Crypto company can't access $137 million because dead owner didn't share passwords

By Jason Silverstein

/ CBS News

Bitcoin, Blockchain, Buzz

A Canadian cryptocurrency company is being haunted beyond the grave by its late founder's password security — because no one else knows how to access its funds.

The widow of Gerald Cotten, founder and director of QuadrigaCX, said in a court filing last week that Cotton never shared his business passwords before his unexpected death in December 2018. That leaves the company and more than 100,000 customers frozen out of more than $180 million in Canadian dollars, or about $137 million American.

"The laptop computer from which Gerry carried out the Companies' business is encrypted, and I do not know the password or recovery key," Jennifer Robertson said in a sworn statement first reported by Coindesk. "Despite repeated and diligent searches, I have not been able to find them written down anywhere."

Robertson said Cotten, who had "sole responsibility" for the Vancouver-based company's money, stored most of it in "cold wallets" that are not connected to the internet. This is meant to protect the money from hackers — including those who are now trying to help the company recover its assets. Cotten's widow said she had an expert try hacking into the founder's computers and encrypted email, but to no avail.

The filing said Quadriga has still been accepting funds since Cotton's death, and the company is struggling to completely cut off automatic transfers. It warned that customers might take legal action against Quadriga if the problem continues.

Cotten died in India at age 30 from complications with Crohn's disease. The company said he was planning to open an orphanage when he passed.

QuadrigaCX took down its website last week and replaced it with a statement saying it had filed for creditor protection "to allow us the opportunity to address the significant financial issues that have affected our ability to serve our customers." A court hearing is set this week to appoint an independent third-party to oversee the process.

First published on February 4, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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