A group of Bitcoin investors are pushing for criminal charges against individuals who run a cryptocurrency platform in South Africa suspected to have been fraudulent, in a case that might prove challenging to prosecute.
The investors are seeking the arrest of brothers Raees and Ameer Cajee, aged 21 and 18, who operated the company, but haven’t been seen publicly since the scandal broke. That’s even after a mystery benefactor emerged to repay some of the lost cash.
A final decision to go forward with any prosecution hasn’t been made. If authorities decided to go ahead with plans to prosecute, an arrest warrant could be issued early this year, according to Sean Peirce of Durban-based Coast to Coast Special Investigations, which is representing some of those who lost money and wants the matter to be resolved as soon as possible. Private prosecution could also be pursued, he said.
“We are pushing for the brothers to be charged for fraud, theft, possibly money laundering,” said Peirce in an interview. “They can get 10 to 15 years for a first time offense.”
Africrypt’s lawyer, however, said prosecution may run into headwinds because several of the investors signed agreements to transfer their claims to a Dubai-based firm identified as Pennython Project Management LLC, which offered some payouts to investors. They no longer hold the right to any interest and therefore can’t push for civil or criminal proceedings, Rashaad Moosa said.
The brothers disappeared in April just after $3.6 billion of Bitcoin vanished from the Africrypt platform, although the lawyer who represented them at the time later disputed the amount reported missing. They had earlier informed clients that the company was the victim of a hack, while urging them not to report the incident to authorities.
“They stated that they were hacked and we have proof that they were not,” said Peirce, who represents about 35 traders.
“Their intent was to defraud and to steal.”
For the state to go ahead, they will have to call the very party or investors who allege they have suffered loss, Moosa said. But those claims have been transferred to Pennython for the most part, he said.
While the whereabouts of the Cajees are still unknown, Pennython came forward to offer about 70% to the rand to the burned investors. It said it’s interested in the proprietary software belonging to Africrypt, though the full motivation remains murky.
A number of “investors that I represent got paid out some money,” said Peirce. “However, we are still pushing forward with the criminal case as there is still money lost.”
The Africrypt fallout has shone a light on the lack of scrutiny over the country’s burgeoning crypto industry, which has boomed in popularity since the surge in Bitcoin price a year ago. Another South African crypto company, Mirror Trading International, collapsed in 2020, with losses totaling about $1.2 billion.
The country’s financial regulator is planning to unveil a framework covering cryptocurrencies early this year to help protect vulnerable members of the society, it said last month.
Peirce was brought in by one of his friends who also put money in the venture to help investigate Africrypt and build a criminal case. Other investors in the Durban area joined the plan to try and get the brothers jailed.
There has been cooperation between the investigators and South African authorities, including the Hawks and the National Prosecuting Authority, said Peirce. The mystery investor has previously asked that any criminal complaints be dropped if an agreement was reached during a liquidation process, though Peirce said that’s not an option.
© 2022 Bloomberg L.P.