BitConnect founder indicted by Justice Department has disappeared

Satish Kumbhani is being charged for organizing a $2.4 billion Ponzi scheme.

Soe Zeya Tun / reuters

SEC officials do not know the whereabouts of Satish Kumbhani, the founder of crypto trading platform BitConnect, who was charged last week with defrauding investors of $2.4 billion in a Ponzi scheme. This puts the SEC in quite a bind, since they have to serve the 36-year old entrepreneur with his court papers. In a court filing from Monday, the SEC stated that they did not have an address for Kumbhani, an Indian citizen, and suspected that he likely fled to another country.

The DOJ is charging Kumbhani with a number of offenses, including conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit commodity price manipulation and conspiracy to commit international money laundering.

“Kumbhani’s location remains unknown, and the Commission remains unable to state when its efforts to locate him will be successful, if at all," wrote the SEC in its filing.

In order to buy some time, the SEC is asking the US District Court for the Southern District of New York for an extension of 90 days. Since BitConnect is an unincorporated entity and not a formal corporation, all court papers have to be served to Kumbhani himself.

First founded in 2016, BitConnect attracted a lot of attention on social media for its “Lending Program” which allowed users to lend their Bitcoin in exchange for a propriety Bitconnect cryptocoin. The program claimed it could guarantee returns by using investors’ money to trade on the volatility of the cryptocurrency markets."

“Under this program, Kumbhani and his co-conspirators touted BitConnect’s purported proprietary technology, known as the 'BitConnect Trading Bot' and 'Volatility Software', as being able to generate substantial profits and guaranteed returns by using investors’ money to trade on the volatility of cryptocurrency exchange markets. As alleged in the indictment, however, BitConnect operated as a Ponzi scheme by paying earlier BitConnect investors with money from later investors,” wrote the DOJ’s Office of Public Affairs in a press release.

After years of crypto existing in a legally murky universe, U.S. government officials are cracking down on cryptocurrency fraud and scams at an increasing rate. Last year, the DOJ launched a national cryptocurrency enforcement team to handle complex cryptocurrency investigations, and recently appointed veteran cybersecurity prosecutor Eun Young Choi as its director.

BitConnect is just one of many cryptocurrency schemes that law enforcement has pinned down in recent months. The founders of BitMex, a crypto derivatives exchange, plead guilty to skirting anti-laundering laws in the US and were ordered to pay $20 million in fines. Earlier this month, the DOJ arrested Ilya Lichtenstein and Heather Morgan, two entrepreneurs who allegedly attempted to launder more than 25,000 Bitcoins stolen from the 2016 Bitfinex hack.