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Citadel CEO Ken Griffin Didn’t Want to ‘Help Fund the North Koreans’ by Entering Crypto

The Wall Street titan used to refer to crypto as “a jihadist call” against the U.S. dollar. His tone has changed, but he’s still reticent.

3 min read
Ken Griffin is the CEO of Citadel Securities, a high-frequency trading firm. Image: Shutterstock.

Wall Streeter Ken Griffin, who once referred to crypto as “a jihadist call” against the U.S. dollar, said Monday his concerns over helping fund North Koreans kept him and his firm out of crypto.

Griffin, founder of high-frequency trading firm Citadel Securities, spoke Monday night at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles about his evolving view of cryptocurrency. 

This is the same Wall Street executive who paid $43.2 million for a copy of the Constitution, outbidding a group of crypto investors known as ConstitutionDAO in the process.

“It’s difficult to build to the level of rigor that we would want to build to. Things like ensuring that we’re not a party to a transaction with North Korea are really important to us,” he said. “They may not be to our competitors, but I’m not gonna help fund the North Koreans with their various ventures by mistakenly buying their cryptocurrency.”

The link between crypto and North Korea is well-known.

A recent United Nations report found that nuclear and ballistic missile programs in North Korea rely on financing from crypto. Elsewhere, the U.S. Treasury also pinned the $622 million Axie Infinity hack on the North Korean hacking group Lazarus. 

He also said that he’s come to terms with the fact that other people, particularly younger employees at his own firm, see value in crypto.

“I have to live with the reality that an asset’s worth what people perceive it to be worth,” he said, adding that it’s “reasonable to expect to see us be more involved in the crypto space, providing liquidity to institutional, and potentially retail, investors.”

Griffin, Bitcoin, and the ‘story’ of crypto

Still, Griffin has his gripes with the world’s largest cryptocurrency. 

While he feels proud of what Amazon and Apple have done to make the world a better place, he’s not convinced the same can be said of Bitcoin

“I’m still looking for that story of how crypto has made the world so much better,” Griffin said, “I’m looking at stories about how Bitcoin consumes as much power as a small country.”

It’s been noted by the team behind the Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index that comparing the energy used to mine Bitcoin and residential homes is like comparing apples to oranges. With that disclaimer, they estimate mining Bitcoin accounts for 0.68% of all electricity use. 

On Tuesday morning, Bitcoin was trading at $38,347.84 and had a market capitalization of $727 billion, accounting for 42% of the $1.73 trillion global crypto market cap, according to CoinMarketCap

The billionaire’s change of heart on crypto has been seemingly abrupt. 

In November, he outbid ConstitutionDAO to buy a copy of the U.S. Constitution just a week after telling The New York Times he saw no commercial use cases for Bitcoin and thought the passion for cryptocurrencies was “misplaced.” 

But his tone began to change in March. 

During an interview with Bloomberg, Griffin acknowledged what, at the time, was a $2 trillion crypto market cap, calling it “one of the great stories in finance over the course of the last 15 years.”

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