A U.S. court has ordered the head of bitcoin (BTC) pool operator Mirror Trading International (MTI) to pay $3.4 billion in restitution and penalties, the country's top commodities watchdog said in a Thursday statement.
The sum constitutes the highest civil monetary penalty ordered in any case brought by the the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), the regulator said.
The CFTC charged South Africa-based Cornelius Johannes Steynberg with fraud in June 2022, alleging the "controlling person" at MTI accepted 29,421 BTC (valued at more than $1.7 billion at the time of acceptance) from 23,000 Americans for running an unlicensed commodity pool scheme.
MTI is undergoing liquidation in South Africa, according to the CFTC announcement, while Steynberg is a fugitive from South African law enforcement who has been detained in Brazil since December 2021.
The order finds MTI "liable for fraud in connection with retail foreign currency (forex) transactions, fraud by an associated person of a commodity pool operator (CPO), registration violations, and failure to comply with CPO regulations."
In addition to the multi-billion-dollar penalty, Steynberg is permanently prohibited from registering with the CFTC, and trading in any markets regulated by the watchdog.
CoinDesk is an award-winning media outlet that covers the cryptocurrency industry. Its journalists abide by a strict set of editorial policies. In November 2023, CoinDesk was acquired by the Bullish group, owner of Bullish, a regulated, digital assets exchange. The Bullish group is majority-owned by Block.one; both companies have interests in a variety of blockchain and digital asset businesses and significant holdings of digital assets, including bitcoin. CoinDesk operates as an independent subsidiary with an editorial committee to protect journalistic independence. CoinDesk offers all employees above a certain salary threshold, including journalists, stock options in the Bullish group as part of their compensation.