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Cryptocurrency Exchange CEO Died with the Only Key

The crypto space sees bizarre stories every so often. The death of cryptocurrency exchange CEO Gerald Cotten is an example. Read on for the weird bits.

By Jack Malmaris

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date_rangeMarch 30, 2020 remove_red_eye 2116

Was This a Case of Natural Death, Suicide, or Premeditated Murder?

Gerald Cotten founded and headed what was up to about a year ago, Canada’s biggest crypto exchange. He died while touring India in what doctors say were complications arising from Crohn’s Disease. His death threw the cryptocurrency space into a pandemonium. At the time of his death, only he had the keys to the wallets of his exchange; meaning, no one could access the $145 million worth of customers’ deposits that the wallets contained.

Weird Death – Murder, Suicide, or an Accident?

The world is a weird place, or so the analogy goes. Some incidents happen whose circumstances can scare the living daylights out you.

The story highlighted here, for instance, is no ordinary story, you know, the kind where you think tumbling Bitcoins is too much work so you disregard it and compromise your privacy in the process. No, this is about a bizarre death. The kind of death that may pass for murder or one that can be construed as a fake death. The circumstance described here also fits the bill of an accident.

The Announcement

When CNN broke the news of the death of Gerald Cotten, the CEO of QuadrigaCX, the biggest cryptocurrency exchange in Canada, it chose the banner, “A cryptocurrency exchange risks losing $145 million following the CEO’s sudden death. The team that did and edited the article thought that this banner was appropriate probably because no one at QuadrigaCX could access the exchange’s cold wallets.

With the exchange employees locked out, the customers risked losing about $145 million that they had deposited in the exchange. However, that may not be as disturbing as the circumstances surrounding Cotten’s death. The entire story reads like fiction.

At the time of his death, QuadrigaCX had well over 100,000 active users. Soon after the CEO’s passing, the exchange rushed to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court where it got creditor protection. In a statement it posted on its website, the exchange said that it had been involved in a frantic attempt at addressing its liquidity issues. The said measures included finding and securing its significant cryptocurrency reserves. The statement added that none of the efforts the cryptocurrency undertook had been successful.

A copy of the affidavit that Jennifer Robertson, Cotten’s widow posted online, said that the laptop that his husband used to run QuadrigaCX was encrypted. She affirmed that she had no idea what the password was, and repeated and diligent searches in their home and offices had not yielded much. This statement underscores the importance of encrypting devices and abiding by the privacy rules when online. However, that is a story of another day!

The Path to Cotten’s Death

Cotten and Jennifer traveled together to India. They had every intention to honeymoon in Jaipur, the Pink City, or so it would seem. However, they also had to put up a show of sorts.

For the honeymoon, the couple reserved accommodation at the Oberoi Rajvilas, which is described as having a sense of yesteryear. The hotel’s design is inspired by the traditional architecture of the Rajasthani that makes it blend perfectly with modern world conveniences. Reads a lot like the choice destination people of means rather than the self-proclaimed travelers that Mr. and Mrs. Cotten represented themselves as to the hotel’s staff.

The Charity Trip that Never Was!

The reason why the Cottens’ trip to India is shrouded in mystery is that the information they gave does not add up. While leaving Canada, the couple intimated to close friends and business associates that they were embarking on a charity trip. They were meant to open up an orphanage in India.

Granted, they spent about an hour each day at an orphanage but available information shows that the alms they gave to the children’s home are not enough to fix a door. For people of means such as the Cottens, you would expect more. Or maybe ban that had been enforced on crypto trading in India around the time of the visit made it impossible for them to fund their course (…chuckles!)

Take, for instance, the cost of their residence in Jaipur. The accommodation Mrs. Cotten booked costs $923 a night. They had purposed to spend four nights in this facility. For someone willing to splash such an amount, you would expect him to spend a little more on the key reason for the trip!

Moreover, they visited some of the most iconic places in the country, including the Taj Mahal, the bill of which, must have amounted to thousands of dollars.

Either the orphanage was not top of the agenda as they made everyone believe, or it was all for show. Whatever the reason, it stinks of controversy.

The Controversy

After completing an eight-day trip of what would seem like a mixture of tour and philanthropy, the Cotten’s checked into their honeymoon residence at 18:00 on December 8, 2018. Upon arrival, they were greeted by the hotel’s customary chilled towels and flutes of rosewater infusion.

Soon after settling in his room, Gerald complained of an acute stomachache. He was rushed to a nearby private hospital where the doctor diagnosed him with acute gastroenteritis. While taking ill in the manner that Gerald did may not be controversial, the reports his doctor and the morgue attendant that embalmed his body gave, raised two critical queries.

According to Dr. Sharma who attended to Gerald, the patient was feverish with background conditions of Crohn’s disease. His silent diagnosis, however, leaned more towards the traveler’s diarrhea.

Gerald did not exhibit signs of distress. His heart rate and blood pressure were also normal. The doctor saw him off to a monitoring room with just antibiotics. He shared the room with Jennifer.

Later that night, the patient’s condition deteriorated. He developed respiratory distress and became restless. His abdomen became stiff; a sign of perforation, so Dr. Sharma moved him to the ICU. The doctor thought it is highly unusual for Gerald’s conditions could degenerate into perforations.

Later that night, Cotten suffered three cardiac arrests. He was resuscitated twice but lost the battle for life on the third. Dr. Sharma admitted in an interview that it is rare for a person of Cotten’s age and with vitals such as his to die of Crohn’s disease.

The coroner and embalmer’s reports are both inconclusive and sere! The coroner cites several procedural practices that were omitted. He should have gotten some documentation from the hospital citing the cause of death. He vows such documents never got to him. Moreover, there was the hand of the police in the whole affair. He got a call to make papers ready for the body’s passage back to Canada.

Shoddy Dealings

When QuadrigaCX announced the death of its CEO about one month after the fact, there was hue and cry from the exchange’s users. The exchange locked them out of their accounts.

Audits carried out later showed that Cotten was not the shrewd businessman after all. A report by Ernst & Young shows that he may have stolen up to $200 million from the exchange customers’ accounts to fund his lifestyle.

The Amended Will

Details from a Nova Scotia publication show that Gerald amended his will just before leaving for India. The wife said he did this following advice from his lawyer. However, amending a will, suffering a heart attack and dying of Crohn’s disease is not the preoccupation of a 30-something-year-old healthy, well-to-do individual.

While the narrative has delved much into the investigative, a keen crypto enthusiast may have picked something far removed from the death of the Canadian entrepreneur. His staff was not able to gain access to the cryptocurrency reserves because his computer was encrypted. This shows just how important it is to encrypt devices for privacy.

Apart from the norm that a cryptocurrency holder lives by; tumbling Bitcoins, insisting on using only the best Bitcoin Mixer and abiding by the principles of anonymity, encrypting your devices is just as important.

The reports this writer perused indicate that Cotten did set up a “dead man’s switch” on the machine he used to run the exchange. This feature is supposed to forward the passwords to a nominated individual should some fatal misfortune befall the primary administrator.

If it is true he did, how come no one at QuadrigaCX was able to access the reserves? Is it possible it was forwarded to someone outside the QuadrigaCX circles? Is this the reason why some of the users were propagating the theory that Cotten may have faked his death?

A lot is still undefined and investigations continue into what is the QuadrigaCX conundrum.

In Summary

The circumstances surrounding the death of Gerald Cotten may still be a mystery, however, from the story, a few other things are not. Hopefully, the authorities will get to the bottom of the issue. Quick lessons learned, however, are that encryption is way important that most people think. The simple procedures of privacy that include tumbling Bitcoins, using the best Bitcoin mixer and encrypting devices can shield your wealth from both necessary and unnecessary perusal.

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