that launching a new exchange “just wasn’t on [Ver’s] radar or interest.”

CZ’s former boss at OKCoin Star Xu said that following his departure, CZ “wanted to create an exchange that linked to all exchanges.” Xu claimed that CZ told him that the BTC China (now BTCC) exchange had agreed to this arrangement, while CZ was simultaneously telling BTC China’s CEO Bobby Lee that OKCoin was on board. Xu said he only learned of this duplicitous back-and-forth when Lee called him to confirm CZ’s claims.

It’s unclear exactly what was meant by ‘an exchange that linked to all exchanges,’ but it seems that CZ was interested in coordinating strategic decision-making among the major exchanges (as was on full display during the BSV delisting campaign). CZ may have also envisioned a crypto version of the Swiss-based Bank for International Settlements that fosters international monetary and financial cooperation and acts as ‘a bank for central banks.’

After a temporary detour that saw him supplying trading software to Chinese ‘cultural’ exchanges, CZ resurrected his crypto plans and launched Binance in July 2017. Despite Ver’s professed aversion to exchanges, the white paper for Binance Coin – the initial coin offering that raised $15 million to help kickstart the exchange – listed Ver as an ‘angel investor’ in its Investors/Advisers section.

To say Binance enjoyed out-of-the-gate success would be a serious understatement. By the end of 2017, Binance had over two million clients and by March 2018 it was the largest crypto exchange by trading volume. True, Binance had the good sense to launch during 2017’s speculative crypto bubble but one would have assumed that more established exchanges would have reaped greater benefits. Unless…

Reversing gears here a little, when OKCoin boss Star Xu went public with his complaints about CZ, he noted that CZ “has not returned company property including the MacBook he was given.” Given CZ’s role as OKCoin’s CTO, he would have had access to a wide variety of internal files, which may have included the company’s customer database. Possession of such data would have given any new exchange a golden opportunity for direct marketing to proven crypto customers.

Evidence of any such corporate pilfering has yet to surface, but given that CZ claimed OKCoin hadn’t paid him for his final few months with the company, while OKCoin claimed CZ had “essentially no-showed to work” during his final two months, it’s clear that a mutual animosity had been brewing for some time. Combined with CZ’s admitted disapproval of how OKCoin was treating his friend Roger over the Bitcoin.com contract, the opportunity to right some perceived wrongs may have proven too great to pass up.

Oh, and remember CZ’s non-fiat exchange focus? That lasted all of a year, as CZ found an ingenious way to handle Ver’s warning that fiat on-ramps were problematic because of financial regulators’ insistence on KYC and (anti-money laundering) AML regulations: just ignore the rules.

Kraken

Kraken founder Jesse Powell first formulated plans to launch his own crypto exchange in 2011 after realizing that the then-dominant exchange Mt. Gox could go under following a litany of security issues. Powell was in Japan at the time, summoned there by his high school friend Ver, in the hopes that the two of them might be able to plug the gaping holes in Mt. Gox’s sinking ship.

Mt. Gox did indeed go under in 2014, not long after Ver issued a video assuring customers that Mt. Gox’s woes were due to those pesky fiat bankers, not technical ineptitude and corporate malfeasance. (Ver later released another video in which he argued that his first video “made no claims about [Mt. Gox’s] solvency.”) But with Ver’s financial assistance, Kraken launched the previous September and quickly became a major player in the crypto space.

Like Ver, Powell espouses disdain for governments and regulators as well as an ‘ends justify the means’ mentality so ingrained that Powell boasted about engaging in bank fraud to ensure Kraken’s survival in its early days.

While Kraken did list BSV in November 2018 following that camp’s ideological split with Ver and BCH, its support was anything but wholehearted. Putting a major editorial thumb on the scale, the Kraken blog told its users that BSV was “an extremely risky investment” and there were “many red flags” that meant the site “cannot guarantee perfect custody of BSV.”

Given Powell’s ties to Ver, it’s no surprise that Kraken happily jumped on the BSV delisting train early, although the site attempted to don a fig leaf of impartiality by conducting a ‘consultation’ with its users (aka a Twitter poll). Tellingly, the first option to the question ‘Should Kraken delist Bitcoin SV’ was ‘Yes, it’s toxic,’ which in no way nudged users toward the exchange’s desired outcome.

Since engaging in anti-competitive behaviour to the tune of billions of pounds, Kraken has jumped from scandal to scandal. Most recently, it was announced that Kraken is under investigation by the U.S. Treasury over violating sanctions on Iran.

ShapeShift

Not long after Powell launched Kraken, Erik Voorhees founded the ShapeShift exchange with (surprise!) significant funding from one Roger Ver. The pair met in New York in 2011 and quickly identified each other as ideological soulmates, both personally and professionally.

Voorhees was the individual behind SatoshiDice, the Bitcoin-based online gambling site that at one point accounted for half of all Bitcoin transactions. Voorhees sold SatoshiDice in July 2013, but the following year he was fined by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for publicly soliciting funds for shares in SatoshiDice and another Bitcoin-related venture without regulatory approval.

From the start, ShapeShift’s primary marketing strategy was its utter disinterest in verifying the identities of individuals transacting on its platform. That golden age of anonymity came to a halt in October 2018, right around the time the Wall Street Journal was researching an unflattering account of how much dirty money was disappearing into ‘the Black Hole of Cryptocurrency’ (aka ShapeShift).

Before launching ShapeShift, Voorhees was ‘employee number three’ at BitInstant, the Bitcoin exchange founded by Charlie Shrem and funded by (who else) Ver. Shrem would ultimately be sentenced to two years in prison for knowingly facilitating purchases on the Silk Road drugs marketplace.

In 2012, a year before Silk Road was shut down by the feds, Voorhees wrote a Medium post that promoted Silk Road as an example of what type of commercial transactions could be conducted with Bitcoin. Voorhees helpfully explained that accessing Silk Road “requires further security precautions such as the use of Tor, which is beyond the scope of this article.” In 2019, an unrepentant Voorhees said Silk Road “had every right to exist.”

Tether

While the exchanges that participated in the BSV delisting claimed to be acting on behalf of the larger crypto community, they evidently saw no need to protect their customers from losing their shirts betting on the endless variety of short-lived shitcoins listed on these very same exchanges.

And if fraud was their primary concern, how could these exchanges in good conscience list Tether’s USDT ‘stablecoin’, which has a documented history of fraudulently misrepresenting its reserves and poses an existential threat to most of the major ‘store of value’ digital assets?

Why does Tether get a pass? Well, consider that while CZ from Binance has intimated that his ‘bumping into’ Ver in Japan led to his joining Blockchain.info in 2013, Brock Pierce has claimed that it was he who “gave CZ of Binance his first job in crypto.” Pierce, a child actor who grew into an extremely controversial figure in crypto, co-founded Tether in 2014, shortly before CZ left OKCoin and began musing about launching his own crypto exchange.

If you’ll recall, CZ was initially adamant about avoiding fiat on-ramps when he contemplated opening an exchange in 2015. However, if individuals in restricted countries like China could acquire Tether (via OTC desks or other means), the pantheon of other speculative crypto assets was suddenly wide open to them. As it turned out, Binance added USDT trading pairs just one month after its July 2017 launch.

Before Binance’s launch, Tether’s market cap was under $150 million. By early 2018—the point at which Binance became the top exchange by trading volume—there was over $2.2 billion worth of USDT greasing crypto’s wheels.

Last November, a Protos investigation revealed exactly which institutions were the largest recipients of the $70 billion-plus worth of USDT issued to date. Market-maker Cumberland Global, an offshoot of Chicago-based DRW Trading Group, received $23.7 billion USDT, of which nearly $19 billion was issued directly to Binance. An additional $4 billion or so was sent to Binance on behalf of Alameda Research (the not-in-the-slightest-arms-length market-maker of Sam Bankman-Fried’s FTX exchange) and DEX/DeFi outfit Nexo. In all, around one-quarter of all USDT in existence ended up traversing through Binance.

Kraken beat Binance to the USDT punch by a couple months and, like Binance, saw its market share spike in 2017. But in 2018, Bloomberg reported USDT trades on Kraken that ‘defied logic’ including “oddly specific order sizes”—the third-most common trade on Kraken was for 13,076.389 USDT—that suggested “signals to cheaters’ automated trading programs.”

Kraken’s Powell defended Tether on Twitter, saying it was “incorrect” to suggest that USDT allows traders and exchanges to sidestep the U.S. Bank Secrecy Act. However, Tether’s 2015 FAQ promoted the ability to convert BTC to USDT “without having to undertake KYC.”

ShapeShift launched USDT in April 2015, barely waiting until the paint on that non-KYC token was dry. Voorhees subsequently emerged as a staunch Tether defender, calling the public campaign to press Tether to deliver their long-promised-but-never-delivered audit as “the biggest unjustified witch hunt in Crypto.”

For what it’s worth, Voorhees’ defense of unstable stablecoins isn’t limited to Tether. This January, Voorhees claimed that stablecoins like UST “don’t have central points of failure.” The following month, Voorhees celebrated the fact that UST had “acquired a large pool of #bitcoin to add backing to its mechanism,” claiming that this move had “hardened” UST/Terra “while governments bicker about how to regulate stablecoins.” By May, when holders had lost billions, Voorhees had been reduced to arguing the semantics of whether UST/Terra technically constituted a Ponzi scheme.

And Roger Ver? His BCH blockchain officially embraced Tether in February 2020, the Blockchain.com wallet added USDT support that July, while the Bitcoin.com wallet added SLP-based USDT in August. All of this occurred after Tether wash trading was identified as responsible for the bulk of the 2017 BTC bubble.

Make no mistake: the collapse of Tether’s house of cards is a matter of when, not if, and will result in serious financial pain for nearly every holder of speculative tokens, the value of which has been artificially goosed by USDT. And yet all these exchanges have somehow fingered BSV as the existential threat against which the crypto community needs to unite.

Conclusion

Ver recently returned to the ‘crypto’ media spotlight when CoinFLEX accused him of failing to honor tens of millions’ worth of margin call obligations. This financial shortfall led to the exchange cutting staff before filing for restructuring. Ver was allegedly given a sweetheart deal that prevented the exchange from liquidating his position, a perk not enjoyed by CoinFLEX’s less connected customers, many of whom are now sweating over the fate of the assets they held on the exchange when it tanked. Seems wherever Ver goes, self-interested controversy inevitably follows. 

Whatever one’s view of the morality of the unwarranted attack on BSV, there’s no question that the campaign has at least partially achieved its goal. BSV’s fiat price has lagged other tokens and public awareness has been similarly hamstrung, leading to slower adoption of BSV-based projects that otherwise would serve as proof of the protocol’s utility-based focus.

Understandably, the difficulty of leaning into these artificial headwinds has claimed some casualties among the BSV faithful. Jack Liu, who formerly worked with CZ at OKCoin, later began building projects on BSV, including RelayX and the now defuncted FloatSV. When the delisting campaign began, Liu originally responded to the delisting campaign by slamming “holier than thou companies” like Binance and Shapeshift for engaging in such “hubris.” Liu later taunted CZ by noting that Binance’s in-house stablecoin BNB was lagging BSV’s market cap.

But in May, Liu tweeted that “Mentally I have left the BSV industry.” While still claiming there was “no bigger supporter of Craig and BSV than me,” Liu naively suggested that BSV needed to get back into these exchanges’ good graces by convincing Wright to drop his lawsuits.

Sorry Jacky but Wright’s lawsuits were never why these exchanges went scorched earth against BSV. CZ himself once let his self-righteous mask slip by tweeting that the delisting occurred because he “didn’t like the fact that the fork caused BTC to drop below $6k, which caused pain to many in the industry.”

It’s worth remembering that CZ didn’t impose similarly censorial tactics against BCH, despite its originally stated aim of dethroning BTC. Perhaps that’s because CZ understood that his buddy Roger wasn’t really serious about scaling BCH to a point that it could achieve the vision described in the Bitcoin white paper and thus the protocol could be left alone to wither on the vine.

BSV, on the other hand, continues to push the block-size limit to heretofore unimaginable lengths, while keeping transaction fees to fractions of a cent. By remaining true to Satoshi’s original vision, BSV threatens tokens that rely on speculative flipping to an ever-decreasing supply of greater fools. Widespread adoption of BSV would undercut the exchanges’ primary reason for being, so it must die.

Crytpo bros love to spread conspiracy theories of diabolical schemes hatched behind closed doors at the World Economic Forum but these same individuals seem oblivious to the conspiratorial collusion occurring right in front of them. As the venerable Adam Smith put it, “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public.”

Despite the heads of Binance, Kraken and Shapeshift routinely making lofty public sentiments of ‘banking the unbanked’ and ‘democratizing finance,’ they have actively colluded to hobble the one technology capable of delivering on these goals. It’s lamentable that the public should suffer so that a handful of well-placed individuals can repay Roger Ver for his early patronage of their respective projects by targeting his enemies.

Fortunately, a day of reckoning is approaching. The various smug exclamations such as that from CZ will no doubt form a large part of the gargantuan class action suit he and his cohort now face. Not even Twitter is a safe space from competition law, it seems.

Follow CoinGeek’s Crypto Crime Cartel series, which delves into the stream of groups from BitMEX to BinanceBitcoin.comBlockstreamShapeShiftCoinbaseRipple,
EthereumFTX and Tether—who have co-opted the digital asset revolution and turned the industry into a minefield for naïve (and even experienced) players in the market.

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