After Micree Ketuan Zhan, the exiled co-founder of Bitmain, moved to reinstate his position after another partial legal victory over his former employer, tensions reportedly escalated into a physical brawl.
According to a source close to Zhan, who was ousted by his rival co-founder Wu Jihan last October, the former executive was recently granted the right to recover his status as the legal representative of Beijing Bitmain Technology by the Beijing Haidian District Justice Bureau.
On Friday morning local time, as Zhan attended the bureau to collect his new registration license as part of the recovery process, he was surrounded by dozens of men including Bitmain’s Chief Executive Liu Luyao, according to the source, who was at the scene at the time.
According to a report by Chinese news source Caixin on Friday, as officials from the Justice Bureau attempted to hand over the updated license to Zhan as the firm's new legal representative, Liu abruptly took possession of the license, saying, “The business license is company property, how can it fall in to the hands of an individual?"
According to a video circulating on WeChat seen and verified by CoinDesk, the tensions between the two sides later escalated into a physical confrontation. After the Justice Bureau reported the incident to the police, both parties were taken to the local police station.
The confrontation marks the latest development in Bitmain's internal struggle following last year's sudden coup, and deepens the uncertainties surrounding the firm's senior management ahead of a planned initial public offering in the U.S.
Zhan's latest partial legal victory returning his legal representative status followed an another win last month. A legal representative for a Chinese company usually holds broad powers to act on a company's behalf.
In a statement issued by Bitmain on Friday, the company takes its aim at the Justice Bureau, saying the decision to reverse the registration is a "mistake" made by the government agency that "has severely violated the Company Law [of China]."
"We recognize Liu Luyao as the currently effective legal representative of Beijing Bitmain," the firm said. "During this period, we will not acknowledge any action taken by Zhan Ketuan as a legal representative of Beijing Bitmain and reserve the rights to file legal claims against Zhan and related parties."
However, the internal fight to control the world's largest bitcoin miner make is far from over.
Beijing Bitmain is an operating entity fully owned by Hong Kong Bitmain Technologies, which is ultimately controlled by Cayman-registered Bitmain Technologies Holding.
Following Wu's coup last year, BitMain Technologies Holding summoned an extraordinary general meeting that allegedly reduced the voting power of the holding company's Class B shares from 10 votes per share to just one.
That subsequently reduced Zhan's voting power from over 60% to closer to 30%, even though he remains the largest shareholder of Bitmain by ownership.
Zhan, who said he was not aware of the meeting beforehand, afterwards waged a lawsuit in the Cayman Islands, asking a court to void the decisions made in the meeting. The case is still ongoing.
The leader in news and information on cryptocurrency, digital assets and the future of money, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups. As part of their compensation, certain CoinDesk employees, including editorial employees, may receive exposure to DCG equity in the form of stock appreciation rights, which vest over a multi-year period. CoinDesk journalists are not allowed to purchase stock outright in DCG.