Investors demand cryptocurrency firm founder's body be exhumed after $185m vanished with his sudden death

Technicians inspect bitcon mining at Bitfarms in Saint Hyacinthe, Quebec. QuadrigaCX founder Gerald Cotten passed in December 2018 while traveling in India, taking all the passwords to the site's funds with him to the grave. PHOTO: GERRY COTTEN/FACEBOOK

MONTREAL (AFP, REUTERS) - Investors in a cryptocurrency exchange who lost access to millions of dollars when the website's Canadian founder died abruptly, are demanding his body be exhumed to rule out any chance that he faked his own death.

The case focuses on the sudden death of QuadrigaCX founder Gerald Cotten, who passed away aged 30 from Crohn's disease, an inflammatory bowel condition, in December 2018 while traveling in India, taking all the passwords to the site's funds with him to the grave.

The young tech entrepreneur was the only one who knew the codes, which afforded access to some C$180 million (S$185.3 million) in cryptocurrencies, belonging to 115,000 clients.

A letter sent on Friday (Dec 13) on behalf of the exchange's clients by law firm Miller Thomson, demanded that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police "conduct an exhumation and post-mortem autopsy on the body of Gerald Cotten to confirm both its identity and the cause of death given the questionable circumstances" surrounding his death.

Cotten's widow, Jennifer Robertson, said she could not find the passwords to his laptop computer on which he ran his business from the eastern Canadian city of Halifax.

With rumours and conspiracy theories swirling that Cotten might have faked his own death and made off with the funds, the company placed itself under bankruptcy protection and Ms Robertson said she had received death threats on the internet.

The law firm is demanding that the exhumation of Cotten's body be carried out by spring 2020, "given decomposition concerns."

Ms Robertson issued a statement via her own legal representatives saying she was "devastated" by the demand.

The Canadian federal police had not made any comment in response to an AFP request by Monday.

QuadrigaCX - a trading venue for cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, Litecoin and Ethereum - had previously filed for creditor protection in the Nova Scotia Supreme Court.

It was cited a as one of the two biggest "frauds" that drove the surge in cryptocurrency theft this year, according to a report from blockchain forensics company CipherTrace obtained by Reuters.

The other big case saw users and customers lose US$2.9 billion (S$3.9 billion) from an alleged Ponzi scheme involving crypto wallet and exchange, PlusToken.

The report said losses from digital currency crime soared to US$4.4 billion in the first nine months of the year, up more than 150 per cent from US$1.7 billion in all of 2018.

"The 150 per cent increase in crypto theft and fraud reflects how criminals are adapting for bigger and better scores," Dave Jevans, CipherTrace chief executive officer, told Reuters.

"Criminals chase money and the money is right here and ripe for the taking. Little attacks are often easy to defend against, but targeted attacks are far more lucrative," he added.

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