Deltec, Tether's Bahamas-based bank, announced Thursday it was investing some customer funds in bitcoin. A lawyer for Tether denied that any of those funds were Tether's.
Still, the announcement, made by Deltec Bank & Trust Chief Investment Officer Hugo Rogers during a year-in-review video, may raise new questions about whether the dollar-pegged USDT stablecoin, which is in theory backed by cash and "cash equivalents," as well as "other assets and receivables made by loans," is actually backed in any way by bitcoin.
"We bought bitcoin for our clients at about $9,300 so that worked very well through 2020 and we expect it to continue working well in 2021 as the printing presses continue to run hot," Rogers said in the video.
Through a spokesperson, Tether General Counsel Stuart Hoegner confirmed that Deltec is still the stablecoin issuer's bank.
He later told CoinDesk, "We are aware of recent statements by Deltec Bank & Trust Limited about the purchase of digital tokens for and on behalf of their customers. Tether does not outsource decisions about its reserves. Deltec does not purchase digital tokens for and on Tether's behalf."
Following the publication of this article, an attorney for Deltec, Elisa D'Amico, a partner at K&L Gates LLP, said, "While some of the bank’s customer investment portfolios hold positions in bitcoin products, this is limited mostly to high-net-worth individuals and External Asset Management. In addition, Mr. Hugo Rogers’s statement in the video regarding the investment strategies for some clients had no relation whatsoever to Tether’s depositary assets with Deltec and, in fact, made no reference to Tether at all."
Deltec made headlines in 2018 after Tether published a letter from the bank announcing it had $1.8 billion in cash and other assets, roughly matching the amount of USDT in circulation at the time.
The next year, the New York Attorney General's office revealed that Bitfinex, Tether's sister company through shared ownership and executives, had lost close to $1 billion after its payment processors' bank accounts were frozen and funds seized. Bitfinex had been covering up the losses by borrowing from Tether's reserves, which are meant to back the stablecoins it has in circulation.
The companies are currently under an injunction to cease any further loan activities between themselves, though this injunction is set to expire on Jan. 15.
Tether issuance has been on a tear since the injunction was first handed down, and some $25 billion in USDT are currently in circulation. Bitcoin's price, which some academics and investors allege is buoyed by USDT issuance, has broken new highs, rising past $40,000 per coin as well in recent months.
UPDATE (Jan. 15, 2021, 15:20 UTC): Adds statements from Tether and Deltec attorneys, context and links.