Mt. Gox creditors leave Tokyo court frustrated, but with little new information

By Michael Carney , written on July 23, 2014

From The News Desk

Today was a coulda-been type of day for bitcoin as creditors of the now defunct Mt. Gox exchange met with bankruptcy trustee Nobuaki Kobayashi in a Tokyo court, leaving with more questions than answers. It was the first chance for an in-person discussion between these two sides. Approximately 100 of the exchange’s reported 127,000 creditors were in attendance, most traveling from within the country.

The private proceedings were held in Japanese with all English-speaking attendees told to provide their own interpreters (the court later provided a written English summary). Kobayashi (no, not the hot dog guy) spoke for approximately 30 minutes and then answered questions for another 90, according to attendees. With the majority of the exchange’s creditors located outside Japan, it was also unfortunate that there was no video streaming or remote Q&A option available. The court previously rejected requests to conduct open proceedings and instead went the other direction by banning audio or video recording and photography.

On the positive side, creditors learned that Kobayashi is amenable to distributing the exchange’s remaining funds – amounting to 200,000 recovered bitcoins – as bitcoin, rather than converting them to Japanese yen. This is viewed as favorable by many as it would keep open the possibility of currency appreciation (or depreciation) going forward and similarly avoid introducing significant selling pressure on bitcoin should the coins be liquidated in the open market. An unofficial vote by raise of hands in the courtroom indicated that nearly 70 percent of creditors in attendance preferred this option, a vote that was met with a round of applause.

Kobayashi also informed attendees that he has plans to meet with prospective buyers for Mt. Gox’s assets, including presumably Bitcoin Foundation board member Brock Pierce’s Sunlot Holdings and Tokyo-based BitOcean Japan. The trustee was quoted as saying that he would consider each proposal on its own merit, while former Mt. Gox CEO Mark Karpeles has gone on the record as stating that he views BitOcean as the best of the current proposals.

Karpeles, who was in attendance at today's hearing, only spoke to give a brief apology at Kobayashi’s request. It was likely little consolation from the man who most blame almost entirely for the losses of as much as 850,000 BTC from Gox – a sum worth as much as $1.5 billion at bitcoin’s December 2013 peak and $527 million at today’s price of $622 (an improvement from the $474 million value at the time of the February bankruptcy filing).

Karpeles told the WSJ following the meeting:

I am really sorry for what happened and will do my best to make the outcome of the bankruptcy as best as possible. I really hope everyone recovers what they lost and that the culprit is caught.
The former CEO told Japan’s Asahi newspaper, “I wish I'd steered (the company) in a better direction,” later adding that he plans to continue operating Mt. Gox parent Tibanne Co. and aims to “use the profits made there to help the creditors."

Where the meeting fell short was in providing any clarity in what happened to the missing Mt. Gox assets, with Kobayashi giving variations of the answers, “that’s confidential” and “that’s still under investigation.” This follows a pattern of what many feel has been a process lacking transparency and communication. Kobayashi has provided semi-regular updates via the Mt. Gox website, but most have lacked detailed information about the ongoing investigation and liquidation proceedings.

Many have accused the trustee of having limited technical understanding of bitcoin, and therefore express limited hope that he will be able to lead a successful investigation into this complicated situation. Kobayashi has retained accounting firms, Deloitte and Touche Tohmatsu and ReEx Accounting to aid in the investigation.

Creditors also left without any concrete understanding of the expected timeline for the remaining bankruptcy proceedings. It has now been five months since Gox’s February closure and few feel any closer to understanding what happened at the once leading exchange or to receiving even partial compensation for their losses. Several creditors in attendance, including BitOcean co-founder Daniel Kelman, spoke of the desire to form a court certified creditor’s committee through which to advocate for their rights and wishes as the bankruptcy proceeds.

It’s little surprise that the multi-hundred million dollar bankruptcy of a clandestine, global crypto-currency exchange would move slowly. This is nothing if not a first time experience for the Japanese court system. But given this fact, it does seem as if the court could to more to leverage outside expertise in the matter, including recruiting assistance from experts within the bitcoin community or fellow law enforcement bodies like the FBI or Secret Service, both of which regularly investigate financial and computer crimes.

The bitcoin price has remained relatively steady in recent weeks, holding above $600 since Silicon Valley VC Tim Draper outspent all bidders in a US Marshals Service-run auction of 27,000 bitcoin seized from Silk Road. The Mt. Gox bankruptcy proceedings appear to be having little impact on the price with trading forming a tight band between $618 and $620 over the last 24 hours.

There is no word yet on the timing of the next creditor’s meeting in this Mt. Gox case or on when, if ever, we might expect additional clarity on what really happened behind closed doors. Until then, at least those in the bitcoin community will have plenty of unanswered questions to keep them company.