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Faruk Fatih Ozer, the head of a Turkey-based cryptocurrency exchange named Thodex, has been missing since late April. In his LinkedIn profile, Ozer says that he opened Thodex, in Istanbul, in September 2017.
On Wednesday, April 21, Thodex’s website shut down. It announced that it would need five working days and would then re-open after finalizing an unspecified partnership transaction.
The same day, Faruk Fatih Ozer stopped answering phone calls, and the assets of users became inaccessible. Before its sudden end, Thodex had accounted for more than $550 million in average trading volume per day.
On April 22, Ozer left Turkey. Authorities at the time believed that he was headed either to Thailand or to Albania. At this time a lawyer in Turkey, Abdullah Usame Ceran, filed a criminal complaint that said that Thodex had 400,000 users, 390,000 of them active and affected by Faruk Fatih Ozer’s alleged heist.
Faruk Fatih Ozer Still at Large
Faruk Fatih Ozer was spotted in Albania two weeks after his disappearance (and the disappearance of roughly $2 billion of customers’ assets), caught on security camera footage checking into a hotel in the capital city, Tirana.
He is still at large, although on April 27, Albanian authorities arrested two people accused of sheltering him.
The situation is strikingly parallel to the sudden departure of the Cajee Brothers from South Africa. It was also in April of this year that Ameer Cajee, the COO of cryptocurrency platform Africrypt, informed the platform’s clients that it had been the victim of a hack, compromising their accounts and wallets.
Another similarity: the Cajee Brothers have tried, through surrogates, to make the case that they are not thieves at all. Likewise, Faruk Fatih Ozer said took to social media at the beginning to say he was innocent. On Instagram, he said he would soon return to Turkey and compensate his customers. There has been no follow-up, though, and Ozer may have settled for life on the lam.
An organized-crime figure in Turkey, Sedat Pekar, joined the discussion of Ozer’s flight. Through tweets, Pekar contended that Ozer had made illicit payments to a Turkish cabinet minister. Within that country, these claims have been taken very seriously. There have been calls for the investigation and resignation of the cabinet member, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu.
The Cajee Brothers Speak Out
Then in late June, the Cajees were heard from. The older brother, Raees Cajee, said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal (from an undisclosed location) that he and Ameer would return to South Africa to participate in a court hearing later this month on the Africrypt liquidation proceeding.
But Raees also seemed to want to lay the groundwork for a non-appearance. He said, “We dealt with a lot of high-level South Africans, a lot of politicians, a lot of high-level businessmen within South Africa, as well as celebrities.” He added that “Some particularly very, very dangerous people—that we had not actually known were clients—have started to come out of the cracks.”
Is More Regulation Coming?
These two parallel stories will continue to play out. There is a part of the crypto market that glories in its unofficial, unregulated character, and may even be tolerant of criminal behavior as part of that deal. But there is another portion that desires respectability, and that accepts regulation as part of that deal.