John Bigatton, top Australian promoter of BitConnect, an alleged Ponzi scheme that collapsed in January of 2018, has been blocked from traveling by an Australian court. His assets—including any cryptocurrency holdings, and the holdings of his investment management firm—are subject to a freeze order. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the freeze accompanies an investigation of Bigatton by Australia’s financial enforcement agency, ASIC.
Bigatton’s wife disappeared last year in March, and is now presumed dead in what may have been either a murder or suicide. According to the Herald, John Bigatton is not suspected of direct involvement in his wife’s disappearance. However, her disappearance coincided with widening investigations into BitConnect, and she appears to have struggled with the fallout from her husband’s involvement.
Throughout the 2017 crypto rally, BitConnect was pitched by a legion of promoters worldwide, including extensively on YouTube, Facebook, and other social media platforms. BitConnect was ostensibly a “crypto lending” platform, and promised returns as high as 40 percent per month to participants who lent funds to the company. According to the pitch, BitConnect’s proprietary “volatility trading software” then leveraged those funds to generate returns supposedly around one percent per day.
Promises of such outsized returns are a common warning sign of financial scams, and ICO scams in particular. Though algorithmic trading on volatility can be an effective long-term strategy, algorithmic trading in stocks is high-risk, and even in winning times doesn’t produce returns even close to BitConnect’s promises.
BitConnect was likely able to fulfill its pitch for a time, and in turn grow larger and last longer than many Ponzis, thanks to the crypto bubble of 2017. BitConnect’s fraudulent nature became clear in January, when the crypto market crashed and BitConnect shut down, citing in part “bad press.” BitConnect’s own proprietary crypto-token, BCC, rapidly crashed from a high of more than $440 to just 69 cents today.
Bigatton was among the promoters onstage during the infamous BitConnect Annual Ceremony where Carlos Matos, enthusiastic BitConnect “investor” and crypto-meme legend, declared that, “the world is not anymore the way it used to be, no, no, no!” Bigatton’s role in BitConnect seems to have been roughly analogous to those of American promoters like Glenn Arcaro, Trevon James, Craig Grant, and Ryan Hildreth, who collected commissions for their efforts, but did not create or administer BitConnect.
In fact, it is unclear whether some BitConnect promoters fully understood what they were promoting. Nonetheless, Bigatton is just the latest of a string of promoters targeted by anti-fraud enforcers. Another high-ranking promoter, India’s Divyesh Darji, was arrested in Dubai in August, and Trevon James claims to have been questioned by the SEC. However, there is still no clarity about who created and ran BitConnect—and would have profited most dramatically from it.
Despite the sobering effects of BitConnect’s collapse and the broader crypto-crash, ICOs continue to appear at a furious clip. The ease with which creators can hide their identities, and the spotty nature of global financial fraud enforcement, guarantees that they will remain an appealing option for scam artists. Whatever the fallout from Australia’s investigation, John Bigatton’s story makes clear that such scams have real costs—including for their most enthusiastic collaborators.