Britain’s youngest billionaire and Bitcoin exchange co-founder charged over money laundering in US

Britain’s youngest self-made billionaire and Bitcoin exchange founder has been charged in the US with wilfully failing to prevent money laundering.

Oxford graduate Ben Delo, 36, is accused along with three other co-founders of BitMEX of conspiring to violate the Bank Secrecy Act, according to an indictment lodged with the Southern District of New York on Thursday.

Mr Delo, Arthur Hayes and Samuel Reed, who jointly founded the cryptocurrency derivatives trading platform in 2014, were required to register with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and establish an anti money laundering program but “chose to flout those requirements”, US prosecutors allege.

While knowing of BitMEX’s obligation to implement anti-money laundering programs because they were serving US customers, the founders formally incorporated the company in the Seychelles – a jurisdiction they believed had less stringent regulations.

The charges are the latest in a years-long effort by the US to crackdown on a cryptocurrency market that was once largely unregulated.

“With the opportunities and advantages of operating a financial institution in the United States comes the obligation for those businesses to do their part to help in driving out crime and corruption,” said Audrey Strauss, Acting Manhattan US Attorney.

“As alleged, these defendants flouted that obligation and undertook to operate a purportedly ‘off-shore’ crypto exchange while willfully failing to implement and maintain even basic anti-money laundering policies.”

Lawyers for the defendants could not immediately be reached.

Mr Delo began his career as a software engineer at IBM, where he was named as an inventor on several patents granted.

He then founded BitMEX with Mr Hayes, whose value was estimated at $3.6 billion (£2.8bn) in 2018. Mr Delo owns 30 per cent of the firm, which makes his net worth more than $1 billion.

The Sunday Times later that year named him as the UK’s youngest billionaire.

Mr Delo, who now lives with his wife in Hong Kong, told the paper that he “owns only three pairs of shoes — trainers, a pair of “sensible” leather brogues and flip-flops” and that he and his wife “use special offer vouchers when they buy meals in McDonald’s.” 

He has given away millions over the years, including to his alma mater.

In 2019, he signed The Giving Pledge, a programme orchestrated by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, announcing his intention to give away at least half of his wealth during his lifetime.

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