Bitcoin Addresses Tied to Defunct Canadian Crypto Exchange QuadrigaCX Wake Up

More than 100 BTC tied to QuadrigaCX moved out of cold storage wallets over the weekend. Quadriga’s bankruptcy trustee said three years ago it did not control those wallets at the time.

AccessTimeIconDec 19, 2022 at 10:01 p.m. UTC
Updated Dec 20, 2022 at 9:41 p.m. UTC

More than 100 bitcoins tied to the defunct Canadian crypto exchange QuadrigaCX were transferred out of cold wallets thought to be beyond anyone’s control over the weekend, after sitting dormant for more than three years. The company's bankruptcy trustee, Ernst and Young, did not initiate the transfers, CoinDesk has learned.

QuadrigaCX went bankrupt in 2019 after the apparent death of founder and CEO Gerald Cotten. At the time of its collapse, Quadriga was believed to have owed thousands of customers nearly $200 million in various cryptocurrencies – a staggering failure for what was once Canada’s largest crypto exchange.

EY, which is acting as the trustee for Quadriga’s estate, announced in February 2019 that it lost control of about 100 BTC after mistakenly sending the coins to Quadriga-operated cold wallets that the Big Four financial services firm said it couldn’t access. At the time, the bitcoin was worth around $355,000 (C$470,000).

The bitcoin in these addresses remained frozen until last Friday, when the coins in all five addresses left between 6:52 p.m. ET and 7:14 p.m. ET.

Magdalena Gronowska, a bankruptcy inspector and member of Quadriga's creditor committee, said the funds were not moved by EY.

In total, 104.34 BTC worth around $1.7 million (C$2.4 million) at press time has left Quadriga’s wallets. Many of these funds appear to have been distributed to different wallets.

The amounts sent from each wallet match the amounts sent to those wallets in 2019. The wallets in question are:

Blockchain sleuth zachxbt said on Twitter that the majority of these funds, nearly 70 BTC, appear to have gone to Wasabi, a coin mixing service. It is unclear why EY, a well-established financial services institution, might want to use a crypto mixing service, whose primary purpose would be to obfuscate the source and destination of funds.

"Bankruptcy Inspectors are aware Quadriga funds have moved. Thank you to blockchain investigators for following flows, we're working to gather more information and I hope we are able to recover stolen funds," Gronowska said.

A spokesperson for EY and an attorney with Miller Thomson, which represents Quadriga's creditors, did not return requests for comment.

In early reports, EY said that Cotten, as the sole proprietor of Quadriga in its waning days, was the only person who could access its funds. Investigators claimed that Cotten did not maintain clear records, part of why the effort to recover customer funds is dragging into a fourth year.

The Canada Revenue Agency, the nation’s tax enforcer, is also investigating the exchange and whether or not it filed its taxes appropriately while it still operated. A person familiar with the matter said the CRA investigation was the main issue preventing the bankruptcy proceedings from continuing.

UPDATE (Dec. 19, 2022, 22:20 UTC): Adds additional detail.

UPDATE (Dec. 19, 20:50 UTC): Adds additional detail and confirmation that EY did not move the funds out of the wallets.


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Nikhilesh De

Nikhilesh De is CoinDesk's managing editor for global policy and regulation. He owns marginal amounts of bitcoin and ether.