In brief

  • A joke tweet about North Korea's Bitcoin hoard being moved caused alarm among crypto traders.
  • It was taken seriously because the tweeter is a staffer at crypto news site Coindesk.
  • The tweet claimed that Kim Jong-un had transferred 65,091 Bitcoin from a Trezor wallet to Coinbase.
  • Traders feared that the sale of such a vast amount of Bitcoin would cause the market to crash.

A tweet, from a Coindesk staffer, about a huge stash of Bitcoin being transferred from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s wallet, caused uproar among crypto traders and media this weekend. 

Coindesk markets reporter Zack Voell wrote a tweet in the style of a “Whale Alert,” which regularly tweets about large movements of Bitcoin. It claimed that 65,091 Bitcoin (BTC) worth around $500 million was transferred, and that funds were moved from Kim’s Trezor wallet to crypto exchange Coinbase. The implication being that Kim had died and North Korea was selling his Bitcoin stash—which could have a devastating impact on the crypto markets.

Only it wasn’t true.

Zack Voell tweeted that Kim Jong-un had moved his Bitcoin stash. Image: Twitter.

Speculation about the possible death of Kim has been rampant since late last week, after rumors emerged that he was seriously ill with heart trouble. 

It gave some credence to the idea that North Korea would sell its reserves of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies totalling $670 million—funds it had reportedly accumulated to bypass US sanctions. Traders feared that the sale of such a vast amount of Bitcoin would cause the market to crash.

Voell later deleted his tweet, but not before it was extensively shared, and triggered alarm—particularly among the Asian crypto community.

“Woke up, saw everyone is talking about this. Literally everywhere, Weibo, WeChat groups, all crypto media,” tweeted Molly—who doesn't reveal her surname—head of marketing at HashKey Hub.

Zoell was unrepentant, but not all those who were taken in by his ruse were amused.  

But some did see the funny side. David Gerard, who wrote about the incident in his newsletter Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain, half-joked that: “Everyone knows that Kim Jong-un's really into Ethereum,

Gerard’s observation was based on the visit of Ethereum developer Virgil Griffith to North Korea last year. Griffith was later arrested for allegedly showing North Korea how to launder money and skirt US sanctions with cryptocurrencies and blockchain.

Kim may still be alive

Cybersecurity pioneer and crypto fan John McAfee said he never doubted that Kim was still thriving. “Nonsense!” he said about the rumors. “He’s hangin' with me.” 

On Sunday, Moon Chung-in, a special adviser on national security to the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, told CNN that Kim was alive and well. He added that the North Korean leader had been staying in Wonsan—a resort town on the country’s east coast—since April 13.

Could it be that, this time, McAfee was right?