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Report on Business Judge rules with CIBC, grants possession of disputed Quadriga funds to Ontario Superior Court

The $26-million at the heart of a dispute between Canada’s largest cryptocurrency exchange and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce will be handed over to the Ontario Superior Court, a judge has ruled.

Vancouver-based QuadrigaCX has been unable to access the funds since January, when CIBC froze several accounts belonging to the exchange’s payment processor, Costodian Inc., and its owner, Jose Reyes.

The bank said in court documents that it froze the accounts because it was unable to determine the money’s rightful owners. CIBC had requested that the court take possession of the funds and decide whether they belong to Quadriga, Costodian or the 388 people who deposited money into the accounts to buy cryptocurrencies.

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Read more: Vancouver crypto exchange, CIBC clash over frozen accounts

Meanwhile, Quadriga had argued in court documents that it is the undisputed owner of the majority of the funds and that CIBC was wrong to freeze the accounts.

In a ruling issued Nov. 9, Judge Glenn Hainey of the Ontario Superior Court agreed with CIBC’s position that it’s unclear who owns the funds. The judge ordered the bank to hand the money over to the Accountant of the Superior Court and allow the court to determine who the money belongs to.

But the judge declined to weigh in on whether the bank acted improperly by freezing the funds.

“The respondents allege that CIBC wrongfully froze the accounts. I am not in a position on this record to make any determination as to CIBC’s possible liability for doing so. Accordingly, it would be inappropriate for me to extinguish any liability that CIBC may have for freezing the accounts,” the judge wrote.

Quadriga chief executive Gerald Cotten said in an e-mail that he is “pleased” that the matter is moving forward, and that he hopes it can be wrapped up before the holidays.

“More importantly, the court has made no ruling yet on whether CIBC acted appropriately in freezing the funds in the first place,” Mr. Cotten said. “Regarding this point, we are considering our next steps.”

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CIBC and Peter Carey, the lawyer representing Costodian, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Last December, at the height of cryptomania, CIBC saw a surge in activity in the Costodian accounts. Between Dec. 4, 2017, and Feb. 20, 2018, the bank received $67.1-million of deposits from 388 people, according to CIBC’s factum. Some of that money was later withdrawn, leaving roughly $26-million in the accounts.

Users wishing to buy cryptocurrencies through Quadriga’s platform send their cash to the company through one of several channels, such as a wire transfer, an Interac e-transfer or a bank draft. Some of that money would land in Costodian’s accounts at CIBC. Requests to withdraw funds would be processed by Billerfy Labs Inc., another company owned by Mr. Reyes.

In January, as the price of bitcoin began tumbling after hitting roughly US$20,000, CIBC froze two business accounts and three personal accounts belonging to Costodian and Mr. Reyes, according to court documents. The bank said it had received wire recalls from seven depositors and was unable to determine whether to honour them. That’s what prompted the bank to request an “interpleader order,” so that it can hand the money over to the court and have the justice system decide who it belongs to.

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