Police are investigating the death of Tobias Niemiro, a Polish entrepreneur and co-owner of cryptocurrency exchange Bitmarket, which closed on July 8 under suspicious circumstances.
Niemiro’s body was found with a bullet wound to the head on Thursday in a forest near his home city of Olsztyn, three hours from the Polish capital, Warsaw, according to local radio. The exact circumstances of his death are, as yet, unconfirmed.
Poland’s leading newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza, which has been heavily following the story, suggested that Niemiro, 44, had committed suicide.
However, acquaintances of Niemiro say they suspect foul play.
Local businessman, Adam Socha claimed today, in a blog post, that he had received an email from Niemiro, a few hours before he died.
“The email was long. It seemed like he had found himself in an environment of shady businessmen. He gave names. I will not disclose its content because of the investigation. I forwarded the email to the prosecutor’s office. He also wrote that he would provide certain materials, but he didn’t have time,” said Socha.
Niemiro’s exchange, Bitmarket, posted a notice claiming “lack of liquidity” when it suddenly closed down two weeks ago, and customers complained that they couldn’t access their funds.
More than 400 investors allegedly lost a total of 2300 bitcoin (worth approximately $23 million,) according to Gazeta Wyborcza, and on July 11, the Polish authorities announced an investigation.
In separate statements issued after the close of Bitmarket, Niemiro and his co-founder, Marcin Aszkiełowicz, denied allegations that they had misappropriated clients’ funds.
Niemiro also told Polish website Money.pl, that he was not responsible for administering the exchange funds and had suffered losses himself.
“I lost everything because somebody caused the collapse of the exchange,” he said. “Now I’m losing face and my good name, for which I’ve worked all my life. I am one of the victims.”
Bitmarket was Poland’s second biggest cryptocurrency exchange, and was founded by Polish web entrepreneur Michał Pleban in 2014. A year later, he sold it to Niemiro and Aszkiełowicz.
The newspaper reported that Aszkiełowicz and Niemiro said they took over Bitmarket in 2015, when it had a deficit of 600 bitcoin. Aszkiełowicz also said that this was “the result of an extraordinary situation” and “management errors” by previous owners. And, in fact, the exchange was temporarily shut down by its Polish bank in January 2015. The reasons given by the bank were “outstanding debt and lack of credentials.”
However, Pleban has denied this, and attributed the difficulty to one fraudulent transaction.
He has also contested Aszkiełowicz and Niemiro’s version of events surrounding the sale of Bitmarket. He claims they were unable to cover the sale price so, under the terms of the deal, it was agreed that just over 500 bitcoins would be deducted from the exchange’s portfolio.
In an interview with Polish website, Debata, Niemiro claimed that it was Aszkiełowicz’s role to make transfers to plug the deficit, and said he felt guilty that he didn’t check whether this had been done.
Decrypt was unable to reach Aszkiełowicz for comment.
Gazeta speculates that the partners may have hoped that, in time, they could cover the missing funds, but were caught out by bitcoin’s rapid appreciation between 2017 and 2018.
Polish prosecutors are currently investigating exchange data to establish the movement of funds. And victims have initiated a criminal action against Aszkiełowicz and Niemiro.
According to the case prosecutor, it’s currently at pre-trial proceedings stage. In Polish law that means the prosecutor can apply to safeguard the assets of those involved in the case, blocking bank accounts, seizing shares and real estate.