Super scammer: ASIC chases $29m in ‘missing’ Bitcoin from alleged fraudster – The Sydney Morning Herald


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The corporate watchdog is scrambling to recover a trove of Bitcoin worth up to $29 million held in an encrypted device belonging to a Gold Coast barber shop owner suspected of orchestrating a large-scale superannuation fraud.
The fraud investigation has also embroiled AFL team Western Bulldogs’ key sponsor CoinSpot.
ASIC alleges Aryn Hala and Heidi Walters used the money they raised from their victims to buy Bitcoin, a Tesla, a Ferrari, luxury goods, couture fashion, weight loss surgery and to make a large donation to their church.
CoinSpot is the cryptocurrency exchange used by the accused superannuation scammer Aryn Hala to invest his allegedly ill-gotten gains.
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) has accused Mr Hala and his partner Heidi Walters and their company A One Multi of scamming 92 financially strapped Australians who were looking to dip into their super sooner than usually allowed. Bank accounts show the couple’s company received $25 million from the investors. No criminal charges have been laid.
ASIC alleges Mr Hala and Ms Walters used the money they raised from their victims to buy Bitcoin, a Tesla, a Ferrari, luxury goods, couture fashion, weight loss surgery and to make a large donation to their church.
ASIC called in receivers from KPMG to pick through the mess of Mr Hala’s business and personal accounts and to track down the trove of Bitcoin. It has also won travel bans against Mr Hala and Ms Walters and freezing orders over their assets including the Tesla and Ferrari. The couple has hired lawyers indicating they may challenge ASIC’s allegations. Mr Hala and Ms Walters’ lawyer said they were openly assisting both ASIC and the receivers with their enquiries, including providing all records, in the hope the investigation would be quickly concluded.
But tracking down Mr Hala’s Bitcoin investments has proved to be a hard task for regulators and has raised issues with the oversight controls at CoinSpot, which bills itself as one of Australia’s leading cryptocurrency exchanges.
According to court documents filed by the regulator in support of freezing orders against the couple and their company, CoinSpot initially told ASIC investigators that no records were held for cryptocurrency accounts in the name of Mr Hala, Ms Walters or A One Multi.
Aryn Hala stands accused of scamming investors of $25 million to fund purchase of Bitcoin, a Tesla and a Ferrari.
ASIC then dug through Mr Hala’s bank statements (which were promptly provided by major banks) and located his CoinSpot account number.
Armed with this information, ASIC could show CoinSpot that Mr Hala was indeed a customer of the platform and obtained his account records that showed he had a balance of just $1.96.
But when investigators from ASIC took a deeper look into Mr Hala’s transaction history, they say they discovered Mr Hala’s withdrawals from his CoinSpot account were far less than what his balance should have been. The CoinSpot audit showed Mr Hala’s Bitcoin wallet had received 375.99 Bitcoin (worth $29.45 million at today’s prices) and executed total sell orders of $979,843 – indicating a $28.47 million worth of coins were located somewhere.
ASIC’s investigators believe Mr Hala transferred the coins to a “cold wallet” – a specialised offline device like a USB that holds the ‘keys’ to Mr Hala’s accounts. Cold wallets are legal and are used by cryptocurrency enthusiasts to protect their investments.
The use of cold wallets and CoinSpot’s alleged inability to initially recognise Mr Hala as a customer when approached by ASIC raises issues with how exchanges can adhere to strict anti-money laundering and counterterrorism laws which are underpinned by know-your-customer rules.
CoinSpot defended its controls this week when asked by The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald about its adherence to AML-CTF given it initially claimed Mr Hala was not an account holder.
“CoinSpot has a cooperative relationship with all relevant regulatory bodies including ASIC. Any lawful requests for information by regulators are treated seriously and with priority,” it said.
“In line with our stringent Information Security Management and AML-CTF policies, information relating to a specific request may need to be verified before any information can be shared.”
Despite privacy requirements not generally applying to requests from a regulator about a customer’s accounts, CoinSpot added: “This is to ensure any requested information is accurate and relevant to the request and to protect the privacy and security of all CoinSpot customers.”
Sources familiar with the investigation are hopeful that ASIC and receivers at KPMG will be able to recoup some of the money allegedly misappropriated from investors. Mr Hala is expected to deliver details on how to access his cold wallet to KPMG in the coming weeks.
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