16 Mar 2020
A suspicious death and a frantic race to prevent a body decomposing. A missing £140m. And, in London, frozen HSBC accounts which could solve a year-long, complex mystery that has captivated the internet and ruined thousands.
Welcome to the Quadriga affair, a grim, global treasure-hunt whose clues have surfaced in Portugal and Poland, Israel, India and Britain, with the latest just revealed in New York.
There, on March 5, the former owner of an American football team, Reginald Fowler, stood before a judge and pleaded not guilty to an immense financial scam.
Fowler is alleged to be Quadriga’s “banker” and linked the HSBC accounts. If found guilty, he faces 30 years in jail.
Even so, he is not this twisted affair’s most wanted man. That dubious honour falls to Gerald Cotten, the quiet yet charming co-founder of Quadriga, a trading platform for bitcoin and other “decentralised” cryptocurrencies that bypass central banks and have entranced investors with rollercoaster valuations.
As Fowler stood in court in New York, separate legal proceedings were under way 500 miles further north to allow Quadriga’s 115,000 creditors finally to get their hands on Cotten. There was just one problem: he is officially dead and buried, following a closed-casket funeral service in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Dec 14 2018.
For behind the central mystery of the Quadriga affair – what happened to all the money? – lies a deeper mystery still: Did Cotten, an entrepreneur who spent millions on property and a yacht and plane before his company went bankrupt, really die suddenly in India during his luxurious honeymoon, aged just 30? Or was that an elaborate ruse to put investigators and those owed more than quarter of a billion Canadian dollars off the scent?
In Rajasthan, The Telegraph has tracked down Dr Jayant Sharma, a gastroenterologist, who signed the “death summary” issued for Cotten by the Fortis Escorts Hospital, where he was treated.
Certainly Cotten’s death was very sudden, Sharma says, adding that he was “surprised at how quickly” he deteriorated after being transferred from one of India’s most exclusive hotels – the Oberoi Rajvilas in Jaipur, where he and his new bride, Jennifer Robertson, were staying at a cost of almost $1,000 (£795) a night.
In a statement, Fortis said that Cotten, who suffered from Crohn’s, an inflammatory bowel disease, went into cardiac arrest, only for staff to resuscitate him. When, at 6.30pm on Dec 9, his heart stopped again, there was no way back. Cotten was declared dead at 7.26pm.
There was, Sharma concedes, very little medical follow up. “In retrospect I would have ordered an autopsy or post-mortem.” And though he says he spoke to a doctor who saw Cotten’s body, it is unclear that he saw the body himself. Nor did police investigate, instead they were happy to follow medical opinion that nothing suspicious had happened.
Two days later, a formal death certificate for Cotten was issued by the Rajasthan Directorate of Economics and Statistics. The dead man’s surname is misspelled Cottan – an error which, combined with the fact that India is known for its black market trade in fake death certificates, mostly for those who want to rip off life insurers, fed rumours of a conspiracy among disgruntled creditors, more than 100 of whom have set up an encrypted messaging group to discuss their case.
“Is anyone going to comment on the days after Gerry’s death where everyone knew that Quadriga was broke yet they were given the green light to run a Ponzi scheme scamming millions more,” said one, tagging the creditors’ lawyers, who use the channel to talk directly to their clients.
“I think Gerry offed himself,” another speculated. “Gerry is alive,” suggests a third.
Now, 14 months later, such suspicions have not gone away. Creditors’ lawyers say that only by exhuming his body can they be sure that Cotten really did die. Yet as Canada’s winter snows thaw, they are racing to convince authorities to grant their request before warming temperatures further decompose a body that, if it really is underground, has already spent a year six feet under – making identification harder, or perhaps impossible.
By Margi Murphy, Hasan Chowdhury, Harry de Quetteville and Saurabh Yadav, The Telegraph, 15 March 2020
Read more at The Telegraph
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