Shoba Pillay, the Examiner appointed in Celsius’ bankruptcy cases, filed her interim report on November 19, 2022. The Celsius Examiner’s report provides some important insight into a crypto-exchange’s operational and risk management failures which may provide investors and creditors some insight into what to expect in FTX.
The initial report provides important insight on the financial management at Celsius and treatment of various types of customer accounts. Given Celsius’ management of the different accounts, and the commingling of assets between and among them, “customers now face uncertainty regarding which assets, if any, belonged to them as of the bankruptcy filing” as explained by the Examiner. Her report is extremely thorough and can be accessed here. We highlight a few high-level observations from the report below.
- Withhold Accounts. Celsius was unable to offer Custody accounts to users in nine states due to regulatory issues. For customers in those states, the company purported to maintain Withhold accounts as a temporary substitute. These funds were unavailable for either Custody accounts or the Earn program, and customers were advised to withdraw them. Unfortunately, customers could not withdraw funds through the Celsius app but rather need to contact customer care. In the interim, rather than be treated similarly to Custodial accounts, assets supposedly held in Withhold accounts were held in the Main wallets and available for use by Celsius as those in the Earn program.
Based on the Examiner’s initial report, it appears that Celsius’ ability to match the cryptocurrency deposited by a customer, whether in an Earn account, Custody account or Withdrawal account, was non-existent shortly following deposit and that assets were commingled with other Debtor assets for a short period of time. While certain customer accounts were being tracked by accounting ledgers, the facts revealed by the Examiner’s report will provide the Bankruptcy Court with additional factual guidance in determining whether account holders can claim that their assets were being held in trust or “constructive trust.” In other non-crypto bankruptcy cases, whether or not trust funds can be identified or traced after such funds have been commingled (sometimes using a technique called the “intermediate balance rule”) helps to determine how much a beneficiary can actually recover. Under this standard, if the amount of the commingled deposit equals or exceeds the amount claim to be in trust, then a constructive trust may be imposed. The Examiner’s report provides important factual backdrop for that rapidly approaching litigation, the outcome of which will certainly have dramatic consequences of customers’ ultimate recoveries.
Relatedly, while an examiner has yet to be appointed in the FTX case, it will be important to monitor and understand the severity of record keeping and segregation failures by FTX and the impact it will have on their account holders and creditors.