PlusToken, an alleged cryptocurrency pyramid scheme that made the runs earlier this year, bilked investors out of two to three billion dollars. According to Chainalysis, it could be costing Bitcoin traders too.
Chainalysis, a blockchain tracking firm, released a report today that it says shows evidence of correlation between transfers to over-the-counter (OTC) brokers and subsequent drops in the price of Bitcoin.
PlusToken, ostensibly an online wallet project aimed primarily at Chinese-speaking audiences, offered to sell users its eponymous token in exchange for Bitcoin, Ethereum, or other cryptocurrencies. It did well for itself. Chainalysis says it was able to track “a total of 180,000 BTC, 6,400,000 ETH, 111,000 USDT, and 53 OMG (OmiseGo) that went from scam victims to PlusToken wallets, equating to roughly $2 billion.” Media reports put the figure as high as $3 billion. Either way, the cryptocurrency went directly into the alleged scammers’ own wallets.
Using a variety of techniques to “[obfuscate] the movement of funds,” the individuals behind PlusToken ultimately transferred the bulk of their ill-gotten gains to wallets owned by OTC brokers on Huobi’s platform, a convenient way to “liquidate a large amount of cryptocurrency for a set, negotiated price.”
Of that stolen Bitcoin, $185 million has already been cashed out using OTC brokers. Chainalysis wanted to know if these cashouts were behind Bitcoin price drops as “large liquidations generally tend to depress the price of Bitcoin.” Their answer: yes.
Looking at on-chain volume and trade volume, it found a general correlation between liquidations and price drops between mid-April through September. For example, after the alleged scammers cashed out $34 million on September 20, Bitcoin’s price began a roughly 20% drop—from around $10,000 to $8,000—starting September 24.
Chainalysis explained that the price drop can take a few days because sometimes “Bitcoin that is moved on-chain to an exchange is not immediately traded.” However, herein lies a potential problem for the report: It’s not clear that those funds are actually being traded.
Chainalysis admitted as much in its report, when explaining why it can’t say for sure whether there’s causation or just correlation: “Unfortunately, because it’s not possible to distinguish between trades made by OTC brokers in possession of PlusToken funds and all other trades made on Huobi, we can’t say for sure that PlusToken cashouts caused Bitcoin’s price to drop.” (Representatives for Huobi did not immediately respond to Decrypt's request for comment.)
It would be nice to find out—not just for Bitcoin owners, but Ethereum holders too. While Chainalysis couldn’t conclusively determine how much the alleged scammers transferred to themselves (some of it, conceivably, went to early investors in the "investment" scheme), it found that, at a minimum, there’s 20,000 BTC waiting to be cashed out and 790,000 ETH in one wallet. The actual money slated for liquidation may be much higher.
For those paying attention, the price of Bitcoin fell below $7,000 today.