Turkish authorities have issued an international arrest warrant for the founder of a cryptocurrency exchange who fled with a reported $2 billion in investors’ assets, Agence France-Presse reported Friday, citing state media.
Police also detained 62 people in raids on Friday over their alleged links to Thodex, the company headed by fugitive businessman Faruk Fatih Özer.
Prosecutors are investigating Özer on charges of “aggravated fraud and founding a criminal organization,” the private DHA news agency reported.
Turkish security officials on Thursday released a photo of him going through passport control at Istanbul Airport on his way to an undisclosed location.
Security sources later confirmed that Özer — said to be 27 or 28 years old — was in Albania.
The justice ministry has started legal procedures to seek the arrest and extradition of Ozer from the Albanian capital of Tirana, the official Anadolu news agency reported.
The Thodex exchange suspended trading after posting a mysterious message on Wednesday saying it needed five days to deal with an unspecified outside investment.
Media reports said the exchange shut down while holding at least $2 billion from 391,000 investors.
The 62 suspects were apprehended in simultaneous raids carried out in eight cities including Turkey’s biggest city of İstanbul, Anadolu reported.
Police raided the company’s headquarters on the Asian side of İstanbul and seized computers and digital materials, press reports said.
There was no immediate information about those being held.
Police have also issued arrest warrants for 16 other people, Anadolu said, without elaborating.
A lawyer for the investors, Oğuz Evren Kılıç, said Friday that the investigation into Thodex “is deepening.”
“Hundreds of thousands of users cannot get access to their digital wallets. The situation will get more serious unless a concrete step is taken” by Thodex, he told AFP by phone.
Kılıç said his clients have already lodged complaints with the prosecutor’s office in İstanbul and other cities.
In a message posted on the company’s official Twitter account on Thursday, Ozer slammed the “baseless allegations” against him.
He said he was abroad for meetings with foreign investors and would return home “in a few days and cooperate with judicial authorities so that the truth can come out.”
Growing numbers of Turks are turning to cryptocurrencies in a bid to shield their savings in the face of a sharp decline in the value of the Turkish lira and high inflation.
The Turkish crypto market remains unregulated despite growing skepticism from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government about its safety.
Turkey’s central bank said last week it will ban the use of cryptocurrencies in payments for goods and services starting from April 30.
It warned that cryptocurrencies “entail significant risks” because the market is volatile and lacks oversight.