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Quadriga CEO Gerald Cotten dies, leaving $145 million of cryptocurrency locked away

CNN logo CNN 2/5/2019 By Daniel Shane, CNN Business
Hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of digital currencies have been stolen by hackers over the last couple of years.© Dan Kitwood/Getty Images Hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of digital currencies have been stolen by hackers over the last couple of years.

The death of a Canadian entrepreneur has left a huge stash of cryptocurrencies locked off from the people who own them.

Quadriga, Canada's biggest cryptocurrency exchange, said it's unable to gain access to $145 million of bitcoin and other digital assets after Gerald Cotten, its 30-year old CEO and co-founder, died of complications arising from Crohn's Disease while traveling in India.

Manyof the digital currencies held by Quadriga arestored offline in accounts known as "cold wallets," a way of protecting them from hackers. Cotten appears to have been the only person with access to the wallets, according to court documents cited by Canadian media and posted online by cryptocurrency news site CoinDesk.

The unusual case highlights the risks investors face looking after their assets in the thinly regulated industry.

Cotten's death has plunged Quadriga into crisis and left it struggling to figure out how to refund more than 100,000 of its users.

The company filed for creditor protection in the Nova Scotia Supreme Court on Thursday.

"For the past weeks, we have worked extensively to address our liquidity issues, which include attempting to locate and secure our very significant cryptocurrency reserves held in cold wallets," Quadriga said in a statement on its website. "Unfortunately, these efforts have not been successful."

Robertson said in the affidavit posted online that the laptop that Cotten used to run the currency exchange is encrypted.

"I do not know the password or recovery key," she said. "Despite repeated and diligent searches, I have not been able to find them written down anywhere."

The company has hired tech experts in an attempt to hack into Cotten's laptop and other devices to retrieve the missing cryptocurrencies, but Robertson warned that at least some of them "may be lost."

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Quadriga also owes about 70 million Canadian dollars ($53 million) in cash that it's unable to pay back, she said, citing difficulties accessing funds through the traditional banking system.

Quadriga and a lawyer representing Cotten's widow, Jennifer Robertson, didn't immediately respond to requests seeking comment late Monday.

A court hearing on Quadriga's financial difficulties is scheduled for Tuesday in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

While the case is unusual, it isn't the first time the cryptocurrency industry has been hit by security concerns. Hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of digital currencies have been stolen by hackers over the past few years.

The spectacular boom and bust in the prices of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have presented a quandary for governments around the world, which have taken differing approaches in trying to regulate their use.

Janet DiGiacomo and Jethro Mullen contributed to this report.

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