As new money rushes to trade and invest in cryptocurrency, activity is concentrated in a few power centers. Foremost among them is Bitfinex.
Bitfinex is far and away the world’s largest bitcoin exchange, cumulatively accounting for 15.63 percent of the world’s bitcoin trading volume. In the last 24 hours, the exchange has processed $660 million on its BTC/USD trading pair, with a price of $11,702 per bitcoin.
(Date: December 5, 2017 at 9:31 AM PST)
By trading volume, Bitfinex is also the world’s largest exchange for Ether, the cryptocurrency with the second-largest market cap ($44 billion). Over the last 24 hours, the exchange has processed $117 million on its ETH/USD trading pair. On Bitfinex, Ether trades at $453 per unit, and the exchange cumulatively accounts for a jaw-dropping 21.72 percent of the global Ether trading volume.
(December 5, 2017 at 9:34 AM PST)
You don’t have to be a genius to see that there’s a lot of money passing through Bitfinex and its tiered fee schedule. As such, Bitfinex’s transparency – or lack thereof – has come under fire. With links between Bitfinex and the embattled Tether (a digitized version of the US dollar, now ) emerging from the Paradise Papers, an anonymous critic operating under the screen name “Bitfinexed” has accused the companies of misbehavior.[LK1] [MDS2]
Who are the masterminds behind Bitfinex?
Bitfinex’s Chief Strategy Officer is Phil Potter, an ex-employee of Morgan Stanley, who was fired for boasting about his lavish lifestyle to the New York Times.
Giancarlo Devasini serves as the exchange’s Chief Financial Officer. In 1996, he was caught pirating and selling a substantial volume of Microsoft Software[MDS3] .[MDS4] Not terribly comforting.
But what about the exchange’s Chief Executive Officer?
Apparently, Bitfinex’s CEO is J. L. van der Velde, a Dutch man based in Hong Kong. In corporate documents, he is referred to as Jan Ludovicus van der Velde, but online, he is more frequently listed as Jean-Louis van der Velde.
As reported by Bloomberg’s Matthew Leising this morning, none of the top three executives for Bitfinex have been made available for interviews. So, it’s up to us to do our own legwork.
Unfortunately, the CEO of the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange has left a surprisingly light digital footprint.
A Google Search returned Mr. van der Velde’s sparse LinkedIn page with a semi-blurry headshot. Apparently, he studied at National Taiwan Normal University from 1985 until 1988, though a specific degree is not indicated. Van der Velde only has 116 connections and his work history includes Amos Ltd, Tuxia GmbH, [LK5] [MDS6] and PAG Asia Inc – which appears to be Perpetual Action Group (Asia) Inc. There’s not a lot of information floating around about these companies or their employees – past or present.
The PAG acronym can be surmised from a court filing dated April 5, 2017, which explains, “The owners of Tether Holdings Limited are Giancarlo Devasini, J.L. van der Velde, and DigFinex, Inc. DigFinex, Inc. is owned by J.L. van der Velde, Giancarlo Devasini, Paolo Ardoino, Phil Potter, Stu Hoegner, and Perpetual Action Group (Asia) Inc.”
Further research turned up an executive profile for Mr. van der Velde on Bloomberg but there’s still wasn’t much to go on.
His bio states:
Mr. Jean-Louis van der Velde is the Chief Executive Officer at iFinex Inc. He co-founded Tuxia GmbH in 2000 and served as its Chief Sales Officer, is accountable for its overall sales strategy. Mr. van der Velde heads the worldwide sales team and focuses on delivering TUXIA's innovative technology to OEM's, ODM's, resellers, system integrators Telcos, Cable/Internet Providers, ASPs, and end users. He was initially involved in PC hardware and peripherals, and has more than 14 years of international high tech industry experience and forged a number of key relationships with major manufacturers that have stood him in good stead over the years and increasingly in his latest venture into Thin Client technology and the use of Internet Appliances. Mr. van der Velde attended at University in Taiwan.
Even on Twitter, a search for Jean-Louis van der Velde returned surprisingly few results.
Strangely, “JL Van Der Velde” is listed as the former CEO of Bitfinex on RocketReach. Thus far, we’ve been unable to explain this discrepancy.
But finally, after searching for JL van der Velde on YouTube, I found something encouraging.
An account for “J L van der Velde” posted several videos from National Day Celebrations in Hong Kong dated October 1, 2011. Of course, since Bitfinex is (at least nominally) based in Hong Kong, this looked promising.
J L van der Velde’s subscriptions include six accounts affiliated with RT (formerly Russia Today) media and “kdenninger,” an account for Karl Denninger, who is sometimes referred to as a founding member of the Tea Party movement.
Overall, tracking down information about J. L. van der Velde has proven extraordinarily difficult. Research on social media turned up a few family members for J. L. van der Velde. Family photographs appear to confirm his existence.
It’s great that we found evidence of a warm and loving home life through his extended digital footprint, but the large amount of money at stake through Bitfinex and Tether raises serious questions.
Radio silence from executives and the lack of transparency regarding Bitfinex’s finances appear troubling – the PR agency for Bitfinex and Tether is requiring that interested journalists sign a non-disclosure agreement before reviewing the exchange’s books. It’s important to know who’s in the driver’s seat at major financial institutions – and cryptocurrency exchanges like Bitfinex are no exception. People’s livelihoods are on the line.
All of this should give pause to cryptocurrency stakeholders.