One of Turkey’s largest cryptocurrency exchanges said it lacked the financial strength to continue operations, leaving hundreds of thousands of investors fearing their savings have evaporated as authorities sought to locate the company’s 27-year-old founder, who fled the country.
Confusion reigned about how many users of the Thodex exchange were affected and how much money was at stake. In a statement from an unknown location, Thodex Chief Executive Officer Faruk Fatih Ozer promised to repay investors and to return to Turkey to face justice after he did. The government moved to block the company’s accounts and police raided its head office in Istanbul.
Losses could be as high as $2 billion, according to Haberturk newspaper, and a lawyer for the victims said the money invested by about 390,000 active users had become “irretrievable.” Both figures have been disputed by Ozer. About 30,000 users have been impacted, he said in a statement on the company’s website on Thursday.
While authorities and customers tried to work out the details of what happened, a senior official in President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office called for rapid regulation of the crypto market. Globally, the surge in the prices of digital tokens has been accompanied by convictions and regulatory measures after various scams tied to trading platforms.
The Turkish government should take action “as soon as possible,” Cemil Ertem, a senior economic adviser to Erdogan, told Bloomberg. “Pyramid schemes are being established. Turkey will undoubtedly carry out a regulation that’s in line with its economy but also by following global developments.”
Police searched the company’s Istanbul offices and seized materials on Thursday. Arrest warrants have been issued for 78 suspects and police have so far detained 62 people in eight cities, including Istanbul, in connection to the case.
Cryptocurrencies have recently gained popularity among some Turkish citizens looking to protect their savings from soaring inflation and sinking lira. Turkey’s central bank recently banned the use of cryptocurrencies as a means of payment. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called for swift regulation of cryptocurrencies, warning of the rising number of pyramid schemes in the crypto markets.
Thodex was part of the cryptocurrency boom that has drawn in legions of Turks seeking to protect their savings from rampant inflation and an unstable currency. Inflation hit 16.2% in March, more than three times the central bank’s target of 5%. The Turkish lira has weakened 10% against the dollar this year, its ninth consecutive year of losses.