In early 2020, Dominic Williams was feted at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, as the next king of blockchain technology. Williams is the founder of the Dfinity Foundation, a Swiss nonprofit organization that started an ambitious project called the Internet Computer, backed by Andreessen Horowitz, one of the most prestigious venture capital firms in Silicon Valley.
The project, years in the works, generated a lot of buzz last month before its initial coin offering, the crypto equivalent of a company going public and listing shares for investors to buy. In early trading after the market debut, the total market value of the Internet Computer token, or ICP, was worth tens of billions of dollars, making it one of the 10 most valuable cryptocurrencies at the time.
The ICP token is designed to help operate a decentralized layer of web infrastructure being built by Dfinity that believers say will liberate users from reliance on companies such as Amazon and Google. The technically complex network would make it easier for people to build software and publish directly to the internet without going through the tech giants’ platforms.
But by last week, ICP’s value had tanked by about 95 per cent.
Even in the famously volatile crypto market, ICP stands out. The stunning climb and crash of this prominent project has market watchers puzzling about what happened — and who may have profited.
Miguel Morel, founder of Arkham Intelligence, a crypto analysis firm that followed the movements of ICP tokens on the blockchain, said the price action and flaws in the coin-offering process suggested “something went wrong.” In an analysis that Arkham first shared with the DealBook newsletter, the firm noted that “a token dropping over 90 per cent in the first month after launch is highly unusual for a project of this scale.”
The process for claiming ICP tokens stands out, because “Dfinity did not follow the playbook of other successful projects,” Arkham said. “Instead, it appears they quietly allowed the treasury and insiders to send billions of dollars of ICP to exchanges, while making it extremely difficult for their longtime supporters to access the tokens they were promised.”
Arkham identified 44 “probable insider addresses” that deposited 10 million ICP tokens worth more than $2 billion to exchanges after the initial coin offering, giving the impression they were transferred for trading, not safeguarding. These transfers coincided with significant drops in the price of ICP, the report said. Small investors, left out of the process, were stuck.
Dfinity gave late, complicated instructions for small investors who bought ICP tokens when they were very cheap in a 2017 crowdfunding round, Arkham said. The process was buggy, and investors complained about limited customer support, according to the report. Morel, who co-founded Reserve, a cryptocurrency created for hyperinflationary economies,…