Turkish authorities have detained 62 people over alleged links to the Istanbul-based cryptocurrency exchange Thodex after its founder fled with a reported $2 billion in investors’ assets, Turkish media reported. The suspects were apprehended in raids carried out in eight cities including Istanbul, Anadolu Agency reported on Friday. Police issued arrest warrants for 16 other people.
The arrests come after nearly 400,000 users of a Turkish cryptocurrency exchange were left out of their accounts without being able to withdraw their funds. The platform’s website has been down for several days, while reports suggest its CEO has already fled the country with up to $2 billion.
Bloomberg reported that Thodex, a Turkey-based crypto exchange, has ceased trading, citing an “unspecified partnership transaction.” The trading platform, founded in 2017, issued a statement explaining that all services will remain shut down for about five working days. However, the message reassured customers that they shouldn’t worry about their funds. In retrospect, they should.
According to subsequent coverage the exchange’s chief executive officer and founder, Faruk Fatih Ozer had fled the country.
Following news of Ozer’s alleged escape from Turkey, users of the local exchange hired a law firm to file a complaint against Thodex. Oguz Evren Kilic, representing an unspecified number of Thodex customers, confirmed the development, saying, “we have filed a legal complaint on Wednesday.”
He speculated that the funds on the Turkish exchange could be worth “hundreds of millions of dollars,” as the exchange had 391,000 users. According to another report, Thodex’s CEO and founder has run away in Thailand with an estimated amount of roughly $2 billion.
Overnight, Turkish security officials released a photo of Thodex founder Faruk Fatih Ozer going through passport control at Istanbul Airport on his way to Albania.
On Friday, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu made a phone call to his Albanian counterpart to request Ozer be captured and repatriated.
At the same time, Turkish police raided the company’s headquarters on the Asian side of Istanbul and seized computers and digital materials, press reports revealed. Turkish authorities also started procedures to issue an international warrant to arrest and extradite the missing founder of a cryptocurrency exchange, Anadolu Agency reported.
In a message on the company’s Twitter account, Ozer said he was abroad for meetings with foreign investors and would return home “in a few days and cooperate with judicial authorities so that the truth can come out”. Subsequent updates indicated that this was a lie.
ÖNEMLİ DUYURU pic.twitter.com/3aBeJjFSYQ
— THODEX (@thodexofficial) April 22, 2021
In recent months, a growing number of Turks turned to cryptocurrency in a bid to shield their savings in the face of a sharp decline in the value of the Turkish lira and high inflation. The Turkish crypto market remains unregulated despite growing scepticism from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government about its safety.
Last week, Turkish authorities took a step to regulating the cryptocurrency industry, and as we reported last week, Turkey officially banned users from using cryptos as payment instruments starting April 30th.
The government spent a massive $165 billion in foreign-exchange reserves over the past two years, effectively leaving its central bank without reserves Erdogan revealed on Wednesday, part of a futile effort to prop up the national currency. Concern about the country’s dwindling foreign-exchange reserves, which are negative when money borrowed by the government from private banks via swap agreements are factored in, has fueled concern about both lira and dollar deposits — and pushed savers into alternative investment vehicles.
Last Friday, the volume of trade in Turkish crypto markets tripled to over $1.2 billion from a week earlier, according to data published by coingecko.com, which tracks data on price, volume and market value on crypto markets. That compares with an average daily trading volume in the Turkish stock market’s benchmark index of about $3.1 billion.
“One can establish a crypto exchange with just 50,000 liras (about $6,000) in capital,” Oguz Evren Kilic, a lawyer representing Thodex users, said by phone. “There’s a huge regulatory gap in this field.”
Meanwhile, as Bloomberg reports, last month Thodex initiated a campaign to boost membership by offering millions of free Dogecoins to new registrants. Its website says 4 million of the coins were distributed, though many people have taken to social media to complain they never received them.
In the latest development in this bizarre saga, in a statement published from an unknown location, Thodex CEO Faruk Fatih Ozer promised to repay investors and to return to Turkey to face justice after he did.
“I was born as one of the three siblings of a civil servant,” Ozer said in his statement, adding that he’s a high-school dropout. As the company ran into financial trouble, he said he thought about either committing suicide or giving himself up to authorities, but both of those options meant clients’ assets would never be retrieved.
“So I decided to stay alive and fight, work and repay my debts to you,” he said. “The day I repay all my debt, I will return to my country and give myself in to justice.”
He won’t return.