UPDATE (July 23, 22:00 UTC): This article has been updated several times since initial publication as new information became available.
If, as the saying goes, any publicity is good publicity, then Tuesday was a great day for Tron CEO Justin Sun.
The 28-year-old entrepreneur has been the talk of the crypto community for the last 24 hours, starting with Monday night’s announcement that a bout of kidney stones led him to postpone a long-awaited lunch with finance titan Warren Buffett.
Then came reports suggesting that the rescheduling was due to legal rather than medical problems. For a few hours, seemingly everyone on crypto Twitter believed Sun was in China, barred from leaving by the government amid accusations of lawbreaking.
But that narrative was seemingly debunked in the afternoon, when a live video broadcast showed Sun in what appeared to be a San Francisco high-rise, the Bay Bridge in the background, joking that he wished he were in Miami.
It was a roller-coaster ride befitting the volatile crypto space, where it’s often hard to know what’s real, even by 2019 standards.
Stepping back, the lunch was the prize for winning a charity auction. Sun bid $4.6 million earlier this year and seemingly intended to introduce the notoriously crypto-skeptical Buffett to a number of influential figures in the space. The Glide Foundation, which helps the homeless of San Francisco, received the money on June 5, according to Tron.
As of Monday, Sun had lined up Circle’s Jeremy Allaire, Huobi’s Chris Lee, eToro’s Yoni Assia and litecoin creator Charlie Lee to join him with the Oracle of Omaha on July 25.
The specific subjects to be discussed during the steak meal were not disclosed; however, Buffett has famously called bitcoin “rat poison squared,” and made a number of other unflattering remarks about cryptocurrencies.
Sun, himself a controversial figure, is the creator of the Tron blockchain protocol and head of its namesake foundation. He persuaded Buffett to move the charity lunch from its traditional New York location to the Bay Area.
Then, late Monday, the Tron Foundation announced the postponement, saying Sun had fallen ill with kidney stones and that the parties had “agreed to reschedule at a later date.”
Reports from China
Hours later, a Chinese business news outlet suggested that the matter might not be so straightforward.
The 21st Century Business Herald published an article accusing Sun of illegal fundraising via the Tron project. It also alleged the Tron network operated illegal gambling services accessible to Chinese residents and further took aim at Sun’s early startup Peiwo, a social app, accusing it of illegal involvement in the pornography business.
The media outlet stated that it has confirmed with multiple sources that Justin Sun was inside mainland China.
“Without a clear answer to these questions raised, will Justin be able to have this $4 million meal?” the article asked, implying Sun may not be able to leave the country without addressing the alleged issues.
Shortly afterward, Sun responded via his Weibo account to deny the allegations made by the 21st Century Business Herald.
“The illegal fundraise accusation is wrong. Tron complied with regulators and refunded investors on Sept. 20 in 2017, immediately after the order [of a ban on initial coin offerings] from seven ministries in China,” Sun wrote, adding:
“The Tron foundation is based in Singapore in compliance with local regulations and laws … and does not involve any flow of capital, or any crypto or fiat currency onramp.”
Sun’s response did not include any detail regarding his whereabouts, however, and he did not respond to CoinDesk’s inquiry about his current location.
Then came a second story out of China, this one from an outlet that is often widely cited by Western media.
Caixin, based in Beiling, reported that Sun was under Chinese government control, meaning he was not facing formal charges but was not allowed to leave the country. The article, later published in English translation, repeated some of the allegations from the earlier 21st Century Business Herald story. CoinDesk cited and linked to Caixin’s article in our coverage, as did other news outlets.
A collective groan could be heard throughout the industry.
Guys, seriously. We look ridiculous rn
— Hailey Lennon (@HaileyLennonBTC) July 23, 2019
nice job everybody
— Neeraj K. Agrawal (@NeerajKA) July 23, 2019
But according to Cliff Edwards, director of global communications at the Tron Foundation, the Caixin story was bunk.
“That report’s totally inaccurate, and we posted a photo, several photos today of Justin in San Francisco,” Edwards told CoinDesk.
Live from SF
To put the matter to rest, Sun broadcast a Periscope video, in which he panned the camera around as evidence of his location, showing off the Bay Bridge – not the Golden Gate Bridge, he noted – in the background.
“I’m not feeling quite well but I think we gonna postpone [the lunch] but definitely looking forward to it,” Sun said, adding:
“It’s pretty comfortable in San Francisco.”
Describing Sun’s current kidney stone episode, Edwards told CoinDesk, “some moments you’re in excruciating pain, some moments you’re fine.”
Tronix, the native token of the Tron network, slid 11 percent Tuesday amid all the confusion. Stellar’s XLM just passed it to become the 10th largest crypto by market capitalization – $1.68 billion versus $1.67 billion, according to CoinMarketCap.
Tron had scheduled Thursday’s lunch with Buffett to coincide with a party to celebrate the anniversary of the company’s acquisition of BitTorrent. A slate of events is still planned for Thursday, sans Buffett, Edwards confirmed.
Zack Seward contributed reporting.
Justin Sun image via CoinDesk