Last week, it was reported that Mark Karpelès, founder of failed cryptocurrency exchange Mt.Gox, was facing the possibility of up to ten years in prison on charges of fraud and embezzlement. Japanese prosecutors were arguing hard for the maximum possible sentence in order to demonstrate that they had taken on board the suffering of victims, who are estimated to have lost over $3 million.
As well as being a show trial for Karpelès himself, this also represented a huge test for the wider Bitcoin industry, which has been working tirelessly to legitimise itself and break the historical associations with crime that the media and governments are so keen to perpetuate.
In a move that has been met with huge shock by those directly affected, the Tokyo court handed down a two-and-a-half-year prison sentence, suspended for four years conditional on good behaviour. It will come as a huge relief for Karpelès, who has held for almost a year in detention, under constant interrogation by prosecutors who – in the typical Japanese style – upped the pressure by adding more charges against him.
Although it is possible that the Japanese courts decided that there were just too many grey areas to safely deliver the ten year sentence prosecutors had hoped for, there may have been another unexpected influence on Karpelès’ good fortune – the arrest of former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn. There were some strong parallels between Ghosn’s arrest and subsequent treatment for vague accusations of fraudulent activity, as well as his treatment at the hands of officials – and unlike the man behind Mt.Gox, Ghosn’s case has drawn huge worldwide criticism and thrust the Japanese justice system into the spotlight. In this particular case, it may be that the apparent change of heart is part of a carefully orchestrated PR strategy rather than a reflection of the true will of the court. Regardless, for Karpelès it is a chance to finally put the five year ordeal behind him.
Whilst some of his victims feel that the sentence has highlighted serious flaws in the Japanese justice system, those involved in cryptocurrency will no doubt be relieved to see that what could have easily become a ‘show-trial’ for the industry, with other governments feeling a need to show a similar approach.
With closure on this unfortunate chapter, it is time for Karpelès to rebuild his life, and for the crypto community to put all its efforts into becoming a legitimate, law abiding arena that has the credibility to grow into a mainstream alternative to traditional currency.