The story of Quadriga and its founder Gerald Cotten is one of business innovation, the crypto boom and missing money.
But is the company embroiled in a criminal conspiracy, or is the case of Quadriga just a tragedy that left a promising young entrepreneur dead and thousands with lost funds?
This tale has puzzled investors, investigators and journalists alike. It may take many more years before we find out the truth and the missing money might never resurface.
What was QuadrigaCX
The company was founded and led by Gerald Cotten and his friend Michael Patryn in 2013.
It spent a good few years as a small time cryptocurrency exchange before hitting difficulties. Plans to list on the Canadian Securities Exchange in 2016 fell apart and all directors other than Cotten left in the same year.
However, soaring Bitcoin prices in the following year meant that approximately C$1.2bn worth of the cryptocurrency flowed through the exchange in 2017. Even so, the business faced cash flow problems and difficulties stemming from a fairly archaic accounting system.
Despite these challenges by 2018, QuadrigaCX was Canada's largest cryptocurrency exchange and had hundreds of thousands of customers.
But who was the business’ leader Gerry Cotten, and how did he pass away?
Who is Gerry Cotten?
Quadriga’s main man was an Ontario native who first tried his hand at getting rich at the tender age of 15.
The venture, an opportunity called S&S Investments which Cotten ran through online forums, collapsed after just a few months. But it demonstrated the young man’s ambition and drive to succeed in the world of business.
To that end, Cotten finished high school and went off to study at the Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto, graduating with a degree in business administration in 2010.
It was shortly after this that he first heard of Bitcoin and put together QuadrigaCX, which would become Canada’s largest cryptocurrency exchange. Unfortunately, after around five years heading up Quadriga and just a few months after marrying Jennifer Robertson, it appears that tragedy struck.
In December 2018, while in India to sponsor the construction of an orphanage, Cotten reportedly passed away due to complications from Crohn’s disease. Obviously, this sounds like an awful story.
But why did it affect thousands of QuadrigaCX customers?
Was Quadriga a Scam?
When Cotten reportedly passed away, he took with him the passwords to offline cold wallets which held as much as $190m in cryptocurrency. This money belonged to more than 100,000 customers, who found themselves out of pocket.
This has perhaps understandably raised suspicions that there is more to this story than meets the eye.
For one thing, auditor Ernst & Young, which was brought in to examine Quadriga’s assets after the company was placed under debt protection, revealed in 2019 that most of the company’s cold storage wallets had been emptied months before Cotten reportedly died.
After that, just a single cold wallet remained active to deal with the day to day transactions and requirements of the exchange’s users.
Additionally, Cotten is reported to have altered his will just before the trip to India. This ensured that his multi-million-dollar house, plane, boat and real estate portfolio passed on to his wife Jennifer Robertson.
The will even included plans for a trust fund to ensure Cotten’s two chihuahuas would never want for anything in his absence.
For her part, Jennifer Robertson denies being a part of any scheme to defraud customers and has claimed not to have been involved with Cotten’s management of Quadriga. She has even penned a bestseller about her experiences, titled Bitcoin Widow: Love, Betrayal and the Missing Millions.
What’s more, the upcoming Netflix documentary Trust No One: The Hunt for the Crypto King focuses on the story and may shed more light on what became of Gerry Cotten.
However, for now the story is shrouded in mystery.