His legal troubles come at a pivotal moment for the asset he championed. Regulators as well as Wall Street are stepping in to remake the crypto industry as the value of Bitcoin surges. It recently traded at more than $60,000, up from about $7,000 a year ago.
A 35-year-old American who’s long lived in Asia, Hayes had no problem playing the crypto rebel who charged through the guardrails of traditional finance. In 2014 he launched BitMEX, where traders could invest not in Bitcoin itself but in contracts linked to its price moves. (The name is an apparent nod to older markets such as Nymex or Comex where traders swap oil or metals futures.) Contracts can allow traders to take positions quickly, to bet on prices falling as well as rising, and to use leverage to magnify their potential return and risk. “I just loved the fact that with Bitcoin there wasn’t much out there at that time,” the former Citigroup Inc. equities trader told Bloomberg News in a 2018 story. “It was an opportunity to do something on my own, to take some risk, rather than going to some structured, monolithic corporation.”
BitMEX became a force in the burgeoning crypto industry, handling about $65 billion a month in trades by the summer of 2020. Hayes became rich, with some media organizations reporting that he and his two co-founders had become billionaires.
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