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The chief executive of a UK-based Bitcoin exchange has been kidnapped in Ukraine, according to new reports.
Pavel Lerner, 40, was reportedly abducted as he left his office in Kiev on Dec. 26. According to Ukranian and Russian media outlets, Lerner was grabbed and dragged into a black Mercedes-Benz by a group of masked men. The BBC received confirmation from local authorities that a man had been kidnapped that day, but Kiev police did not confirm his identity.
The identities or motives of the kidnappers are currently unknown. A spokesperson for the Kiev police said that the matter is currently under investigation, and that more information would be available to the public in the coming days.
Lerner is a Russian citizen, a blockchain expert and the managing director of EXMO, a Bitcoin exchange based in Polegate, England. According to EXMO’s website, the exchange has workers in Spain, Russia, India and Thailand, as well as “financial advisers” from the UK, the US, Lithuania and Singapore.
Despite being a UK financial institution, the exchange’s primary financial operations are conducted in Ukraine. Lerner is also a prominent figure in the Ukrainian cryptocurrency scene.
EXMO has released a statement to Russian government-backed outlet RT, stating that Lerner’s abduction wouldn’t affect the company’s business. “Despite the situation, the exchange is working as usual. We also want to stress that the nature of Pavel’s job at EXMO doesn’t assume access either to storages or any personal data of users. All users funds are absolutely safe.”
“We are doing everything possible to speed up the search of Pavel Lerner,” EXMO wrote. “Any information regarding his whereabouts is very much appreciated.”
In the wake of Lerner’s kidnapping, EXMO’s website was also hit with a distributed-denial-of-service (DDoS) attack on Thursday morning, the company wrote in a tweet. The cyberattack temporarily knocked bitcoin trading offline. It’s unknown if the two events are connected.
Digital wallets and cryptocurrency exchanges are increasingly becoming targets for criminals and thieves. During one attack this month, thieves made off with nearly $70 million worth of bitcoin, CNN reported on Dec. 8.