Albania Arrests Fugitive Turkish Crypto CEO
At the request of Ankara, Albanian police arrested the founder of what was once one of Turkey’s biggest cryptocurrency exchanges that turned out to be one of the largest scams in the country’s economic history, the Turkish Interior Ministry announced Tuesday.
Faruk Fatih Ozer, the 28-year-old founder and chief executive since 2017 of the now-defunct Thodex, is charged with fleeing Turkey with over US$2 billion in investors’ crypto assets.
He was already on the Interpol red notice list since he allegedly swindled the 400,000 Thodex clients and left them confused without access to their accounts back in April 2021. He was wanted by Turkish authorities for over a year, during which he was reportedly a fugitive in Albania.
Tuesday’s announcement said that Albanian Interior Minister Bledar Cuci called his Turkish counterpart Suleyman Soylu to notify him that Ozer was caught in the seaside Albanian city of Vlora, and his identity was confirmed by biometric results.
Though crypto assets are inherently dicey, Turkish people have flocked to cryptocurrency schemes in recent years as a way to protect their savings against soaring inflation, which is the highest it's been in two decades. The lira crisis fueled a boom in the crypto market, and Thodex, which promoted itself on glamorous ads featuring famous Turkish actresses in red dresses, got its share. Thodex’s trading volume surpassed half a billion dollars prior to its founder taking off.
On April 21, 2021, the company announced on Twitter that it would halt transactions for a couple of days to process an unspecified partnership offer. Photos of Ozer leaving the country had started circulating on social media a day prior to the announcement, however, causing unease among investors.
Thodex made its last Twitter announcement on April 22nd denying allegations that Ozer had run away with the money, ensuring no investors would be victimized. He remained abroad, however, and local media reported that he’d fled to the Albanian capital Tirana. On April 23rd, in a massive police sting, Turkish authorities arrested 68 people over alleged ties to Thodex.
Albanian authorities last year arrested two people accused of providing Ozer with shelter.
Turkey has been hit by other crypto fraud schemes in the past year, including Vebitcoin, the country’s fourth biggest exchange with close to $60 million in daily volumes, which ceased operations days after Thodex did.