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比特币交易所因失窃而倒闭,老板背负骂名寻找真凶

Jen Wieczner 2018年05月01日

他曾是全球最大的比特币交易所掌门人,后遭遇离奇失窃案倒闭。随着线索不断浮现,比特币价格水涨船高,马克·卡皮尔斯也在努力破案。

Mt. Gox历史改变的那一刻来得悄无声息。当时Mt. Gox还是全世界最大比特币交易所,首席执行官马克·卡皮尔斯在豪华复式公寓里独自一人,身边只有宠物虎斑猫,公寓窗外是东京全景。2014年3月7日晚上,Mt. Gox宣布价值4.73亿美元的85万个比特币失窃,占当时全世界比特币总数的7%,那一晚卡皮尔斯几乎无眠。Mt. Gox办公室前挤满了抗议者和摄像人员,比特币价格一泻千里,这位向来镇定的法国人把自己软禁在房间里,每日烤些喜欢的奶油糕点充饥,一边读着互联网各角落涌来的咒骂邮件,大部分都骂他偷了自己的钱。直到今日,Mt. Gox被黑还是比特币简短历史上最惨烈的灾难。

直到律师回家,卡皮尔斯才有时间回到电脑前,在屏幕上查看可怕的数字。公司崩溃后,他花了好几天系统地检查Mt. Gox的旧数字钱包,也就是用于访问比特币的字母数字秘钥存储的地方。他一个个找,找了十多个全是空的。但这次,区块链扫描软件运行六个小时候,悄然显示一个意想不到的数字:他发现存在云端的20万个比特币,显然已经遗忘三年,从来没动过。

The moment that would change the history of Mt. Gox came without so much as a beep. Mark Karpelès, the CEO of what until recently had been the world’s biggest Bitcoin exchange, was finally alone, save for his tabby cat, in his palatial penthouse with a panoramic view of Tokyo. It was the evening of March 7, 2014, and Karpelès had barely slept in the week since Mt. Gox had sought bankruptcy protection, announcing that 850,000 of its Bitcoins, worth some $473 million at the time—and representing 7% of all Bitcoins then in existence—had somehow disappeared. With protesters and camera crews swarming in front of Mt. Gox’s office and the price of Bitcoin in free fall, the usually unflappable Frenchman had been confined to a self-imposed house arrest, subsisting on the buttery pastries he liked to bake and reading the hate mail that flooded in from all corners of the Internet—most of it accusing him of stealing the money himself. Today the Mt. Gox hack remains the worst disaster in Bitcoin’s short history.

It wasn’t until his lawyers had gone home for the day that Karpelès could retreat to his computer, and that’s when he noticed the shocking number on his screen. Following his company’s collapse, he’d spent days methodically double-checking Mt. Gox’s old digital wallets, where the secret alphanumeric keys for accessing Bitcoins are stored. One after another—a dozen so far—the wallets had come up empty. But this time, when the blockchain-scanning program finished running after six hours, it had silently served up an unexpected result: He’d found 200,000 Bitcoins, stashed away in an archived file in the cloud—apparently forgotten and untouched for three years.

马克·卡皮尔斯在东京新宿区。曾担任Mt. Gox首席执行官的卡皮尔斯之前把笔记本电脑忘在公园长凳上都不担心,但现在包不离手就怕被偷。图片来源:Eric Rechsteiner for Fortune

接受《财富》几次采访时,卡皮尔斯第一次完整分享了Mt. Gox最后时刻发生的事,包括如何突然找到20万个比特币。

遗忘的比特币失而复得成了Mt. Gox用户弥补损失的唯一机会。还有65万个比特币失窃,怎么丢的大家都清楚,是一些黑客干的。但卡皮尔斯还是在加密货币圈声名扫地。虽然新出现的证据显示他不用担罪,法律如何判决尚无定数。

讽刺的是,现在卡皮尔斯认为找回20万个比特币并不算幸运。因为这些比特币引发了争议,他在想如果当初没找到会不会更好。“当时我觉得找到这些币对大家是好事,”32岁的卡皮尔斯说,虽然在日本生活了近九年,但说话仍带着浓重的法国口音。“现在却成了争议的主要原因。”

对很多人来说,比特币失而复得这个迟来的好消息有些让人不敢相信,也让向来冷静,从程序员变为大亨的卡皮尔斯显得更加心虚。会不会他只是从小金库里吐出了一些,好让人们少找他麻烦?很快人们发现更多怀疑他的理由:泄露的交易记录中有一个明显是Mt. Gox内部账户,现在一般被称为“Willy bot”,该账户会故意虚增账户余额,然后用来买比特币。如果Mt. Gox缺比特币,Willy就会帮忙补上。有时也用另一种方式交易,即卖出借来的比特币套现。批评者推测,一旦失败,此举便是采用欺诈方式维持Mt. Gox经营。

Willy bot可疑交易行为曝光后,2015年8月卡皮尔斯被捕,罪名为操纵电子数据。去年夏天他在法庭上承认他声称的“义务交换”,但不承认有违法行为。在监狱待了近一年后,目前卡皮尔斯在东京受审,罪名包括贪污和违反信任原则等,但都与比特币失窃无关。

意料之外的转折却让卡皮尔斯担心。Mt. Gox倒闭到2014年4月清算期间,比特币价格下跌了超过20%到483美元。两年半后比特币价格才回到之前高点,时间很长,所以很多Mt. Gox的受害者觉得丢的钱不太多,所以没有提起索赔。但去年初比特币终于突破之前高点。5月底比特币价格已接近2200美元,Mt. Gox剩下的202185个比特币价值已远超任何索赔金额。12月比特币价格达到2万美元时,Mt. Gox的资产(当时还包括比特币现金等衍生品)激增至44亿美元,达到当初Mt. Gox宣布损失的十倍。“宣布破产后,剩下的资产突然升值50倍,真是前所未有,”律师兼Mt. Gox债权人丹尼尔·凯尔曼说,他在东京忙这个案子已经一年。

In a series of conversations with Fortune, Karpelès shared for the first time the full details of what he says really happened in the final days of Mt. Gox—including his account of how he stumbled on the 200,000 Bitcoins.

The surprise discovery would turn out to be, to this day, the only hope Mt. Gox customers have of getting their money back. It’s been proved that the other 650,000 missing Bitcoins were stolen—we now know, by various hackers. But Karpelès continues to be one of the most infamous figures in cryptocurrency. And his legal fate is uncertain, even as new evidence has emerged that largely exonerates him.

Ironically, today Karpelès doesn’t view the retrieval of the 200,000 Bitcoins as a lucky break. They’ve become such a subject of contention, in fact, that he wonders whether it might have been better if they’d remained lost. “At the time, I felt finding these was a good thing for everyone,” recalls Karpelès, now 32, his French accent still strong after nearly nine years in Japan. “But now this is also the main reason why we are stuck fighting.”

To many, the belated revelation seemed too good to be true—making the unemotional programmer-turned-mogul look even guiltier. Was he just coughing up his go-bag in an attempt to wiggle out of trouble? Soon, they had even more reason to suspect him: Leaked trading records suggested that what could only be an internal Mt. Gox account—widely known today as the “Willy bot”—was artificially inflating its account balance and using the money to buy Bitcoins. When Mt. Gox ran low on Bitcoins, Willy helped make up the shortfall. Sometimes its trades went the other way, selling borrowed Bitcoins to generate cash. Critics speculate that it was a fraudulent, if failed, exercise to keep Mt. Gox afloat.

That suspicious activity by the Willy bot led to Karpelès’s arrest in August 2015 on charges of manipulating electronic data; he admitted in court last summer to running what he called the “obligation exchange” but disputes doing anything illegal. After spending almost a year in jail, Karpelès is currently on trial in Tokyo, facing criminal allegations such as embezzlement and breach of trust, all unrelated to the missing Bitcoins.

But it was an unforeseen twist that today is causing Karpelès the greatest angst. Between the time Mt. Gox shut down and when it entered liquidation in April 2014, the price of Bitcoin had plummeted more than 20% to $483. It would be over two and a half years before Bitcoin would regain its previous high—long enough that many Mt. Gox victims didn’t even bother filing a claim for what they considered an insignificant sum. Then early last year, Bitcoin finally broke its old record. By late May, it was trading at nearly $2,200, making Mt. Gox’s remaining Bitcoins—202,185 to be exact—worth more than everything it owed in claims. When the Bitcoin price peaked at $20,000 in December, the value of Mt. Gox’s assets (by then including Bitcoin derivatives such as Bitcoin Cash) ballooned to $4.4 billion—nearly 10 times the amount Mt. Gox said it lost in the first place. “The fact that you have a bankruptcy where the only asset that it owns goes up by 5,000%, that’s pretty unprecedented,” says Daniel Kelman, a lawyer and Mt. Gox creditor who spent a year in Tokyo working on the case.

2014年马克·卡皮尔斯(右二)宣布Mt. Gox破产。图片来源:JIJI Press/AFP/Getty Images

单独拘禁期间,卡皮尔斯研究了好几个月日本破产法,他知道法律中有个漏洞:根据破产法,大部分资产都要返还给Mt. Gox股东,而他持有88%份额。在当前价格下,这笔横财会让他变身亿万富翁。但同时也意味着没完没了的诉讼和人身威胁,这是宣布个人破产的卡皮尔斯极力避免的。他表示如果收到钱很愿意交出去,但由此产生估计高达60%的税将是灾难性的。

“我从没想过留下这笔钱,”我们3月在东京见面时,卡皮尔斯说。“那样只会更麻烦。”

我们在一家日本咖啡馆二楼,会议室逼仄闷热,卡皮尔斯说跟之前他的牢房比大不了多少。拘禁期间他不能使用电脑,只能用笔记本量牢房打发时间。(释放后,卡皮尔斯还发给朋友一张拘禁期间减掉70磅体重的图表。)这一日,东京终于感觉像春天,樱花四处绽放,但他一直窝在咖啡馆里,因为这里距离各种律师的办公室和破产管理人的办公室差不多,他经常出于对之前客户的“责任感”跟破产管理人会面。他说最近太忙,这天早上都没时间刮胡子。

Mt. Gox名字来自卡牌游戏Magic: The Gathering Online eXchange首字母缩写,正是该游戏2011年启发创始人杰德·麦卡勒布搭建出网站原型。员工印象里,卡皮尔斯从不会因任何事慌乱。他总是坐在震动按摩椅上开会,喜欢用办公室买的3D打印机打印梳子。他回答问题时有句口头禅:“应该没问题。”

但他最近多了一种跟执掌Mt. Gox期间显然不同的黑色幽默。他笑着说,即便现在想买比特币,估计也没有交易所肯卖给他,还有距离上次收到死亡威胁已经几个月了,“创下了新纪录”。不过回忆起2014年2月那些无眠之夜,发现Mt. Gox所有比特币不翼而飞时,他表情很严肃。“我觉得这是一辈子最惨的经历,”他说。但他并不确定当初能不能做得更好。“如果当时我有现在的知识,当然可能处理得更完善,”他口气老练,显然已说过多次。“根据当时我掌握的信息,还有当时的情况,我还是认为已经尽了最大努力。”

至于当时卡皮尔斯究竟掌握哪些信息,还有何时知晓都更像个谜,还有到底是谁偷了那些比特币。比特币的公共记录,也就是区块链允许所有人查询交易记录,从而查看Mt. Gox的比特币去了哪些钱包。但多位专家证实,区块链分析揭露了一项令人不安的事实:2013年中 Mt. Gox的比特币就已失窃,但八个月后才公之于众。

分析显示,宣布破产的时机恰逢Willy bot高速运转四处腾挪,有可能从中看出卡皮尔斯真实目的。“我感觉这是一种回应真相的方式,是的,所有的钱都没了,” Chainalysis首席执行官迈克尔·格罗纳杰表示。当时Mt. Gox破产管理人聘请Chainalysis调查比特币失窃真相。但这也是为何他相信卡皮尔斯从未计划带着20万个比特币潜逃。“我认为,如果他在破产之前找到这些币,就不会宣布破产,”格罗纳杰称。他表示,卡皮尔斯原本可以用这些币弥补自己的损失。

2014年Mt. Gox冻结比特币提取后,一位名叫科林·伯吉斯的用户从伦敦飞到东京。由此到Mt. Gox宣布破产的两个多星期里,他天天在交易所总部外举牌抗议,牌子上写着,“MTGOX,我们的钱去哪了?”很快有其他抗议者跟他一起,可见当时世界各地的Mt. Gox用户沮丧之情。

金·尼尔森也很烦恼,但他不太喜欢直接抗议。尼尔森是个性格温和的瑞典软件工程师,留着山羊胡,声音低沉,他也在Mt. Gox持有比特币,之前其实没接触过区块链技术。但他最出名的是研究复杂的软件漏洞。业余时间里,他曾一下午打通超级玛丽2所有关卡。这也是他对待Mt. Gox问题的方式:“就像全世界最大的拼图,要是谁能解决,肯定让世人惊叹。”

After months studying Japan’s bankruptcy code while in solitary confinement, Karpelès knew there was a wrinkle: Under the law, most of that excess would return to shareholders of Mt. Gox, of which he held 88%. At current prices, the windfall would make him a billionaire. It would also mean an interminable nightmare of lawsuits and threats that Karpelès—who is also in personal bankruptcy—is desperate to avoid. He says he’d happily give the money back if it came to him, but the estimated 60% tax triggered in the process would be catastrophic.

“I never expected to get anything out of this,” Karpelès tells me when we meet in Tokyo in March. “It would bring more trouble than anything.”

We’re on the second floor of a Japanese café, in a stuffy meeting room that Karpelès says is not much bigger than his jail cell. Deprived of a computer behind bars, he passed time by measuring the room using the length of his notebook. (After his release, Karpelès sent friends a chart of the 70 pounds he’d lost while detained.) It’s the first day in Tokyo that finally feels like spring, cherry blossoms in bloom, but he has holed up here in the café because it’s roughly equidistant from the offices of his various lawyers, as well as the bankruptcy trustee, whom he meets with regularly out of a sense of “duty” to his former customers. He’s been so busy, he says, he didn’t have time to shave that morning.

Karpelès took control of Mt. Gox—the name is an acronym for Magic: The Gathering Online eXchange, after the trading card game that inspired the original site—in 2011 from founder Jed McCaleb. Employees don’t remember Karpelès ever seeming fazed about anything: He took meetings from a vibrating massage chair and churned out combs using a 3D printer he’d bought for the office. His hallmark reply to questions: “Should be fine.”

But he’s lately developed a sense of gallows humor uncharacteristic of his Mt. Gox days. Even if he wanted to buy Bitcoin today, he doubts he could find an exchange that would take his money, he laughs, and notes that it’s been a few months since he’s received any death threats—“a new record.” He turns serious, though, when he recounts the sleepless nights in February 2014 when he says he first discovered that all of Mt. Gox’s Bitcoins were missing. “I think this really is the worst experience for anyone to have in life,” he says. Still, he’s not sure he could have done the job better. “If I knew at the time what I know today, I would have done things differently, of course,” he says with a practiced tone. “But based on the information I had at the time, and the situation at the time, I still think that I’ve done the best I could do with what I had.”

The question of what Karpelès knew, and when, though, remains more of a mystery than even who stole the coins. Bitcoin’s public ledger, or blockchain, allows anyone to trace the path of transactions, showing the wallets where Mt. Gox’s Bitcoins went. But the same blockchain analysis, multiple experts have confirmed, has also revealed an unsettling fact: By mid-2013, Mt. Gox had already lost all its Bitcoins—eight months before it admitted so publicly.

The timing of this insolvency, analysis shows, coincided with the Willy bot kicking into high gear—perhaps providing a hint as to Karpelès’s true motivations. “I feel that this is a reaction to this revelation that okay, all the money is gone,” says Michael Gronager, CEO of Chainalysis, which was hired by the Mt. Gox bankruptcy trustee to investigate the Bitcoins’ disappearance. Yet it’s also why he doesn’t believe Karpelès was planning to run away with the 200,000 Bitcoins. “I think that had he found them before he went bankrupt, he would never have gone bankrupt,” says Gronager. Rather, he says, Karpelès would have used the hoard to cover his losses.

When Mt. Gox froze Bitcoin withdrawals in 2014, a customer named Kolin Burges hopped a flight from London to Tokyo. For more than two weeks, until Mt. Gox declared bankruptcy, he kept vigil outside the exchange’s headquarters, holding a sign reading, “MTGOX WHERE IS OUR MONEY?” Other protesters soon joined him, demonstrating the frustration of Mt. Gox customers worldwide.

Kim Nilsson was just as vexed, but standing in the snow wasn’t his style. A modest Swedish software engineer with a goatee and a quiet voice, Nilsson, who also owned Bitcoins at Mt. Gox, had never before worked on blockchain technology. But he had a reputation for getting to the bottom of the toughest software bugs; in his off-time, he’d been known to beat all the levels of Super Mario Bros. 2 in an afternoon sitting. And that’s how he approached Mt. Gox: “It was basically just the world’s biggest puzzle at the time—like whoever solves this, imagine the recognition.”

解决Mt. Gox一案的软件工程师金·尼尔森站在东京新宿站附近的街上。图片来源:Eric Rechsteiner for Fortune

他跟Mt. Gox其他一些用户组建了区块链安全公司WizSec,专门查失窃案。虽然公司很快解散,尼尔森还是继续秘密追查,他自学区块链分析技术,不厌其烦地追踪Mt. Gox被偷的钱。虽然一开始尼尔森也查了失窃案中卡皮尔斯有没有参与,但很快发现卡皮尔斯跟他一样想查出真相。在卡皮尔斯最需要朋友的时候,WizSec团队来到他的公寓,还带了做苹果馅饼的配料。很快卡皮尔斯向尼尔森提供了Mt. Gox内部数据协助调查。“真希望是我偷的,这样我就能还回去,”当时卡皮尔斯告诉他们。

接下来四年里,尼尔森估计有一年半花在调查入侵Mt. Gox的黑客。这些努力完全无偿,他在Mt. Gox只有12.7个比特币,是最小的债权人之一。J·莫里斯曾协助创立WizSec,但很快就离开了也没参与调查,在他看来,尼尔森的举动充分体现出比特币的优点——去中心化的系统,没有政府管控,全靠个人用户支持。“金非常谦虚,从来不吹牛,他都没想着发财,只是为了充满热情的项目付出多年努力,”莫里斯说。“这就是比特币的本质。”

2016年初,尼尔森找到一个嫌疑人。他查询被盗资金时发现,Mt. Gox宣布失窃的65万个比特币中,有63万个直接进入同一人控制的电子钱包。此人在Mt. Gox也有账户,用户名叫WME。尼尔森偶然发现比特币在线论坛上一个旧帖子,有个用户名里带WME的人在论坛里发脾气,抱怨另一家加密货币交易所冻结了他的账户。“把清白的钱还给我!”帖子里写道。抱怨时,WME透露他持有一些比特币钱包。但最大的突破出现在该用户发布的一封律师信,信上清晰写着他的真实姓名。像通常找到大发现后一样,尼尔森立刻写信给纽约的美国国税局探员加里·阿尔福德,请他协助抓捕网络罪犯。

7月炎热的一天,警察涌入希腊一个海滩边,抓走了跟家人度假的俄罗斯人。美国联邦检察官指控38岁的IT专家亚历山大·威尼克非法转移53万个Mt. Gox被盗比特币,主要通过名为WME的电子钱包和其他账户。检方还指控他协助经营BTC-e交易所,该交易所主要目的是非法洗钱。调查方称,成立BTC-e可能就是为了洗从Mt. Gox偷的钱。区块链分析显示击垮Mt. Gox的偷窃行为从2011年秋天就已开始,跟BTC-e成立时间差不多。Mt. Gox在线存储库——即所谓“热钱包”的秘钥遭窃并复制,泄露了交易所的存储地址。同为债权人,Chainalysis的格罗纳杰表示,接下来两年里,比特币进入交易所后十分之九皆被盗:“就是说井底有个洞,有人不断通过洞偷钱。”

卡皮尔斯称,由于黑客每次只偷很小数目,而账目整体在增加,所以没留意。“比特币没有减少,”他表示。“只是增加的没那么多。”

尼尔森认为,他能证明威尼克与另外10万个联邦政府没有提到的失窃比特币有关,不过他并不清楚自己有没有帮上政府调查,还是只帮着证明了政府的结论。威尼克反对从希腊引渡,美国起诉书中没有透露另外五名被告名字,美国国税局拒绝就“正在进行的”调查发表评论。但签署该起诉书的前联邦检察官凯瑟琳·霍恩表示,威尼克曾使用比特币,明显有犯罪行为:“一开始看起来无法解决,通过使用比特币就能追溯。”

对卡皮尔斯来说,威尼克被捕证实了长期以来的猜测:2011年Mt. Gox遭受一系列拒绝服务等网络攻击时,俄罗斯比特币交易所管理者是背后主谋。卡皮尔斯说,“他这么做,Mt. Gox是受害方,所有债权人都是受害者,我自己也是受害者。”

威尼克拒绝指控,目前尚未因从Mt. Gox盗窃受到指控。但从规模和持续时间来看,他跟帮着洗钱的盗贼们关系不一般:“我敢说起码他知道该把钱往哪里汇,”尼尔森表示。

该案还带出比较讽刺的笑话:威尼克称失窃的比特币都是立刻出售,比Mt. Gox宣布被黑早很多,所以受害者实际损失的金额比起黑客赚到的金额高得多,据Chainalysis估算,黑客收入约为2000万美元。

一旦比特币转为现金,区块链线索就断了。这意味着即便当局从嫌疑人手中没收比特币,也没法证明这些币来自Mt. Gox。住在亚利桑那州的债权人肖恩·海斯表示,索赔338个比特币会“改变生活”,他补充说,“如果能拿回来一些很高兴,但总会想剩下的那些在哪?”

对伯吉斯来说,最关键在于他的抗议终于有了回应。“我们终于知道比特币去哪了,只是拿不回来,”他说,“在我看来,问题解决了。”

近四年里,乔什·琼斯都认为之前在Mt. Gox的近44000个比特币能找回来。2017年中,比特币价格飞涨,Mt. Gox的资产比之前4.3亿美元索赔金额多出好几倍。去年秋天,Mt. Gox托管人,也代理安全气囊制造商高田公司的顶尖重组律师小林信明透露,根据日本破产法,债权人索赔金额不得超过2014年时的价值:即每个比特币483美元。“简直疯了,”琼斯表示,他的比特币主要是为Bitcoin Builder的客户代持,成立该公司后,在Mt. Gox最后几星期里主要做套利交易。“事情不能这么办。”

琼斯在圣莫妮卡家中什么也做不了,但另一位主要债权人正努力确保比特币完全分配给Mt. Gox受害人。美国人理查德·福尔瑟姆曾在贝恩咨询日本分公司工作,后来在日本成立了首批私募股权公司,他聘请日本最大的律所制定了一项计划:要是Mt. Gox不再处于技术性破产状态呢?11月他们提交请求“民事恢复” Mt. Gox,目前在东京地区法院审理。一位外部审查员2月表示支持该建议。西村朝日合伙人慎福冈(音译)主要负责此案,他相信很快会获批,可能4月底就有消息。“我们相信法院对破产案件中的问题有充分理解,”福冈表示。

当然,他提到的问题也包括大部分Mt. Gox资产应属于马克·卡皮尔斯。“如果最终结果是这样就搞笑了,”Kraken首席执行官杰西·鲍威尔说,Kraken是位于旧金山的比特币交易所,也曾被制定协助调查和分配Mt. Gox索赔案(他自己也是大债权人。)

如果福冈的计划成功,日本将第一次出现因破产“撤销”的公司重新恢复。他表示:“这是非常特殊的情况。”传统的民事恢复案中,只要法院批准,通常要花6个月完成,也意味着乐观情况下,最快今年下半年债权人就可获赔,最理想是通过比特币方式。福冈表示还会考虑在恢复计划中提出进一步调查失窃比特币,希望能多找回一些。(他补充说,CoinLab一项7500万美元的诉讼曾拖延破产进程,可以通过拨出法定准备金避开。)这对托马斯·布拉齐耶尔之类债权人来说将是非常棒的结果,布拉齐耶尔在纽约对冲基金B.E. Capital Management担任董事总经理,他曾以八折价格买下当时价值100万美元的索赔权,估计不管结果怎样都能赚到钱。“当然,如果能顺利恢复就发大财了,能赚8倍,9倍甚至10倍,”布拉齐耶尔说。

对蒙羞多年的Mt. Gox首席执行官来说,这也是解脱,他说这辈子再不碰加密货币:“现在我跟加密货币唯一的关系就是解决破产案,再没别的。”卡皮尔斯说。此外,他也对电子货币最初的承诺失去信心:“我相信,现在比特币已经完蛋了。”

两年前的夏天卡皮尔斯从狱中获释后,每过几个月就要换个公寓,主要担心人身安全。遭拘禁的三个月里,他每天从早到晚接受审讯,拒绝承认日本警方指控的罪行,他还一度被指为神秘的比特币创始人中本聪。虽然他感觉指控力度不强,仍然有可能被定罪,至少第一次审判中有可能。日本的定罪率高达99%,也是少数允许检察官申请两次开释的国家。一两年后,他还是有可能回去坐牢。“出狱后,我感觉一切都像做梦,感觉不到周围的事物是否真实,”他一边吃奶油草莓蛋糕一边说。“直到现在我都不确定。”

He teamed up with some other Mt. Gox customers to launch WizSec, a blockchain security firm dedicated to cracking the case. But while the company quickly dissolved, Nilsson stayed on the case in secret, teaching himself blockchain analysis and painstakingly tracing the money stolen from Mt. Gox. Although Nilsson started off investigating Karpelès’s role in the theft, he soon realized the CEO was just as eager as he was to know what happened. At a time when Karpelès needed friends most, the WizSec team scored an invite to his apartment by offering to bring the Frenchman the ingredients he needed to bake his famous apple quiche. Soon, Karpelès was feeding Nilsson internal Mt. Gox data that could help solve the case. “I wish I had stolen the money, because then I could just give it back,” Karpelès told them at the time.

Over the next four years, Nilsson estimates he spent a year-and-a-half’s worth of full-time hours pursuing the Mt. Gox hackers. He’s never been paid for his work; his 12.7 Bitcoin claim at Mt. Gox makes him one of its smallest creditors. To J. Maurice, who helped found WizSec but left the company early on and was not involved in the investigation, Nilsson’s effort epitomizes the virtues of Bitcoin—a decentralized system free of government control, which relies instead on individual users to sustain it. “Kim is humble, he doesn’t brag, he doesn’t even want to get rich. He’s just working hard on something for years as his passion project,” Maurice says. “That’s what Bitcoin is.”

By early 2016, Nilsson had a suspect. As he tracked the stolen funds, he saw that, of the 650,000 Bitcoins reported stolen from Mt. Gox, 630,000 had gone straight into wallets controlled by the same person. That person also had an account at Mt. Gox, associated with the username WME. Then Nilsson stumbled across an old post in an online Bitcoin forum in which someone with the handle WME had thrown a tantrum, complaining that another cryptocurrency exchange had frozen his funds. “Give [me] my CLEAN MONEY!” read the post. In the process, WME dropped clues that he owned some of the Bitcoin wallets in question. But the big break came when the same user posted a letter from his lawyer, his first and last name visible for the whole world to see. Nilsson, as he routinely did with his findings, dashed off an email to Gary Alford, a special agent with the IRS in New York who has helped catch cybercriminals.

Then one scorching day last July, police stormed a beach in Greece to arrest a Russian citizen vacationing with his family. U.S. federal prosecutors charged Alexander Vinnik, a 38-year-old IT specialist, with laundering 530,000 of the stolen Mt. Gox Bitcoins through his WME wallets and other accounts. They also accused him of helping to run the exchange BTC-e, whose primary purpose was allegedly to launder money. It is plausible, investigators say, that BTC-e was founded specifically to launder funds stolen from Mt. Gox. Blockchain analysis shows that the hack that devastated Mt. Gox began in autumn 2011, around the time BTC-e started up. Keys to Mt. Gox’s “hot wallet”—its online Bitcoin repository—were stolen and copied, compromising the exchange’s deposit addresses. So for the next two years, in nine out of 10 instances, coins were being stolen as soon as they came in, says Chainalysis’ Gronager, who is also a creditor: “It meant that you had a hole in the bottom of the well, and someone was just draining money.”

Karpelès claims he never noticed because the hackers stole small amounts at a time, and the balances generally seemed to move upward. “Bitcoin didn’t exactly decrease,” he says. “It’s just that they didn’t increase as much as they should.”

Nilsson, who believes he has convincingly linked Vinnik to at least 100,000 more Mt. Gox Bitcoins than the feds allege, still doesn’t know whether he helped the government’s investigation or simply confirmed its conclusions. With Vinnik fighting extradition from Greece and five outstanding defendants whose names remain redacted in the U.S. indictment, the IRS won’t comment on the “active and ongoing” investigation. But Kathryn Haun, a former federal prosecutor who signed off on the indictment, says Vinnik’s use of Bitcoin helps clearly connect him to the crime: “At first blush what seemed unsolvable turned out to be traceable through the use of digital currency.”

For Karpelès, Vinnik’s arrest reinforced a long-held theory: that Russian Bitcoin exchange administrators were behind a series of ¬denial-of-service and other cyberattacks that hit Mt. Gox in 2011. Says Karpelès, “What he did, Mt. Gox is a victim of this, which means that all creditors are victims of this, and I am too a victim of this.”

Vinnik, who has denied the charges, has not been charged with stealing from Mt. Gox. But the magnitude and duration of his involvement points to some familiarity with the thieves whose profits he was allegedly laundering: “I assume at least he knows where to send the check,” says Nilsson.

Still, there’s an ironic punch line to the case: Because the stolen Bitcoins were sold right away, allegedly by Vinnik and long before Mt. Gox disclosed the hack, victims lost much more, in dollar value, than the hackers ever made—which, according to Chainalysis, was only about $20 million.

And as soon as the Bitcoins were converted to cash, the blockchain trail was broken. That means that even if authorities seize Bitcoins from the suspects, there won’t be anything to prove they’re from Mt. Gox. Sean Hays, a creditor in Arizona who says his 338 Bitcoin claim would be “life-changing,” adds, “I’ll be glad to have part of it back, but I think there will always be the hunt for where’s the rest?”

But for Burges, the key question that inspired his protest has finally been answered. “We know where the coins went, and we won’t get them back,” he says. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s solved.”

For almost four years, Josh Jones assumed he’d eventually receive his rightful portion of his nearly 44,000 Bitcoins locked inside Mt. Gox. By mid-2017, Bitcoin’s price was soaring, and Mt. Gox had enough to pay out the $430 million it owed in claims several times over. Then last September, Mt. Gox trustee Nobuaki Kobayashi, a top restructuring lawyer also representing Takata in the airbag-maker’s bankruptcy, broke the news: Under Japanese bankruptcy law, the value of creditors’ claims were capped at what they were worth back in 2014: $483 per Bitcoin. “That’s just crazy,” says Jones, who held most of the coins on behalf of his clients at Bitcoin Builder, the service he built to facilitate arbitrage trading at Mt. Gox in its final weeks. “That can’t be how it’s going to work out.”

But while there was little Jones could do back home in Santa Monica, another major creditor took it upon himself to ensure the Bitcoins would be fully divvied up among Mt. Gox victims. Richard Folsom, an American who worked for Bain & Co. in Tokyo before founding one of the first private equity shops in Japan, hired the biggest Japanese law firm and came up with a plan: What if Mt. Gox wasn’t technically bankrupt anymore? Their petition for “civil rehabilitation” of Mt. Gox, filed in November, is now pending before the Tokyo District Court; an outside examiner recommended in its favor in February. Shin Fukuoka, the partner at Nishimura & Asahi leading the effort, is confident it will be approved, as early as the end of April. “We think that the court has sufficient understanding about the problems in the case of proceeding with bankruptcy,” Fukuoka says.

Those problems, of course, include the fact that the majority of Mt. Gox’s assets would otherwise accrue to Mark Karpelès. “Such an outcome would be a travesty,” says Jesse Powell, CEO of Kraken, the San Francisco–based Bitcoin exchange appointed to help investigate and distribute Mt. Gox claims (and himself a substantial creditor).

If Fukuoka’s plan works, it would be the first time in Japan that a business “abolished” in bankruptcy was rehabilitated, he says: “These are very unique circumstances.” In a traditional civil rehabilitation, once the court gives the green light, it typically takes six months for the plan to be finalized—meaning optimistically, creditors could begin to get paid, preferably in Bitcoins, as soon as late this year. Fukuoka says he’s also considering mandating further investigation into the stolen Bitcoins as part of the rehab plan, in hopes more will be recovered. (A $75 million lawsuit from CoinLab that has held up the bankruptcy process could be sidestepped by setting aside a legal reserve fund in the meantime, he adds.) It would be an extraordinary outcome for creditors like Thomas Braziel, managing partner of New York–based hedge fund B.E. Capital Management, who has bought up $1 million worth of claims at 80¢ on the dollar, believing he will turn a profit no matter what. “Of course, if the rehabilitation happens, it’s a bonanza, and you make eight, nine, 10 times your money,” Braziel says.

That would be a relief to Mt. Gox’s disgraced CEO, who says he’s had enough of the cryptocurrency business to last a lifetime: “The only thing I’m touching related to cryptocurrency is how to solve this bankruptcy. Nothing more,” says Karpelès. Besides, he has lost faith in the initial promise of digital money: “Bitcoin right now is, I believe, doomed.”

Since his release from jail two summers ago, Karpelès has been moving apartments every few months out of concerns for his own safety. During three months of all-day interrogations while detained, he refused to confess to the accusations Japanese authorities threw at him—including, at one point, that he was Satoshi Nakamoto, Bitcoin’s mysterious founder. Still, despite what he feels is a weak case against him, he thinks the odds are he’ll be found guilty, at least during this first trial; Japan, which has a more than 99% conviction rate, is also one of a few countries that allows prosecutors to appeal an acquittal twice. In a year or two, he could be sent back behind bars. “After I came out, I felt like in a kind of dream, like I didn’t feel things were real,” he says, over a slice of cake with cream and cherries. “Even today I’m not sure yet.”

京新宿区,卡皮尔斯站在Toho电影院楼顶。图片来源:Eric Rechsteiner for Fortune

卡皮尔斯并未因就Mt. Gox破产情况说谎受审,关于这点即便最同情他的人也不愿原谅。“Mt. Gox的比特币没了之后,他还在从其他用户手里获得新币付给其他人,有点像庞氏骗局里的伯尼·麦道夫,”律师凯尔曼说。

到目前为止,卡皮尔斯还没去过美国(审判期间也不得离开日本),只好充分发挥日语流利和熟悉日本正式商业习惯的优势。他表示,威尼克被捕后洗脱了自己的嫌疑,找工作也容易了许多。即便如此,Mt. Gox的污点还是摆脱不去。“没人愿意请他,”日本加密货币交易所Quoine首席执行官麦克·栢森表示。

今年早些时候,马克·卡皮尔斯终于找到一份新工作:总部位于美国丹佛的VPN服务公司London Trust Media首席技术官。最近该公司业务拓展到加密货币相关企业。“战斗的关键时刻,我很愿意再给马克一次机会,” London Trust Media联合创始人兼总裁安德鲁·李表示,他曾简短负责过Mt. Gox在美国的业务。

即便Mt. Gox成功恢复,可能也不会持续很久。不过这也拦不住卡皮尔斯幻想各种办法找回失窃的65万个比特币。就算原始的币没法找回,也许Mt. Gox可以持续经营一段时间,用收入还清债权人的钱。卡皮尔斯还表示发现有交易所可能愿意向受害人捐出一部分利润。

但Kraken的鲍威尔等人都表示,窟窿太大实在难以填补。此外,Mt. Gox重新开张又能交易什么呢?曾抗议Mt. Gox的伯吉斯补充说,“重开就像再造一艘名叫泰坦尼克的船。”对他来说,交易所彻底关闭意味着其他找不回来的比特币跟着大船沉入海底。(财富中文网)

译者:Pessy

审校:夏林

Karpelès, though, is not on trial for what even his sympathizers fault him for the most: lying about Mt. Gox’s insolvency. “When Mt. Gox didn’t have any of the coins, he was getting new deposits from other customers to pay off other people—kind of like a Bernie Madoff,” says Kelman, the lawyer.

For now, Karpelès, who’s never been to the United States (and isn’t allowed to leave Japan while on trial), is leveraging his mastery of Japanese and the country’s formal business customs. The arrest of Vinnik has made it easier to find work, he says, by lifting some blame from Karpelès. Even so, the taint of Mt. Gox follows him. “He is unhirable,” says Mike Kayamori, the CEO of Japanese cryptocurrency exchange Quoine.

Yet earlier this year, Mark Karpelès landed a big new job: chief technology officer at London Trust Media, a Denver-based corporation that runs the largest virtual private network (VPN) service in the world. It has recently been expanding into cryptocurrency-related ventures. “I am more than willing to give a second chance to Mark in this fight’s critical hour,” says Andrew Lee, cofounder and chairman of London Trust Media, who also briefly ran Mt. Gox’s U.S. operations.

Even if Mt. Gox’s rehabilitation succeeds, the company is unlikely to take another voyage. Still, that hasn’t stopped Karpelès from dreaming up schemes to get back the missing 650,000 Bitcoins. Even if the original coins can’t be retrieved, perhaps Mt. Gox could be revived long enough to generate revenue to finally make creditors whole; Karpelès also says he’s found one exchange that seems interested in pledging some of its own profits to victims.

But others, such as Kraken’s Powell, say the hole is simply too deep to fill. Besides, even if Mt. Gox did reopen, who would want to trade there? Adds Burges, the Mt. Gox protester, “It’s like having another ship called the Titanic.” For him, closure means letting the rest of the Bitcoins go down with the ship. 

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