Difference between revisions of "Bitfinex"

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("LEO" Token Sale)
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In June 2019, Bitfinex announced a transparency initiative to make plainly visible its practice of buying back and "burning" LEO tokens as part of its token redemption process, which was dubbed the UNUS SED LEO initiative.<ref>{{cite web|url=https://www.coindesk.com/bitfinex-is-starting-to-buy-back-and-burn-its-leo-exchange-token|name=Bitfinex Is Starting to Buy Back and ‘Burn’ Its LEO Exchange Token|org=Coindesk|date=June 14, 2019}}</ref>
== Key People ==
== Key People ==

Revision as of 14:52, 14 June 2019

Bitfinex leaf logo.png
Founded 2012
Headquarters Hong Kong and Taiwan
Key People JL van der Velde, CEO; Giancarlo Devasini, CFO; Stuart Hoegner, General Counsel
Products Cryptocurrency trading services; cryptocurrency margin trading, cryptocurrency margin funding
Twitter @bitfinex
LinkedIn Profile
Website Bitfinex.com
Releases Company News
Blog Bitfinex Blog

Bitfinex is one of the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchanges.[1] According to CoinMarketCap, an online industry data aggregator, Bitfinex was the 37th largest cryptocurrency exchange by traded volume in late April 2019.[2] Unlike many of its competitors, Bitfinex offers fiat currency-to-cryptocurrency trading on its platform. Bitfinex also provides financing tools that let its customers earn interest by lending deposited funds to other customers and allowing them to trade cryptocurrencies with leverage.[3]

Company History

Bitfinex has its roots in a failed cryptocurrency exchange, Bitcoinica, which was hobbled by two major thefts and scandals. Bitcoinica focused on attracting sophisticated traders and offering them the means to trade fiat against cryptocurrency with financial leverage. [4]

Bitfinex supports the trading of more than 60 digital currencies against fiat currency U.S. dollars, euros, British pounds and Japanese yen. Bitfinex also provides markets for some cryptocurrency-to-cryptocurrency pairs.[5]

Reliable detailed information about Bitfinex itself has not always been made readily available, and as late as November 2017 even information about the senior officers was not on its website.[6] Bitfinex, based in Hong Kong but also claiming Taipei, Taiwan as headquarters, was founded in 2012.[7][8] According to the legal "Terms of Service," U.S. residents conduct business with BXFNA Inc. d/b/a /Bitfinex.[9] Bitfinex, as well as BXFNA Inc., is now a subsidiary of iFinex, a company registered in British Virgin Islands. [10] Tether, which issues fiat currency-backed digital currencies, is also owned by iFinex and has the same senior officers as Bitfinex. Until November 2017, the relationship between Tether and Bitfinex had been obscure.[11]

Citing difficulties in managing cash inflows and outflows from U.S. customers, Bitfinex announced on August 11, 2017 that it would cease conducting business with individual U.S. residents within the next three months. It also stated that, effective immediately, it would no longer permit U.S. customers to trade certain tokens on its platform in recognition of the guidance from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission about the possible status of tokens as investment vehicles under U.S. law. [12] Bitfinex was the first major cryptocurrency organization to take such action.[13]

Stating that Bitfinex is pivoting away from doing business in the U.S., Phil Potter, its long-term American head of strategy, announced his resignation on June 22, 2018, two days after Tether announced the positive results of a review of Tether's U.S. dollar holdings by a U.S. law firm.[14]

On May 31, 2019, Bitfinex announced that it planned to launch support for USDT on the Lightning Network.[15]

Bitfinex Hacks and Attacks

On May 22, 2015 Bitfinex warned its customers that it believed its "hot" wallet keys might have been compromised, but said that losses were small, and reimbursements would be absorbed by the company.[16] Outside sources estimated the breach to have resulted in a loss of about 10,500 bitcoins from customer accounts.[17]

On August 2, 2016 Bitfinex announced that bitcoin accounts had been breached and customers' bitcoin had been stolen.[18] Reports pegged the loss at nearly 120,000 bitcoin, then worth about $72 million.[19] A few days later Bitfinex announced that the losses would be "socialized" across all accounts, in part because the actual funds were held by Bitfinex in commingled accounts.[20] Consequently, Bitfinex reduced the value of each customer account, both cryptocurrency and fiat, by 36 percent and replaced the amount with newly minted tokens, which promised repayment of the loss through cash redemption or conversion into equity in Bitfinex. [21] Although by early April 2017 all losses had been repaid, it was noted that if Bitfinex had taken the proper steps to correct deficiencies for which the CFTC had fined it two months earlier, the loss might have been largely prevented.[22][23]

On June 5, 2018 Bitfinex was the target of a Distributed Denial of Service attack and closed its trading operations for approximately one hour. It later reported that no customer funds were affected or lost. According to the Bitfinex head of marketing, Kasper Rasmussen,"The attack only impacted trading operations, and user accounts and their associated funds/account balances were not at risk at any point during the attack.”[24]


In June of 2016 the CFTC ordered Bitfinex to pay $75,000 in fines for a number of violations of US commodity regulations. Among other things, the CFTC noted that Bitfinex was not exempt from the Commodity Exchange Act because its contracts did not result in true ownership and control by the customers of the cryptocurrencies purchased on Bitfinex. Furthermore, Bitfinex solicited and accepted business from persons who were not eligible contract participants.[25]

Financing Tools

In addition to electronic trading in currency pairs, Bitfinex offers transaction margining, which allows traders to sell short on a forward basis as well as leverage their forward purchases by up to 3.3 times the amount of funds on deposit and available. The mechanics depend on voluntary peer-to-peer lending of funds by customers. The interest rates and terms are negotiated across the platform. Compliance is assured by Bitfinex, which steps in if position losses begin to exceed pre-specified limits.[26] Giving U.S. residents access to these tools without CFTC registration as a contract market provided part of the basis for the fines the CFTC levied against Bitfinex in 2016.

Suspicions about Bitfinex and Tether

The leaked Paradise Papers provided insight into many previously undocumented international business relationships. Among the papers were several that confirmed that Tether was managed by the same individuals that managed Bitfinex. According to published reports, individuals were suspicious that Tether was being used by the managers of Bitfinex to, among other things, prop up the value of Bitcoin. Concern was reported in late 2017 that Tether coins were being issued without the advertised one-U.S.-dollar-for-one-Tether coin backing.[27] Late in January 2018, Bloomberg reported that it had learned that both Tether and Bitfinex had received subpoenas from the CFTC on December 6 of the previous year, although the true subject of the subpoena was not known. [28] At about the time of the subpoena, participants in the industry were becoming suspicious about the fiat currency backing Tether for several reasons, especially as Wells Fargo had severed its banking relationship with Bitfinex, which had not replaced the bank and publicly admitted to having problems securing U.S. banking services for its customers.[29] At the end of January 2018 it became apparent that an audit conducted by an American accounting firm of Tether's cash holdings had been suspended. This was confirmed by a Tether spokesperson.[30] In May 2018 it was reported that U.S. dollar funds backing Tether were held by San Juan's Noble Bank International, an "International Financial Entity" registered there.[31]

On June 20, 2018 Tether reported that it had hired Freeh, Sporkin & Sullivan LLP, a U.S. law firm, to review the adequacy of its U.S. dollar reserves and the firm reported that there were sufficient holdings on June 1, 2018.[32] Tether has said it is still seeking an auditor to conduct a full audit.[33]

Insolvency Rumors

In 2018, Bitfinex representatives addressed rumors that the company struggles with insolvency issues. The rumors, which related to Bitfinex's relationship with Tether, its former relationship with Wells Fargo and Noble International, were circulated due to a number of individuals on the blogging site Medium, according to the Bitfinex post. "Bitfinex is not insolvent," the post read, "and a constant stream of Medium articles claiming otherwise is not going to change this."[34][35] This blog post was published a day after it was reported that Bitfinex had entered into yet another banking partnership, this time with HSBC.[36]

New York State Injunction

On April 24, 2019, New York State Attorney General Letitia James obtained an injunction against Bitfinex and Tether as well as their affiliates and iFinex, which operates them, to cease fraudulent activities in dealings with New York residents. A hearing on the injunction was scheduled for May 3, 2019.[37]

In a statement announcing the injunction against Bitfinex and Tether, James said that Bitfinex had attempted to cover up the "apparent loss" of $850 million by removing up to $900 million of Tether's cash reserves. The lost money was a combination of client and corporate funds. Executives of Bitfinex and Tether then allegedly created "conflicted corporate transactions" to hide the transfer of these funds, and credited Tether's cash reserves through the Panamanian firm Crypto Capital Corp. According to James' statement, Bitfinex never signed a contract or other agreement with Crypto Capital while doing this. Correspondence between a senior executive of Bitfinex and representatives of Crypto Capital included the senior executive saying that "this could be extremely dangerous for everybody...BTC could tank below 1K if we don't act quickly." The statement also said that none of these actions were disclosed to investors.[38][39] Bitfinex said the statement was made in "bad faith," and that both Tether and Bitfinex were financially strong.[40]

In an affidavit filed with the New York Supreme Court, Tether's general counsel, Stuart Hoegner, stated that as of April 30, 2019, Tether had cash and cash equivalents of about $2.1 billion which represented approximately 74% of the value of outstanding Tether tokens. Morgan Lewis partner Zoe Phillips, a lawyer who represents Tether, asserted in a memorandum of law that Tether is not required to hold fiat currency on a one-for-one basis with Tether.[41]

Bitfinex investor Dong Zhao announced on Weibo, the Chinese social media platform, that Bitfinex would launch its own exchange token to compensate for the missing $850 million in Tether. Bitfinex says that the funds have been seized by governmental authorities. Once the funds are released back to Bitfinex, it will be able to redeem the exchange tokens according to the plans.[42]

On May 16, Judge Joel Cohen of the state of New York's Supreme Court ordered Bitfinex and Tether execs and employees stop loaning Tether’s reserves to Bitfinex due to the ongoing investigation by the New York AG Letitia James into Bitfinex and Tether.[43] On May 21, The Block published a story on the trial after obtaining a court transcript in which representatives from Tether admitted that some of their "cash equivalent" reserves included holdings of bitcoin.[44] The same day, lawyers representing Bitfinex and Tether asked Judge Cohen to stay the NYAG's request for documents, claiming the request "onerous," as the companies "have nothing to do with New York investors - the businesses do not allow New Yorkers on their platforms and do not advertise or otherwise do business here."[45] Bitfinex won a partial block on the NYAG's demands for information. Judge Cohen agreed to put a hold on James' demands "except for topics relevant to whether the case can be heard" in his court.[46]

"LEO" Token Sale

In May 2019, Bitfinex issued a private sale of "LEO" tokens in order to raise funds to replace the money lost in April. The sale was closed after only 10 days. On May 13 the CTO of the company, Paolo Ardoino, claimed over Twitter that the sale had raised $1 billion since the sale began the previous week. Ardoino claimed that private companies from within and outside of the cryptocurrency industry invested approximately $100 million each, while many individuals invested $1 million or more.[47]

The token sale closed on May 11, 2019. According to a whitepaper put out by Bitfinex, the main commercial use of the tokens are to allow their owners to engage in peer-to-peer trading with other users with reduced fees on BitFinex and EthFinex, as well as discounts on other platforms under the Bitfinex corporate umbrella. In addition to this, the whitepaper notes "repurpose and burn commitments," which state that Bitfinex intends to use funds recovered from the exchange's recent hacking attacks to buy back LEO tokens from its investors over the following 18 months.[48]

The below is taken directly from the LEO whitepaper:

On a monthly basis, iFinex and its affiliates will buy back LEO from the market equal to a minimum of 27% of the consolidated gross revenues of iFinex (exclusive of Ethfinex) from the previous month, until no tokens are in commercial circulation. Repurchases will be made at then-prevailing market rates. LEO tokens used to pay fees may also be used to satisfy this repurchase commitment.
In addition to the above, an amount equal to at least 95% of recovered net funds from Crypto Capital (described more fully herein) will be used to repurchase and burn outstanding LEO tokens within 18 months from the date of recovery.
Further, an amount equal to at least 80% of recovered net funds from the BitFinex hack will be used to repurchase and burn outstanding LEO tokens within 18 months from the date of recovery.

In June 2019, Bitfinex announced a transparency initiative to make plainly visible its practice of buying back and "burning" LEO tokens as part of its token redemption process, which was dubbed the UNUS SED LEO initiative.[49]

Key People

  • JL van der Velde - CEO
  • Giancarlo Devasini - CFO
  • Stuart Hoegner - General Counsel[50]


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  23. The Demon Barber Of Bitcoin. Forbes.
  24. Crypto Exchange Bitfinex Resumes Operations After Hacker Assault. Bloomberg.
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  32. FSS1JUN18 Account Snapshot Statement. Tether.
  33. Cryptocurrency firm Tether releases law firm report attesting to U.S. dollar reserves. Reuters.
  34. “Bitfinex is not insolvent:” Crypto exchange giant Bitfinex responds to recent rumors in new blog post. The Block.
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  37. EX PARTE ORDER PURSUANT TO GENERAL BUSINESS LAW §354. Supreme Court of the State of New York County of New York.
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  46. Crypto Exchange Bitfinex Wins Partial Stay on N.Y. Info Demands. Bloomberg.
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  48. Bitfinex CTO says the company successfully raised nearly $1 billion in a private token sale. The Block.
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