Reuters has revealed allegations that MtGox used client holdings to funds its operations. This is the next of several theories to explain the disappearance of over $450 million worth of bitcoins. It can also explain the disappearance of over $27 million in fiat, which cannot be explained based on theories of hacking.
As Bitcoin or its exchanges have no regulation, there is nothing forcing such a business to maintain separate accounts for its own and its clients’ holdings, as is required for fiat-based financial institutions.
The allegations come from current and former employees of the now-defunct exchange. The highlight is a meeting with Mark Karpeles in 2012 requested by employees suspecting customer funds had been diverted operating costs. Karpeles denied such allegations but refused to provide details on how the business covers any losses.
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Some of the expenses include: rent in the Tokyo high-rise which also housed offices for the likes of Hulu and Google; gadgets such a 3D printer and a robot; and a Honda Civic rejigged for high performance racing, driven by Karpeles.
Not to mention Bitcoin Cafe: It was reportedly styled as a French Bistro at the bottom of the building housing MtGox’s offices. It was to have a cash register retrofitted by Karpeles to accept payments using Bitcoin. It was to open by end of last year but thus far has not.
Karpeles, with his 80% stake in the company, was the only one with access to its financial records. Following the meeting, he is said to have believed that he thwarted a key challenge to his leadership by staff who had no right to see the books.
If true, it is probable that MtGox’s fall was caused by a combination of the above and some unexpected event, such as a theft or a hacking. It seems unlikely that such a tremendous shortfall can be caused by am operating loss alone. This would also explain the language in one of their earlier updates after they ceased to operate, where separate references were made to a theft and the scale of losses experienced, but without exclusively linking the two- suggesting there’s more to the story.