Singapore High Court Declares Crypto as Property in Case Involving Bybit

The ruling held that a crypto asset is a “thing in action” enforceable via court orders.

AccessTimeIconJul 26, 2023 at 8:08 a.m. UTC

Singapore’s High Court has recognised crypto as a property capable of being held on trust, in a case involving Seychelles-based exchange Bybit and a contractor, according to a court judgement published on Tuesday.

Bybit brought a case against Ho Kai Xin, claiming that in breach of her employment contract, she abused her position to transfer over 4.2 million USDT (stablecoin issued by Tether) to addresses owned and controlled by her. Ho also transferred a quantity of fiat currency to her own bank account.

“Like any other thing in action, USDT is capable of being held on trust,” Judge Philip Jeyaretnam, who presided over the case, said.

The judge's ruling also referred to a public consultation response published by the Monetary Authority of Singapore on 3 July 2023, which “reflect the reality that it is possible in practice to identify and segregate digital assets,” supporting the view that they can be held on trust.

The judge added that “the holder of a crypto asset has in principle an incorporeal right of property recognisable by the common law as a thing in action and so enforceable in court.” He acknowledged that this conclusion might have an “element of circularity” about it, it is “not strikingly different from how the law approaches other social constructs, such as money.”

“It is only because people generally accept the exchange value of shells or beads or differently printed paper notes that they become currency,” Jeyaretnam said.

“While some people are sceptical of the value of crypto assets, it is worth keeping in mind that value is not inherent in an object,” he added.

The exchange sought a declaration that Ho was holding both the USDT and fiat currency on trust for Bybit. Ho blamed her cousin Jason Teo for stealing the assets from ByBit without her knowledge, claiming that only he owned and controlled those addresses.

The judge accepted on a balance of probabilities that “Jason does not exist (or at any rate did not play the role asserted for him by Ms Ho),” and ordered that Ho transfer assets back to Bybit.

CoinDesk has reached out to Bybit for comment.

Edited by Parikshit Mishra.


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Lavender Au

Lavender Au is a CoinDesk reporter with a focus on regulation in Asia. She holds BTC, ETH, NEAR, KSM and SAITO.