The founder of Turkish cryptocurrency exchange Thodex, Faruk Fatih Özer, was reported to have fled Turkey with $2 billion, leaving some 391,000 frauded people behind.
News broadcaster Habertürk reported that Özer left the country via Istanbul Airport around 6 p.m. on April 20, and the founder consecutively deactivated his Instagram and Twitter accounts.
Police raided the Thodex headquarters and launched an official investigation into the company over forming a criminal organization and aggravated fraud, as Özer is thought to have robbed around 391,000 users of the exchange.
The financial crimes investigation board MASAK blocked the company's accounts on April 21 and began an investigation, a MASAK source said.
Thodex had prompted fury for abruptly halting trading on April 21 citing an unspecified partnership transaction, spurring complaints from users who can’t access their digital assets.
The exchange, which has been operating since 2017, said in an undated statement on its website that it decided to allow outside investment to serve clients better. Services will remain shut for about five working days while the share transfer is completed, but users needn’t worry about their investments, it said.
"World-renowned banks and funding companies whose name we will reveal when the trade is complete have been offering us investment and partnership for a while," Thodex said in an "important statement."
The company also said that the "negative reporting" about them has been incorrect and that there was nothing users should be concerned about.
The website’s suspension resulted in an immediate outcry from users of the exchange, where daily trading volume tripled to over $1.2 billion on April 16 from a week earlier, according to data published by coingecko.com.
An attorney of the Thodex crash victims, Oğuz Evren Kılıç, said that Özer's lawyer had told him that users were struggling with money transfers on the cryptocurrency exchange in the past few days.
"Finally, the site became completely inaccessible. Panic started among the victims. They're filing criminal complaints," Kılıç said, adding that they made a criminal complaint about Thodex's Istanbul-based parent company Koineks Corp.
Ân itibârı ile müvekkillerimizin yaşadığı mağduriyete istinâden tarafımızdan #Thodex isimli #kripto #para borsasının sâhibi olan Koineks A.Ş. şirketi yetkilileri hakkında suç duyurusunda bulunulmuş, yurt dışına çıkış yasağı ve şirket hesaplarına el koyma talep edilmiştir.— Av. Oğuz Evren Kılıç (@UlgenKhan) April 21, 2021
"We found out that the exchange had a monthly trade volume of about 100 billion Turkish Liras, which is roughly $12 billion. We estimate that about $2 billion went missing. This is the biggest case of fraud in the history of the republic," Kılıç said.
Later on April 22, a picture of Özer at the Istanbul Airport surfaced.
Yaklaşık 2 milyar dolarla kaçtığı iddia edilen kripto para borsası Thodex’in kurucusu Faruk Fatih Özer, İstanbul'dan yurt dışına çıkarken görüntülendi. pic.twitter.com/O2yTHE5THc— Medyanın Elli Tonu (@Medyanin50Tonu) April 22, 2021
Özer was also reported to have met with Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu as a photo of him at the former's office surfaced, although Özer removed the image from his Instagram.
'Reports of my disappearance are untrue'
Özer released a statement on his Instagram on April 22, hours after reports of his disappearance caused an uproar.
"Reports that surfaced on April 22 of my leaving the country with $2 billion belonging to 391,000 people are completely untrue," Özer said.
The Thorex founder confirmed his departure from Turkey and said that he had left to conduct meetings for the purchase of the company as a result of high demand, in line with the official company statement.