In March 2018, shortly after bitcoin’s bull run to $20,000, a publicly-traded Chinese company invested 500 million yuan, worth $80 million at the time, to buy 100,000 bitcoin mining units.
As the bear market kicked in during the months that followed, so, too, did a contract dispute, offering a rare window into Chinese public firms tapping into bitcoin mining as a new business stream and reflecting the prolonged magnitude of last year’s market sell-off.
The $80 million mining investment made by Beijing Cailiang, an app developer fully-owned by Shenzhen-listed Wholeasy, brought home almost negligible profit return in 2018. Yet it dragged the company into a lawsuit involving $15 million in debt and a potential criminal case with accusation of fraudulent public disclosure.
Though the amount at dispute may seem insignificant, the case sheds light on the increasing investments by institutions in China into an area where even public entities typically shy away from public discussions.
The missing bitcoin miners
Gaming app and marketplace provider Wholeasy, with now a $500 million market cap, disclosed last Thursday that Chinese law enforcement has opened a criminal case against bitcoin miner supplier Ebang. Wholeasy’s Cailiang subsidiary filed the complaint, accusing Ebang of committing sales fraud.
That evening in China, Ebang, one of the three Chinese bitcoin miners that attempted to go public in Hong Kong in 2018, said in an urgent response that Cailiang filed the police report in a malicious attempt to play the victim.
The miner maker released a dozen pages of sales contracts and delivery receipts as supporting documents to debunk Cailiang’s story. Ebang said it had already filed a separate report to financial regulators in China accusing Cailiang of fraudulent disclosure on its liability as a public company.
The escalation followed a civil contract dispute case over an unpaid amount of 100 million yuan, worth $15 million, as part of the two parties’ $80…