US court weighs novel issue of crypto ownership in bankruptcy
U.S. judge this week is considering for the first time the question of who owns bitcoin and other tokens in frozen accounts at a bankrupt digital asset exchange in a case that could shape customer protections in the cryptocurrency industry.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Martin Glenn in New York City will sort through who owns cryptocurrencies held in accounts at the Celsius Network LLC exchange, which suspended withdrawals and then fell into Chapter 11 during this year’s crypto crash.
Glenn’s eventual rulings will help shape the treatment of crypto in accounts that have been frozen at other failed firms such as FTX, Voyager Digital Ltd and BlockFi, which do not have enough funds to repay everyone in full.
If Celsius deposits are determined to belong to customers, users are far more likely to get their assets returned. If the account holdings belong to Celsius, those customers will be at the back of the line for repayment, collecting pennies on the dollar.
Unlike bank deposits or brokerage accounts, which are backed by the U.S. government up to $250,000 and $500,000 respectively, crypto deposits are not insured and digital asset companies are lightly regulated and often operate offshore. Crypto companies typically offer a variety of accounts and they will likely be treated differently in bankruptcy.
Celsius, for one, has argued that its “earn” accounts, which offer interest to customers, should be treated differently than its “custody” accounts, which provide a place to store cryptocurrency without generating interest. BlockFi, which is at the beginning of its own bankruptcy case, also offers both interest-bearing and custody accounts.