Japanese bank accused over bitcoin losses

Mizuho Bank added as a defendant to US lawsuit against bankrupt exchange Mt Gox

A twenty-five bitcoin, right, and one bitcoin are arranged for a photograph in Tokyo, Japan. Photo: Bloomberg

A twenty-five bitcoin, right, and one bitcoin are arranged for a photograph in Tokyo, Japan. Photo: Bloomberg

Mon, Mar 17, 2014, 11:03

Mizuho Bank, one of Japan’s largest lenders, has became ensnared in North American legal fallout from Mt Gox, once the world’s biggest bitcoin exchange, which collapsed last month after losing nearly half a billion dollars worth of customers’ digital currency.

Lawsuits in the United States and Canada represent a new legal front - and a deep-pocketed defendant - in the battle over Mt Gox, which claims hackers stole huge amounts of its own and its customers’ assets.

Mizuho, the core unit of Mizuho Financial Group, was added as a defendant on Friday to an existing US lawsuit against Mt Gox for allegedly aiding in a fraud by providing banking services to the exchange.

Also on Friday, Mizuho was named in a class-action lawsuit in Canada against Mt Gox, alleging a lengthy security breach at Mt Gox resulted in “the pilfering of millions of dollars’ worth of its users’ bitcoins.”

A Mizuho spokeswoman in Tokyo declined comment on the lawsuits, filed in Chicago federal court and the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.

Tokyo-based Mt Gox closed its virtual doors on February 25 and three days later filed for Chapter 11-style bankruptcy protection with a Japanese court.

The company said it had likely lost all 750,000 customer bitcoins it was holding, as well as 100,000 of its own and 2.8 billion yen in cash. That represents $567 million of vanished assets at current market prices, as well as about 7 per cent of the bitcoins in circulation.

Mt Gox blames systematic attacks on what it acknowledges was lax computer security. Customers - more than 99 per cent of whom are non-Japanese - suspect a massive fraud.

Mizuho held non-bitcoin currency on behalf of Tokyo-based Mt Gox and its customers, according to the amended US complaint by Gregory Greene, an Illinois resident who has said he lost $25,000 when Mt Gox shut down.

The US suit accuses Mizuho of knowing of Mt Gox’s fraud, of not segregating funds that belong to Mt Gox from those of its customers and of continuing to provide banking services that inflated losses for bitcoin customers.

“Mizuho profited from the fraud,” said the complaint.

The Canadian plaintiffs allege that “all non-bitcoin currency received by the Mt Gox defendants from its users was held in an account or accounts” at Mizuho.

However, the bank was trying to close the exchange’s account.

An unnamed Mizuho manager at Mizuho bank, in a recording leaked on the internet, asks Mark Karpeles, Mt Gox’s 28-year-old French CEO, to close his firm’s account with the bank, citing compliance issues and moves by other banks to cut ties with the exchange.

The recording was confirmed as authentic by a person familiar with the situation.

If Mizuho had to close the account forcibly, the manager warned, it could damage Mt Gox’s business.