A cryptocurrency CEO bragged that he ran off with R599 million — but after a journalist tracked him down in Egypt, he said it was just a joke
- A German cryptocurrency startup called Savedroid vanished from the web on Wednesday, leaving behind a "South Park" meme which said: "Aannd it's gone."
- Savedroid's founder tweeted out a beachside photo not long after, leading investors to believe that he had absconded with their money.
- Adam Selene, a cryptocurrency journalist, decided to track Savedroid's founder down using clues from the photo he had tweeted.
- Savedroid's founder then said the supposed scam was a publicity stunt to call attention to a serious issue.
The website of Frankfurt-based cryptocurrency startup Savedroid, which is said to have raised R599 million in funding from its initial coin offering (ICO) in recent months, went down on Wednesday, leaving only a single cryptic South Park meme in lieu of any actual content:
A short while later, the company's founder Yassin Hankir, tweeted out a photo of himself holding a beer on the beach with the words: "Thanks guys! Over and out..."
Savedroid's defaced website, its empty offices, and its founder's tweet, gave Savedroid's investors reason to believe that they had fallen victim to what has become an increasingly common occurrence in the cryptocurrency world: the dreaded ICO scam, where the creators simply take the money and run.
Savedroid's stunt felt near-identical to January's Prodeum debacle, in which cryptocurrency scammers stole the identities of Prodeum's team, then vanished from the internet. Investors learned of their misfortune when they visited the Prodeum website and were greeted with a blank page bearing a single word: "penis."
Redditors on Savedroid's Reddit forum were incensed. One Redditor with the username SpiritualCupcake4 wrote, "They take our money and run...yassin i will find you if you are in egypt i will find you."
A reporter goes on the hunt
But one reporter, Adam Selene, who writes for the cryptocurrency site Crypto Briefing, decided to take action and investigate. Selene says that once he discovered Hankir's tweet, he decided to hunt down the Savedroid founder, no matter what beachside resort he had holed up in.
"The media just reports on these things, and they never do anything about it," Selene told Business Insider. "In this occasion, I thought: let's do something about this." First, Selene alerted the police in Frankfurt that Hankir had seemingly vanished with $50 million of his investors' money. However, Selene said the German police were unimpressed.
"They told me to call back in the morning to talk to a person that deals with the media," he said.
From there, Selene decided to take things a step further: First, he scrutinised the beachside photo, and discovered that the beer is an Egyptian brand. With that as the first clue, he scoured Google Maps, and found that the photo was a match for a resort off the Red Sea. He then took to social media to ask local cryptocurrency enthusiasts for help.
"The goal was to use some of the crypto community's assets to track this chap down," Selene said. "It wasn't easy. Obviously, there's a language barrier."
A curious twist in the story — "this is not funny"
But by that time, another strange twist in events had taken place: Hankir had uploaded a video, explaining that the purported Savedroid scam was not a scam at all. On the contrary, it was simply a publicity stunt that was meant to illuminate the serious problem of ICO scams within the cryptocurrency community.
In the video, Hankir explains, "So yes, we are still here. We are not gone, actually. Never gone, actually. We will always be here for the Savedroid community in the future."
Hankir then goes onto apologise for what he describes as a "drastic campaign."
"This was not meant to do any prank," Hankir says. "This was not meant to do fun of anyone."
Instead, the message that Hankir was attempting to send was that his cryptocurrency startup, which he calls a "highly-regulated German stock corporation," could blithely run off with its investors' money.
His true motives are a mystery, but some people aren't buying the joke story
Selene, for one, was unamused.
"This is not monopoly money," Selene said. "[Savedroid's investors] are real people. People were panicking on [social media app] Telegram. This is not funny."
Selene said that he was perplexed by Hankir's motivations. Up until this point, Selene said that he had always regarded the German founder as a trustworthy CEO.
"I can't speculate as to his motives," said Selene, "but I can answer the question of his outcome. The community has lost faith in Savedroid. [Hankir] has betrayed his investors. They entrusted him with $50 million to go out and build a product and that's imploded because of a poorly conceived publicity stunt. What it comes down to is that no one will trust him."
True to Selene's prediction, the original Savedroid ICO investors seem unamused, with many speculating that Hankir had planned to take the money and run, and only backed down once Selene's investigation started closing in.
"He realised his face was out there, so easily caught online, and decided to say 'SIKE [sic], I'm just joking' with a quick cheap video made in 5 minutes to try to stop it," reads one Reddit post, in part. "If this is not an exit scam, I hope authorities shut this company down," reads another.
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