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华裔加密货币“神童”或面临15年以上监禁

华裔加密货币“神童”或面临15年以上监禁

Chris Dolmetsch, 彭博社 2021年02月21日
数千万美元被他挥霍一空。

斯蒂芬·秦在19岁时,声称自己掌握了加密货币交易的秘密。

秦自称是来自澳大利亚的数学神童,年轻自信的他于2016年从大学辍学,在纽约创办了一家名为Virgil Capital的对冲基金。

他告诉那些潜在客户,自己开发了一种名为Tenjin的算法,用于监控世界各地的加密货币交易所,可以洞悉价格的波动。在该基金成立一年多后,他吹嘘该基金的回报率高达500%,这一说法吸引了大量投资者蜂拥而至。

在获得充裕的现金之后,秦在2019年9月在50 West租下了一套月租2.3万美元的公寓。

50 West是一栋位于金融区的64层豪华公寓楼,视野开阔,能够将曼哈顿下城的景色尽收眼底。该公寓楼还配备游泳池、桑拿房、蒸汽房、热水浴缸和高尔夫模拟器等设施。

联邦检察官表示,实际上,秦所说的一切都是谎言,本质上就是一场庞氏骗局。他利用这场骗局从100多名投资者那里骗取了约9,000万美元,供他享受奢侈的生活,以及在首次代币发行等高风险项目上进行个人投资。

面对客户收回资金的要求,他用了各种借口,将自己的麻烦归咎于“现金流管理不善”和“中国的高利贷者”。

近日,现年24岁的秦在曼哈顿联邦法院承认了一项证券欺诈指控,并表达了悔恨之意。

他对美国地区法官瓦莱丽·E·卡普罗尼说:“我知道我的行为是错误和非法的。我对自己的行为深感后悔,我将用余生来弥补过错。我自私的行为给信任我的投资者、我的员工和家人带来了伤害,对此我深表歉意。”

卡普罗尼可能会对他判处15年以上监禁。

热切的投资者

类似的加密货币欺诈案不在少数,比如BitConnect欺诈案。在这些骗局中,犯罪分子向人们承诺两位数和三位数的回报,结果让投资者损失了数十亿美元。

这样的庞氏骗局表明,急于在炙手可热的市场上捞钱的投资者,很容易被巨额回报的承诺引入歧途。加拿大交易所QuadrigaCX因为欺诈,在2019年倒闭,给7.6万名投资者造成了至少1.25亿美元的损失。

尽管对加密货币行业的监管日益严格,但该行业却依旧有大量毫无经验的参与者。全球约有800家加密货币基金,许多基金的经营者对华尔街或金融一无所知,其中包括一些几年前创立基金的大学生和应届毕业生。

秦走上这条路的起点,同样是在大学。

他在去年12月发表的一篇个人简介中告诉DigFin网站,他曾经是个数学天才,计划成为一名物理学家。一周后,监管机构开始对他展开调查。

他在自己的LinkedIn主页上称自己是一名“对区块链技术有浓厚兴趣和深刻理解的定量分析师”。

2016年,他提议使用区块链技术来加速外汇交易,凭借该提议被悉尼新南威尔士大学一个面向高潜力创业者的项目录取。

据旧金山密涅瓦大学证实,从2016年8月到2017年12月,他还曾经就读于该校。这是一所以在线学习为主的高校。

加密货币交易漏洞

秦告诉DigFin,他在一家中国公司实习后,发现了加密货币交易的一个漏洞。他在那家公司的任务是,在中美两地之间建立一个平台,让该公司利用加密货币实现套利。

秦确信自己偶然间发现了一笔有前景的生意,于是他搬到纽约创办了Virgil Capital。

他告诉投资者,他的策略是利用不同交易所,按不同价格交易加密货币的趋势。他将保持“市场中立”,这意味着公司的基金不会受到价格波动的影响。

他告诉DigFin,与其他对冲基金不同,Virgil Capital不收管理费,只根据公司的业绩收费。

他说:“我们从来没有轻松赚钱的想法。”

按他的描述,Virgil很快打开了局面。他声称该基金在2017年的回报率高达500%,这吸引了更多渴望参与的投资者。

法律文件显示,他在一本营销手册中号称该基金每月回报率为10%,即截至2019年8月的三年回报率为2,811%。

《华尔街日报》在2018年2月发表了一篇介绍秦的文章,文中对他利用加密货币套利的技能大加吹捧,之后他的基金规模迅速扩大。

检方表示,Virgil“基金随着新投资者的涌入,实现了大幅增长”。

失踪的资产

问题最早爆发于去年夏天。

该基金的前投资者关系主管梅丽莎·福克斯·墨菲在一份法庭声明中称,一些投资者对失踪的资产和不完整的资金往来“日益不满”(她在12月从该基金离职)。于是,投资者的投诉越来越多。

一位投资者写信给公司说:“现在是12月中旬,我的100万美元却不见了。我是你们最早也是最大的投资者,但你们对待我的方式太不光彩了。”法庭文件没有显示这位投资者的名字。

检方称,有9位投资者几乎同时提出要从该公司的旗舰基金Virgil Sigma Fund LP赎回他们投资的350万美元。但公司的账户上没有资金。

Sigma基金的资产已经被秦挥霍一空,基金的余额纯属伪造。

检方称,秦并没有像他声称的那样,在全球39家交易所进行交易,而是挪用投资者的资金支付个人开销,以及投资其他未披露的高风险项目,包括首次代币发行。

于是秦采取了拖延战术。他努力说服投资者将权益转移到他在2020年2月创立的另外一只加密货币基金VQR多策略基金。这只基金使用多种交易策略,并且仍然拥有资产。

“高利贷者”

秦还试图从VQR基金中提取170万美元,但这引起了首席交易员安东尼奥·哈拉克的怀疑。

美国证券交易委员会提起的一起诉讼中的法庭文件显示,哈拉克曾经在12月录下与秦的电话录音,秦在电话中称,他向“中国的高利贷者”借钱开创了公司,所以他需要这笔钱来还债。

秦声称高利贷者“为了收债可能不择手段”,但他的“流动性问题”让他无法偿还高利贷。

秦告诉哈拉克:“说实话,我的现金流管理不善,我现在没钱了。真让人伤心。”

在这位交易员拒绝秦的提款要求后,秦曾经试图接管VQR的账户。但这时候美国证券交易委员会已经介入,要求加密货币交易所冻结了VQR的剩余资产,并在一周后提起诉讼。

资产追回

最后,秦几乎挪用了Sigma基金的所有资金。

曼哈顿检察官奥黛丽·施特劳斯的发言人表示,法院指定的负责监管该基金的资产接收人,正在寻求为投资者追回资产。他表示VQR基金中约有2,400万美元资产被冻结,应该可以退还给投资者。

施特劳斯说:“斯蒂芬·何·秦几乎将其9,000万美元加密货币基金中的所有资产挥霍一空,他骗取投资者的资金用于个人的奢侈生活和投机,并向投资者谎报基金的业绩和资金的实际用途。”

检方称,秦在韩国得知调查结果后,同意飞回美国。他在2月4日向美国当局自首,同一天向卡普罗尼法官认罪,并在缴纳5万美元保释金后获释,等待5月20日宣判。

尽管最高法定刑罚是20年监禁,但检方在认罪协议中同意,根据联邦判决指南,他应该被判151至188个月监禁,以及最高35万美元的罚款。

他曾经告诉DigFin,父母希望他成为一名物理学家。但锒铛入狱的命运与之相距甚远。

“当我告诉他们我从大学辍学,从事加密货币交易的决定时,他们就不太高兴。谁知道呢,也许有一天我会读完我的学位。但我真正想做的是加密货币交易。”(财富中文网)

翻译:刘进龙

审校:汪皓

斯蒂芬·秦在19岁时,声称自己掌握了加密货币交易的秘密。

秦自称是来自澳大利亚的数学神童,年轻自信的他于2016年从大学辍学,在纽约创办了一家名为Virgil Capital的对冲基金。

他告诉那些潜在客户,自己开发了一种名为Tenjin的算法,用于监控世界各地的加密货币交易所,可以洞悉价格的波动。在该基金成立一年多后,他吹嘘该基金的回报率高达500%,这一说法吸引了大量投资者蜂拥而至。

在获得充裕的现金之后,秦在2019年9月在50 West租下了一套月租2.3万美元的公寓。

50 West是一栋位于金融区的64层豪华公寓楼,视野开阔,能够将曼哈顿下城的景色尽收眼底。该公寓楼还配备游泳池、桑拿房、蒸汽房、热水浴缸和高尔夫模拟器等设施。

联邦检察官表示,实际上,秦所说的一切都是谎言,本质上就是一场庞氏骗局。他利用这场骗局从100多名投资者那里骗取了约9,000万美元,供他享受奢侈的生活,以及在首次代币发行等高风险项目上进行个人投资。

面对客户收回资金的要求,他用了各种借口,将自己的麻烦归咎于“现金流管理不善”和“中国的高利贷者”。

近日,现年24岁的秦在曼哈顿联邦法院承认了一项证券欺诈指控,并表达了悔恨之意。

他对美国地区法官瓦莱丽·E·卡普罗尼说:“我知道我的行为是错误和非法的。我对自己的行为深感后悔,我将用余生来弥补过错。我自私的行为给信任我的投资者、我的员工和家人带来了伤害,对此我深表歉意。”

卡普罗尼可能会对他判处15年以上监禁。

热切的投资者

类似的加密货币欺诈案不在少数,比如BitConnect欺诈案。在这些骗局中,犯罪分子向人们承诺两位数和三位数的回报,结果让投资者损失了数十亿美元。

这样的庞氏骗局表明,急于在炙手可热的市场上捞钱的投资者,很容易被巨额回报的承诺引入歧途。加拿大交易所QuadrigaCX因为欺诈,在2019年倒闭,给7.6万名投资者造成了至少1.25亿美元的损失。

尽管对加密货币行业的监管日益严格,但该行业却依旧有大量毫无经验的参与者。全球约有800家加密货币基金,许多基金的经营者对华尔街或金融一无所知,其中包括一些几年前创立基金的大学生和应届毕业生。

秦走上这条路的起点,同样是在大学。

他在去年12月发表的一篇个人简介中告诉DigFin网站,他曾经是个数学天才,计划成为一名物理学家。一周后,监管机构开始对他展开调查。

他在自己的LinkedIn主页上称自己是一名“对区块链技术有浓厚兴趣和深刻理解的定量分析师”。

2016年,他提议使用区块链技术来加速外汇交易,凭借该提议被悉尼新南威尔士大学一个面向高潜力创业者的项目录取。

据旧金山密涅瓦大学证实,从2016年8月到2017年12月,他还曾经就读于该校。这是一所以在线学习为主的高校。

加密货币交易漏洞

秦告诉DigFin,他在一家中国公司实习后,发现了加密货币交易的一个漏洞。他在那家公司的任务是,在中美两地之间建立一个平台,让该公司利用加密货币实现套利。

秦确信自己偶然间发现了一笔有前景的生意,于是他搬到纽约创办了Virgil Capital。

他告诉投资者,他的策略是利用不同交易所,按不同价格交易加密货币的趋势。他将保持“市场中立”,这意味着公司的基金不会受到价格波动的影响。

他告诉DigFin,与其他对冲基金不同,Virgil Capital不收管理费,只根据公司的业绩收费。

他说:“我们从来没有轻松赚钱的想法。”

按他的描述,Virgil很快打开了局面。他声称该基金在2017年的回报率高达500%,这吸引了更多渴望参与的投资者。

法律文件显示,他在一本营销手册中号称该基金每月回报率为10%,即截至2019年8月的三年回报率为2,811%。

《华尔街日报》在2018年2月发表了一篇介绍秦的文章,文中对他利用加密货币套利的技能大加吹捧,之后他的基金规模迅速扩大。

检方表示,Virgil“基金随着新投资者的涌入,实现了大幅增长”。

失踪的资产

问题最早爆发于去年夏天。

该基金的前投资者关系主管梅丽莎·福克斯·墨菲在一份法庭声明中称,一些投资者对失踪的资产和不完整的资金往来“日益不满”(她在12月从该基金离职)。于是,投资者的投诉越来越多。

一位投资者写信给公司说:“现在是12月中旬,我的100万美元却不见了。我是你们最早也是最大的投资者,但你们对待我的方式太不光彩了。”法庭文件没有显示这位投资者的名字。

检方称,有9位投资者几乎同时提出要从该公司的旗舰基金Virgil Sigma Fund LP赎回他们投资的350万美元。但公司的账户上没有资金。

Sigma基金的资产已经被秦挥霍一空,基金的余额纯属伪造。

检方称,秦并没有像他声称的那样,在全球39家交易所进行交易,而是挪用投资者的资金支付个人开销,以及投资其他未披露的高风险项目,包括首次代币发行。

于是秦采取了拖延战术。他努力说服投资者将权益转移到他在2020年2月创立的另外一只加密货币基金VQR多策略基金。这只基金使用多种交易策略,并且仍然拥有资产。

“高利贷者”

秦还试图从VQR基金中提取170万美元,但这引起了首席交易员安东尼奥·哈拉克的怀疑。

美国证券交易委员会提起的一起诉讼中的法庭文件显示,哈拉克曾经在12月录下与秦的电话录音,秦在电话中称,他向“中国的高利贷者”借钱开创了公司,所以他需要这笔钱来还债。

秦声称高利贷者“为了收债可能不择手段”,但他的“流动性问题”让他无法偿还高利贷。

秦告诉哈拉克:“说实话,我的现金流管理不善,我现在没钱了。真让人伤心。”

在这位交易员拒绝秦的提款要求后,秦曾经试图接管VQR的账户。但这时候美国证券交易委员会已经介入,要求加密货币交易所冻结了VQR的剩余资产,并在一周后提起诉讼。

资产追回

最后,秦几乎挪用了Sigma基金的所有资金。

曼哈顿检察官奥黛丽·施特劳斯的发言人表示,法院指定的负责监管该基金的资产接收人,正在寻求为投资者追回资产。他表示VQR基金中约有2,400万美元资产被冻结,应该可以退还给投资者。

施特劳斯说:“斯蒂芬·何·秦几乎将其9,000万美元加密货币基金中的所有资产挥霍一空,他骗取投资者的资金用于个人的奢侈生活和投机,并向投资者谎报基金的业绩和资金的实际用途。”

检方称,秦在韩国得知调查结果后,同意飞回美国。他在2月4日向美国当局自首,同一天向卡普罗尼法官认罪,并在缴纳5万美元保释金后获释,等待5月20日宣判。

尽管最高法定刑罚是20年监禁,但检方在认罪协议中同意,根据联邦判决指南,他应该被判151至188个月监禁,以及最高35万美元的罚款。

他曾经告诉DigFin,父母希望他成为一名物理学家。但锒铛入狱的命运与之相距甚远。

“当我告诉他们我从大学辍学,从事加密货币交易的决定时,他们就不太高兴。谁知道呢,也许有一天我会读完我的学位。但我真正想做的是加密货币交易。”(财富中文网)

翻译:刘进龙

审校:汪皓

Stefan Qin was just 19 when he claimed to have the secret to cryptocurrency trading.

Buoyed with youthful confidence, Qin, a self-proclaimed math prodigy from Australia, dropped out of college in 2016 to start a hedge fund in New York he called Virgil Capital. He told potential clients he had developed an algorithm called Tenjin to monitor cryptocurrency exchanges around the world to seize on price fluctuations. A little more than a year after it started, he bragged the fund had returned 500%, a claim that produced a flurry of new money from investors.

He became so flush with cash, Qin signed a lease in September 2019 for a $23,000-a-month apartment in 50 West, a 64-story luxury condo building in the financial district with expansive views of lower Manhattan as well as a pool, sauna, steam room, hot tub and golf simulator.

In reality, federal prosecutors said, the operation was a lie, essentially a Ponzi scheme that stole about $90 million from more than 100 investors to help pay for Qin’s lavish lifestyle and personal investments in such high-risk bets as initial coin offerings. At one point, facing client demands for their money, he variously blamed “poor cash flow management” and “loan sharks in China” for his troubles. Last week, Qin, now 24 and expressing remorse, pleaded guilty in federal court in Manhattan to a single count of securities fraud.

“I knew that what I was doing was wrong and illegal,” he told U.S. District Judge Valerie E. Caproni, who could sentence him to more than 15 years in prison. “I deeply regret my actions and will spend the rest of my life atoning for what I did. I am profoundly sorry for the harm my selfish behavior has caused to my investors who trusted in me, my employees and my family.”

Eager Investors

The case echoes similar cryptocurrency frauds, such as that of BitConnect, promising people double-and triple-digit returns and costing investors billions. Ponzi schemes like that show how investors eager to cash in on a hot market can easily be led astray by promises of large returns. Canadian exchange QuadrigaCX collapsed in 2019 as a result of fraud, causing at least $125 million in losses for 76,000 investors.

While regulatory oversight of the cryptocurrency industry is tightening, the sector is littered with inexperienced participants. A number of the 800 or so crypto funds worldwide are run by people with no knowledge of Wall Street or finance, including some college students and recent graduates who launched funds a few years ago.

Qin’s path started in college, too. He had been a math whiz who planned on becoming a physicist, he told a website, DigFin, in a profile published in December, just a week before regulators closed in on him. He described himself on his LinkedIn page as a “quant with a deep interest and understanding in blockchain technology.”

In 2016, he won acceptance into a program for high-potential entrepreneurs at the University of New South Wales in Sydney with a proposal to use blockchain technology to speed up foreign exchange transactions. He also attended the Minerva Schools, a mostly online college based in San Francisco, from August 2016 through December 2017, the school confirmed.

Crypto bug

He got the crypto bug after an internship with a firm in China, he told DigFin. His task had been to build a platform between two venues, one in China and the other in the U.S., to allow the firm to arbitrage cryptocurrencies.

Convinced he had happened upon a business, Qin moved to New York to found Virgil Capital. His strategy, he told investors, would be to exploit the tendency of cryptocurrencies to trade at different prices at various exchanges. He would be “market-neutral,” meaning that the firm’s funds wouldn’t be exposed to price movements.

And unlike other hedge funds, he told DigFin, Virgil wouldn’t charge management fees, taking only fees based on the firm’s performance. “We never try to make easy money,” Qin said.

By his telling, Virgil got off to a fast start, claiming 500% returns in 2017, which brought in more investors eager to participate. A marketing brochure boasted of 10% monthly returns -- or 2,811% over a three-year period ending in August 2019, legal filings show.

His assets got an extra jolt after the Wall Street Journal profiled him in a February 2018 story that touted his skill at arbitraging cryptocurrency. Virgil “experienced substantial growth as new investors flocked to the fund,” prosecutors said.

Missing assets

The first cracks appeared last summer. Some investors were becoming “increasingly upset” about missing assets and incomplete transfers, the former head of investor relations, Melissa Fox Murphy, said in a court declaration. (She left the firm in December.) The complaints grew.

“It is now MID DECEMBER and my MILLION DOLLARS IS NOWHERE TO BE SEEN,” wrote one investor, whose name was blacked out in court documents. “It’s a disgrace the way you guys are treating one of your earliest and largest investors.”

Around the same time, nine investors with $3.5 million in funds asked for redemptions from the firm’s flagship Virgil Sigma Fund LP, according to prosecutors. But there was no money to transfer. Qin had drained the Sigma Fund of its assets. The fund’s balances were fabricated.

Instead of trading at 39 exchanges around the world, as he had claimed, Qin spent investor money on personal expenses and to invest in other undisclosed high-risk investments, including initial coin offerings, prosecutors said.

So Qin tried to stall. He convinced investors instead to transfer their interests into his VQR Multistrategy Fund, another cryptocurrency fund he started in February 2020 that used a variety of trading strategies -- and still had assets.

“Loan sharks”

He also sought to withdraw $1.7 million from the VQR fund, but that aroused suspicions from the head trader, Antonio Hallak. In a phone call Hallak recorded in December, Qin said he needed the money to repay “loan sharks in China” that he had borrowed from to start his business, according to court filings in a lawsuit filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission. He said the loan sharks “might do anything to collect on the debt” and that he had a “liquidity issue” that prevented him from repaying them.

“I just had such poor cash flow management to be honest with you,” Qin told Hallak. “I don’t have money right now dude. It’s so sad.”

When the trader balked at the withdrawal, Qin attempted to take over the reins of VQR’s accounts. But by now the SEC was involved. It got cryptocurrency exchanges to put a hold on VQR’s remaining assets and, a week later, filed suit.

Asset Recovery

By the end, Qin had drained virtually all of the money that was in the Sigma Fund. A court-appointed receiver who is overseeing the fund is looking to recover assets for investors, said Nicholas Biase, a spokesman for Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss. About $24 million in assets in the VQR fund was frozen and should be available to disperse, he said.

“Stefan He Qin drained almost all of the assets from the $90 million cryptocurrency fund he owned, stealing investors’ money, spending it on indulgences and speculative personal investments, and lying to investors about the performance of the fund and what he had done with their money,” Strauss said in a statement.

In South Korea when he learned of the probe, Qin agreed to fly back to the U.S., prosecutors said. He surrendered to authorities on Feb. 4, pleaded guilty the same day before Caproni, and was freed on a $50,000 bond pending his sentencing, scheduled for May 20. While the maximum statutory penalty calls for 20 years in prison, as part of a plea deal, prosecutors agreed that he should get 151 to 188 months behind bars under federal sentencing guidelines and a fine of up to $350,000.

That fate is a far cry from the career his parents had envisioned for him -- a physicist, he had told DigFin. “They weren’t too happy when I told them I had quit uni to do this crypto thing. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll complete my degree. But what I really want to do is trade crypto.”

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