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AFP-JIJI

The arrest of Mt. Gox chief Mark Karpeles has begun to shed light on the defunct bitcoin exchange after ¥321 million in the virtual currency vanished from its digital vaults last year.

But as details of a lengthy investigation by police trickle out, at least one crucial question remains unanswered: Where is the money?

On Friday, authorities issued a fresh arrest warrant for Karpeles, a Frenchman, over claims he stole several million dollars from clients, including roughly ¥5.86 million (about $48,000) allegedly spent on a luxury canopy bed.

So far, police have accused Karpeles of manipulating data and stealing sums that amount to just a fraction of the 850,000 coins — worth around ¥48 billion at the time — that disappeared last year.

Mt. Gox, which once said it handled around 80 percent of global bitcoin transactions, filed for bankruptcy protection soon after the cybermoney went missing, leaving a trail of angry investors calling for answers.

Unlike traditional currencies backed by a government or central bank, bitcoins are generated by complex chains of interactions among a huge network of computers around the planet.

Backers say virtual currencies, which started to appear around 2009, allow for an efficient and anonymous way to store and transfer funds online. But critics argue the lack of a legal framework governing the currency, the opaque way it is traded and its volatility make it dangerous.

Following Karpeles’ arrest, Tokyo vowed to boost digital-currency regulations.

Japan’s penal code “is not really catching up with quickly changing business models,” hampering authorities’ investigations, said Hisashi Sonoda, a criminal law professor at Konan University.

First published in The Japan Times on Aug. 24.

Warm up

One-minute chat about banks.

Game

Collect words related to money, e.g., work, deposit, salary.

New words

1) defunct: no longer living or existing; e.g., “The company is now defunct.”

2) vault: secure storage area for valuables; e.g., “They took me to the bank vault.”

3) backer: supporter; e.g., “The firm’s backers have invested a lot.”

4) opaque: not clear; e.g., “Her comment was opaque.”

5) volatility: the state of changing unpredictably; e.g., “They need to deal with price volatility.”

6) penal: showing or setting punishment; e.g., “In Singapore, chewing gum is a penal offense.”

Guess the headline

Mt. _ _ _ CEO’s a_ _ _ _ _ leaves a long trail of unanswered questions

Questions

1) Who is Mark Karpeles?

2) How much money has been lost?

3) Are regulations for using digital currency in place in Japan?

Let’s discuss the article

1) Are you interested in cybermoney?

2) Do you think Bitcoin will become popular in Japan?

3) What do you think should be done to ensure cybermoney can be used safely?

Reference

デジタル社会とともに、ゲームの中の出来事なのか現実世界での出来事なのか見まがうような事件が登場してきました。仮想通貨の紛失は、大きなニュースになりながらもそれが現実世界で起きたことと実感しきれないような印象を残した事件の一つでしょう。事件の後を追って各メディアがそもそも仮想通貨とは何かを説明する、というような場面があちこちで見られました。結果、事件前よりもビットコインの日本国内利用者数は増えたという報道もあります。

しかし、人々が安心して”見えないもの”を使えるようになるためにはきちんとした安全策の整備が不可欠です。

刻々と新しい”形のない通貨”が形を変えながら広まっていく中、一刻も早い法のキャッチアップが急がれます。

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