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About US$190 million in cryptocurrency has been locked away in a online black hole after the founder of a currency exchange died, apparently taking his encrypted access to their money with him.

The Canadian crypto exchange QuadrigaCX reportedly owes its customers about $US190 million after its founder died suddenly previous year, taking his encrypted access to the money with him.

Gerald Cotten died aged 30 from complications with Crohn's disease while volunteering at an orphanage in India, according to the Facebook page of Quadriga CX, which announced his death on January 14.

Robertson has access to Cotten's laptop but writes that she is unable to open it.

Citing a sworn affidavit by Robertson as she filed for credit protection, Sky News reports that Cotten held "sole responsibility for handling the funds and coins".

Saying "there should be in excess of [CA]$180 million of coins in cold storage", Robertson wrote that the company is still trying to access the wallets, in addition to looking into the possibility that Cotten had used other exchanges to secure some of those funds. According to a research piece from a leading industry researcher, QuadrigaCX, a Canadian Bitcoin (BTC) exchange in the midst of a multi-month imbroglio, could have been fibbing about its cryptocurrency holdings - and by a large sum at that.

Court filings show that after his death, Quadriga employees have been unable to locate or access cryptocurrencies worth roughly $190-million. Cotten's widow said she had an expert try hacking into the founder's computers and encrypted email, but to no avail. "Despite repeated and diligent searches, I have not been able to find them written down anywhere", said Jennifer Robertson, Cotten's widow, in an affidavit. She said she had also received threats and slanderous comments.

Quadriga CX's directors posted a notice on the firm's website on Jan 31 that it was asking the Nova Scotia court for creditor protection while they address "significant financial issues" affecting their ability to serve customers. A court hearing to decide the company's short-term legal fate is set for Tuesday, February 5.