Bitfinex’s Parent Company Has a New Offshore Services Provider

David Floyd
Nov 16, 2018 at 05:09 UTC

iFinex, the parent company of controversial cryptocurrency exchange Bitfinex, appears to have hired a new offshore corporate services provider.

A trademark application dated Oct. 31 gives iFinex’s address as care of SHRM Trustees (BVI) Ltd., marking a change from prior trademark applications – including one filed in June 2017 – which gave the address as care of Estera Corporate Services (BVI) Ltd.

Both SHRM and Estera, the filings show, are located in Road Town, the capital of the British Virgin Islands.

Recent trademark application showing iFinex’s address as “c/o SHRM Trustees (BVI) Ltd.”

Older trademark application showing iFinex’s address as “c/o Estera Corporate Services (BVI) Ltd.”

The change was first spotted by Jakal Intel, a pseudonymous sleuth who describes their focus as “OSINT [open-source intelligence] driven investigations into investment scams and Ponzi schemes.”

Estera, which changed its name from Appleby in April 2016, also served as a director of Tether Holdings Ltd., according to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ (ICIJ) database of offshore leaks. Tether is closely tied to Bitfinex, sharing directors and shareholders in common, and Tether Holdings was registered at the same Town Road address as iFinex.

Estera Corporate Services Managing Director Gareth Thomas confirmed to CoinDesk that iFinex is no longer a client of Estera.

CoinDesk reached out to Bitfinex, Tether and SHRM for comment, but did not receive a reply before press time.

Why SHRM?

According to SHRM’s website, the firm provides a number of services to corporations, funds, family offices and yacht enthusiasts. The site lists a number of these services, including “formation and administration of onshore and offshore companies” and “provision of directors and/or managers” – both standard offerings in the offshore services industry.

There are few publicly available clues to what might set SHRM apart from its rivals, including Estera. There is, however, one example of a company hiring SHRM, reported by the BBC in 2017.

Bridgewaters, an Isle of Man-based firm that the BBC described as being “involved in major deals involving Russian cash, including the purchase of significant stakes in Facebook,” had a number of companies registered in the British Virgin Islands.

Bridgewaters had previously been a client of Mossack Fonseca, the now-defunct Panamanian law firm whose records formed the infamous Panama Papers leak.

Mossfon, as the firm was sometimes known, pushed to obtain additional information from Bridgewaters, including apparent links to Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov, according to the BBC. That push for increased transparency appears to have driven Bridgewaters to find a new provider.

“After Mossfon raised questions about compliance,” the BBC wrote, “Bridgewaters transferred most of its BVI companies to another financial services company, SHRM Trustees, in February 2015.”

Shopping offshore

iFinex’s change in offshore service providers recalls the months-long search for a stable banking partner that Bitfinex and Tether engaged in under significant public scrutiny.

The two firms lost access to Taiwanese banks in early 2017 as a result of intervention by Wells Fargo. Noble Bank, based in Puerto Rico, filled the gap, but that relationship ended around October.

For some time it was not clear where Bitfinex and Tether were banking, and the exchange was pushed to publicly deny that it was insolvent. Tether’s current banking partner is Deltec, based in the Bahamas.

The anxiety in the market around Bitfinex and Tether continues. Bitfinex recently introduced a 3 percent fee on large and frequent deposits, which many interpreted as being designed to slow the pace of withdrawals from the exchange, given that customers are complaining that they’ve been waiting weeks to receive fiat withdrawals.

Tether, meanwhile, has sought to produce convincing proof that the outstanding supply – which has shrunk markedly as the company has removed hundreds of millions of tokens from circulation – is backed by dollar deposits.

A recent letter from Deltec saying that Tether had sufficient deposits attracted skepticism from some quarters.

Road Town, Tortola image via Shutterstock