Gerald Cotten is a bitcoin millionaire from Canada whose death, supposedly from complications relating to Crohn’s disease, is now being questioned.
Lawyers representing investors in what BBC called the “bankrupt cryptocurrency exchange QuadrigaCX” want Cotten’s body exhumed. That’s because he died at only age 30 in India, leaving behind a puzzling trail of encrypted passwords and missing money.
According to a Lengthy Vanity Fair profile on him, Cotten was “a founder and the CEO of Quadriga, Canada’s dominant Bitcoin exchange…He ran the business from his MacBook Pro, which he always carried with him.”
You can read a lengthy court document from a monitor that assessed the situation after Cotten’s death here.
The report confirms that, after Cotten died, he essentially took the passwords to millions of dollars with him. “The passwords were held by a single individual, Mr Cotten,” the report says, “and it appears that Quadriga failed to ensure adequate safeguard procedures were in place to transfer passwords and other critical operating data to other Quadriga representatives should a critical event materialized.” Here’s another court order relating to the situation.
At stake: “$190m in digital and real-world money owed to customers,” Register reports. However, making things more mysterious, according to Register, Ernst & Young, a company hired to track the money for investors, was eventually “able to access five of Quadriga’s six offline cryptocurrency wallets that supposedly only Cotten could unlock,” but determined that “all five had been cleaned out by April 2018,” with a sixth emptied six days before Cotten died.
You can read the request for exhumation here.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Cotten Died in India, Reportedly of Complications from Crohn’s Disease, Taking the Passwords to a Fortune With Him
According to BBC, questions started swirling when Gerald Cotten “died suddenly last year in India from complications related to Crohn’s disease.”
After he died, the exchange tried, but could not, find “significant cryptocurrency reserves,” BBC reported. The problem was that Cotten, who died at age 30, “was the only person who had passwords to digital wallets containing C$180 million ($137m; £105m) in cryptocurrencies,” according to BBC.
QuadrigaCX then closed. His girlfriend, Jennifer Robertson, claimed that Gerry “died suddenly” while on their honeymoon in Jaipur, according to Vanity Fair. His date of death: December 9, 2018. Globe and Mail reports that the couple was staying at “Oberoi Rajvilas, a luxurious resort where peacock calls echo across the verdant grounds.”
According to Globe and Mail, which did an exhaustive investigation into Cotten’s death, Cotten complained shortly after checking in that he had pain in his stomach. He was then admitted to a hospital for “symptoms of acute gastroenteritis.” He had vomited 10 times and had a background of Crohn’s disease. He spent the night in the hospital but then deteriorated suddenly.
He went into cardiac arrest and died. He may have had septic shock. He may have perforated his bowel.
Robertson confirmed his death to Globe and Mail and said he was “no stranger to this kind of discomfort.” No autopsy was done. It was considered “medically unusual” according to the doctor because he got sick so fast. Officials weren’t certain of the diagnosis, according to Globe and Mail.
In January 2019, Quadriga wrote in a statement on Facebook, “It is with a heavy heart that we announce the sudden passing of Gerald Cotten, co-founder and CEO of QuadrigaCX. A visionary leader who transformed the lives of those around him, Gerry died due to complications with Crohn’s disease on December 9, 2018 while travelling in India, where he was opening an orphanage to provide a home and safe refuge for children in need.”
2. Online Rumors Claim It’s Possible That Cotten Faked His Own Death
Online conspiracy theories have alleged that Gerald Cotten might have faked his own death and taken the money.
Ernst & Young “alleged Cotten had created Quadriga accounts under different names,” and received “Substantial funds,” according to The New York Post.
That’s the context behind the request to exhume his remains to prove its him, an action sought by QuadrigaCX customers, the Post reported, adding that they want “to confirm both its identity and the cause of death,” claiming the questions about money transfers “further highlight(s) the need for certainty around the question of whether Mr. Cotten is in fact deceased.”
Globe and Mail, though, reported that the fact that Cotten “did indeed die is a certainty among police and medical professionals in India, and The Globe reviewed hotel, hospital and embalming records that give no suggestion of anything abnormal.”
The newspaper added: “Jayant Sharma, the doctor who treated him and produced a medical report about his death, confirmed that the man he saw matched photos of Mr. Cotten.”
3. Cotten Lived a Life of Luxury With a String of Homes, a Plane & Frequent Travel
A Vanity Fair article described how Gerald Cotten went by the name Gerry and had a girlfriend (and eventual wife) who was a property manager named Jennifer Robertson.
“The couple lived in a three-bedroom in Fall River, north of Halifax, a rich suburb only recently carved out of a forest near a long dark lake,” the Vanity Fair article reports, adding that he also owned two other homes and 14 rental properties throughout Canada.
In addition, he owned a single-engine airplane and a Lexus. The article described a glamorous life by a couple who “traveled constantly,” but also wanted to sponsor a home for orphans in India.
CBC reported that Cotten’s widow had agreed “to surrender the contents of his estate and the ‘vast majority’ of her own assets to pay back the company’s jilted clients.” Altogether, 76,319 unsecured creditors claimed they were owed $214.6 million.
“I had no direct knowledge of how Gerry operated the business prior to his death, and was not aware of his improper actions,” she said through a statement to CBC.
According to CBC, what caused concern: “Cotten died with sole knowledge of passwords used to encrypt ‘cold wallets’ — offline storage devices — of various cryptocurrencies. A forensic investigation revealed those wallets were empty, and that Cotten used aliases to transfer clients’ funds into his own accounts.”
4. Cotten’s Parents Were Antiques Dealers
According to Vanity Fair, Cotten grew up in Belleville, in Canada, near Montreal and Canada, and he had a business administration degree from York University in Toronto.
He parents owned an antiques store. He became interested in bitcoin and cryptocurrency after joining a community of like-minded people in Vancouver, Vanity Fair reports.
In 2013, he started QuadrigaCX with a friend. The monitor’s report explained: “Quadriga operated a cryptocurrency exchange platform allowing Users to store, buy and sell various cryptocurrencies from its online operating platform through its website at http://www.quadrigacx.com. Users could transact in Canadian dollars, US dollars (collectively ‘Fiat’), Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash S.V., Bitcoin Cash, Bitcoin Gold, Litecoin and Ethereum (collectively ‘Cryptocurrency’). Quadriga earned transaction fees as a percentage of all Fiat transactions and Cryptocurrency trades on the Platform. Users were not charged a fee to deposit or withdraw Cryptocurrency to or from the Platform.”
5. Cotten Was Described as ‘Careful’ & Pragmatic
A friend told Vanity Fair that Cotten wasn’t evil but rather was “careful and pragmatic.”
“The guy had more money than he knew what to do with,” said Eric Schletz to Globe and Mail. “I’ve seen Gerry walk through an airport with $50,000 in cash. That’s the scale of money the guy had. He was a very reasonable person. But if he was going to spend the money, he was going to buy something nice.”
Quadriga’s statement continued, “Gerry cared deeply about honesty and transparency–values he lived by in both his professional and personal life. He was hardworking and passionate, with an unwavering commitment to his customers, employees, and family.”
It added: “Through his hard work and dedication, Gerry contributed greatly to the growth and development of the Crypto Currency industry. As an expert in digital finance, he was involved with digital payments, currency, and transfers of electronic value for over a decade. In his capacity as CEO, he shared his passion and expertise in digital finance with his management team to successfully grow QuadrigaCX into one of the largest exchange platforms for Crypto Currency in Canada. We are very proud of all that Gerry has accomplished, and are confident that the leadership team at QuadrigaCX will carry on this important work in a manner consistent with Gerry’s vision and values.”