“What happened at Quadriga was an old-fashioned fraud wrapped in modern technology,” said the Ontario Securities Commission in an investigation.
The 10-month long investigation into the exchange by the country’s biggest securities regulator revealed that the collapse of the Canadian cryptocurrency trading platform QuadrigaCX was because of a Ponzi scheme operated by its founder Gerald Cotten, who died in December 2018.
Back in 2019, the collapse of the exchange caused $125 million in losses for 76,000 investors. The exchange was shut down in January 2019, weeks after Cotten died at age 30 suddenly while on his honeymoon in India. Jeff Kehoe, director of the enforcement branch at the OSC, said in a statement,
“While public release of an investigative report is rare, we believe the tens of thousands of Ontarians who entrusted Quadriga with their money and crypto assets deserve to know what happened.”
Outlining the events from Quadriga’s inception to its eventual collapse, the report stated the exchange faced losses when the price of digital currencies changed which Cotten covered with other clients’ deposits.
Running a Ponzi Scheme
The investigation of data related to 368,000 client accounts and more than 6 million individual transactions revealed that Cotten operated a Ponzi scheme.
He opened accounts under aliases and credited himself with fake crypto assets and currency balances which he traded with Quadriga clients. And when he sustained real losses with the change in the price of cryptocurrencies, it created a shortfall in assets for client withdrawals. This shortfall was covered with other clients' deposits.
Out of the total C$169 million in client losses, about $115 million of this was due to Cotten’s fraudulent trading. When he died, the platform owed C$215 million to its client, the regulator said.
Cotten also siphoned off assets about C$24 million for personal use and lavish lifestyle between May 2016 and January 2018, according to the OSC.
About C$46 million was recovered and paid to clients while assets worth about C$22 million were returned by Cotten and his widow Jennifer Robertson, the report said.
“The information presented in this report highlights the unique risks that can arise when using crypto asset trading platforms,” which are magnified when they are traded on platforms not registered with regulators, Kehoe said in a statement.