Two-and-a-half years after the collapse of Mt. Gox ushered in a multi-year bear market in the world of digital currencies, the trial of former Gox chief executive officer Mark Karpeles began Tuesday in Tokyo. Karpeles pleaded “not guilty” to charges of embezzlement and fraud stemming from the collapse of what was once the world’s most-active platform for buying and selling digital currencies. Some 850,000 bitcoins – then worth around half a billion U.S. dollars – were stolen in the hack, which was disclosed in February 2014, along with $28 million in cash from the exchange's bank accounts, according to Reuters.
“The 32-year-old chief executive of defunct Mt. Gox pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to charges relating to the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of bitcoins and cash from what was once the world's biggest bitcoin exchange.
French national Mark Karpeles filed the plea in response to charges of embezzlement and data manipulation at the Tokyo District Court, according to a pool report for foreign journalists.”
Karpeles was indicted for transferring 341 million yen ($3 million) from a Mt. Gox account holding customer funds to an account in his name during September to December 2013. The prosecution also alleged Karpeles boosted the balance of an account in his name in Mt. Gox's trading system.
In its opening statement to the court, Karpeles' defense team did not dispute that the transfers took place, but denied they amounted to embezzlement. Karpeles told the court he was an information technology engineer.
While the Gox bankruptcy badly damaged the public’s perception of digital currencies – particularly among risk-averse Japanese investors – it did spur Japanese lawmakers to develop a legal framework that officially recognizes digital currencies as legal, regulated assets. It also created a system for grating licenses to digital currency exchanges. Japan this year became the first country to regulate exchanges at the national level, part of a government effort to reestablish its lost influence over the crypto market.
That framework, passed into law earlier this year, officially took effect in April and presaged the entrance of Japanese banks into the digital currencies marketplace.
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However, institutional investors in Japan remain wary, say those running virtual currency exchanges in Tokyo. Only 4 percent of large and mid-sized Japanese firms plan to use bitcoin in the near to medium term, showed a Reuters poll last month.
Karpeles, who disappeared from public view shortly after Gox’s collapse, was rumored to have been the target of a super subpoena, preventing him from discussing Gox or the pending case against him.
But now that the trial is underway, the public may soon receive some long-awaited answers about the hack. Namely: How did hackers infiltrate Mt. Gox? Exactly how long did Karpeles wait to disclose the theft to the public. Mt. Gox subsequently said it had found 200,000 of the missing bitcoins – where were they, who found them, and how?
And, most importantly: Were any Mt. Gox employees complicit in the theft?