Do Kwon’s Crypto Empire Fell in a $58 Billion Crash. He’s Got a New Coin.
Luna’s relaunch might be the ultimate act of chutzpah by the South Korean entrepreneur
Luna’s relaunch might be the ultimate act of chutzpah by the South Korean entrepreneur
Do Kwon used swagger and a cultlike Twitter following to build a cryptocurrency empire that collapsed last month in a $58 billion crash. Now, despite angry investors, government investigations and a crypto-market downturn, the South Korean entrepreneur is attempting a comeback.
“I have great confidence in our ability to build back even stronger than we once were,” Mr. Kwon told The Wall Street Journal.
Mr. Kwon has championed the launch of a new version of Terra, the blockchain network that underpinned the failed TerraUSD and Luna cryptocurrencies. TerraUSD was a so-called stablecoin designed to maintain its value at $1, but the coin is now valued at less than a penny. Its collapse triggered a plunge of more than 99% in Luna, the cryptocurrency that backed TerraUSD’s link to the dollar.
The implosion hurt thousands of investors world-wide, including many who put their savings in Anchor Protocol, a sort of crypto bank that offered high yields on TerraUSD deposits. The crash was also a foreshock to crypto-market carnage this month: a brutal selloff led lending platform Celsius Network to freeze all accounts, worth billions of dollars.
Since the TerraUSD crash, groups representing more than 90 people in South Korea have filed complaints against Mr. Kwon accusing him of fraud and illegal fundraising. A spokesperson for the Seoul Southern District Prosecutors’ Office confirmed that it was investigating the Luna and TerraUSD case but declined to provide details. One investor rang the doorbell at Mr. Kwon’s home in Seoul, prompting Mr. Kwon’s wife to seek police protection, according to local media reports. The investor—an internet personality who live streams about crypto—later said on his live stream channel that he had lost money on Luna and was looking to talk to Mr. Kwon in person.
Last week, a U.S. law firm representing a Chicago investor who suffered losses in the TerraUSD crash filed a suit seeking class-action status against Mr. Kwon, his company Terraform Labs and several other firms, accusing them of fraud and the sale of unregistered securities.
Terraform Labs said it wouldn’t comment on any active investigations. It said the lawsuit was meritless and said it intended to defend itself.
Mr. Kwon, 30 years old, said: “I’ve been devastated by recent events and hope that all the families who’ve been impacted are taking care of themselves and those that they love.”
Earlier this year, when Luna was trading near $100, analysts said Mr. Kwon was a billionaire, based on his holdings of the coin. Mr. Kwon said that was probably the case, though he had “never really counted”—and that he lost nearly all his net worth in the crash. “This doesn’t bother me,” he added. “I live a fairly frugal life.”
The launch of the new Terra blockchain took place in late May, after a majority of Luna holders approved the move in a shareholder-style vote. The near-worthless old version of Luna was renamed “Luna Classic,” and holders of TerraUSD and Luna Classic were given a new coin called Luna.
So far it hasn’t gone well: The new Luna began trading at $18.87 on May 28, tumbled right away and was recently trading at US$1.97, according to data provider CoinGecko.
“I don’t understand why anybody in their right mind would want to invest in Luna 2 after watching Luna 1 blow up so dramatically,” said Mati Greenspan, founder of crypto research firm Quantum Economics.
Supporters of the relaunch hope developers will build applications based on Terra technology, spurring activity that causes the new Luna to gain value. “Many builders are in the process of relaunching their apps on the new chain,” Mr. Kwon said.
The relaunch might be the ultimate act of chutzpah by Mr. Kwon, a man with a divided following within the crypto community. His admirers call themselves “Lunatics” and his critics consider him a snake-oil salesman.
“I feel really bad for Do because of the way his name is being dragged through the mud right now,” said Ronald AngSiy, an executive at Intellabridge Technology Corp., a company that allows people to earn interest on cash deposits by investing them in crypto.
Mr. AngSiy interacted with Mr. Kwon in business meetings and acted as an ambassador for Terra. He said he lost more than $1 million of his personal investments in the Luna crash, but maintained a high opinion of Mr. Kwon. “On Twitter he can come off as a megalomaniac, but he’s not like that in person,” he said.
Others in the crypto community say Mr. Kwon ran a sophisticated scam. “It was just really obvious from seeing how this guy tweeted, and how he spoke on camera, and how he carried himself that he was a fraudster,” said Cory Klippsten, chief executive of cryptocurrency firm Swan Bitcoin.
Mr. Kwon rejected Mr. Klippsten’s characterization. He noted that prominent players in the crypto industry had shared Mr. Kwon’s belief in the future of TerraUSD—known by its ticker UST—and that he personally lost money in the crash. “I made confident bets and made confident statements on behalf of UST because I believed in its resilience and its value proposition,” he said. “I’ve since lost these bets, but my actions 100% match my words. There is a difference between failing and running a fraud.”
Since its formation, Terraform Labs has raised more than $200 million from investors such as Coinbase Ventures and Mike Novogratz’s Galaxy Digital Holdings Ltd., according to PitchBook. Coinbase said its investment in Terraform Labs was small and it didn’t directly invest in either TerraUSD or Luna.
Mr. Kwon attended a prestigious foreign-language high school in Seoul, where he excelled at English-language debate, traveling to the World Schools Debating Championships with Team Korea three years in a row. People who knew him as a teenager described him as charismatic, with a penchant for saying controversial things that provoked his classmates.
He graduated from Stanford University with a degree in computer science in 2016. After working at Microsoft Corp. and Apple Inc. and founding an unsuccessful networking startup, Anyfi, he pivoted into crypto.
Mr. Kwon started Terraform Labs in 2018 with Daniel Shin, a respected figure in the Korean startup scene, to develop the Terra blockchain. Mr. Shin declined to comment for this article.
The project’s vision, according to a 2019 white paper co-written by Mr. Kwon, was to create a family of Terra stablecoins tied to the dollar, the Korean won and other traditional currencies. The idea was that people could use these coins—called TerraUSD, TerraKRW and so on—in everyday transactions. Unlike major stablecoins such as USD Coin, Terra stablecoins weren’t backed by real dollars or investments, instead using financial engineering to maintain price stability. Such a design made it harder for governments to control transactions, Mr. Kwon argued. He adopted the motto: “A decentralized economy needs decentralized money.”
Mr. Kwon often differentiated Terra from rival crypto projects by citing the use of its stablecoins by Chai, a South Korean payment app. Chai was launched in 2018 by Chai Corp., a startup founded by his partner Mr. Shin. The app initially used Terra to process payments, in a rare real-world use of blockchain technology. As Chai grew to serve millions of users, Mr. Kwon’s comments fueled the impression that there was a consistent base of users transacting with Terra stablecoins that could serve as a stabilizing force during market volatility.
But Mr. Kwon repeatedly overstated the links between his blockchain projects and Chai, according to a review of his past comments.
A Chai spokesperson said Messrs. Kwon and Shin parted ways in March 2020. By 2021, Chai was no longer using Terra’s blockchain technology or digital assets to process its payments or store its assets, the spokesperson said. Chai and Terra maintained only a marketing partnership that lasted from May 2021 to March 2022, according to the spokesperson.
Still, Mr. Kwon told one interviewer in April 2021 that 2.6 million Koreans were using Terra stablecoins for payments. He mentioned Chai’s use of Terra stablecoins on a podcast as recently as March this year.
Terraform Labs and Mr. Kwon said they had always sought to be truthful in their descriptions of Terra and Chai. They said Mr. Kwon’s comments were correct because of the partnership with Chai, in which the app’s users could convert Terra’s Korean won stablecoins into “Chai money” used to make payments. The Chai spokesperson said the feature, adopted in May 2021 as part of the partnership, was curtailed in scope after four months because of low demand. Today, none of Chai’s services are linked to Terra, the spokesperson said.
Several Terra team members quit in 2020 over discomfort with the direction that Mr. Kwon was taking the project, people familiar with the matter said. One of their concerns was Mr. Kwon’s insistence on setting a fixed yield for deposits in Anchor Protocol to attract users to TerraUSD, the people said. The team members said Mr. Kwon’s approach was unsustainable and urged a floating yield that would react to market conditions.
When Anchor went live in March 2021, its yield was set at about 20%, a lofty interest rate that drew billions of dollars of investors’ money into TerraUSD before its collapse. Terraform Labs declined to comment on former personnel, but noted that Anchor began to move away from having a fixed yield earlier this year.
Another concern that led to the team members’ departures was Mr. Kwon’s push to launch Mirror Protocol, a project they regarded as a violation of U.S. securities laws, the people said. Mirror Protocol was essentially a pseudo-stock market with digital coins that tracked the price of U.S. stocks such as Apple and Tesla Inc.
The project put Mr. Kwon in the crosshairs of the Securities and Exchange Commission, which began investigating Mirror Protocol last year. In September, the SEC served him with a subpoena at a crypto conference in New York. The next month, he sued the SEC in a bid to prevent the agency from enforcing the subpoena. A judge ruled against Mr. Kwon in February, and he lost his appeal earlier this month.
Terraform Labs said it has been complying with the process and relevant court orders. It said Mirror Protocol wasn’t a market or exchange as defined by U.S. law. An SEC spokesperson declined to comment.
As TerraUSD swelled in size, critics—including academics, crypto fund managers and Mr. Kwon’s competitors—warned it was prone to collapse. They noted that similar algorithmic stablecoins had failed in so-called death spirals after the mechanisms tying them to the dollar broke down.
Mr. Kwon dismissed such critics on Twitter. In March, he called people who said TerraUSD could lose its peg “idiots.” Last year, after U.K.-based financial blogger and crypto skeptic Frances Coppola raised concerns about bank runs on crypto-lending platforms, Mr. Kwon tweeted: “I don’t debate the poor on Twitter, and sorry I don’t have any change on me for her at the moment.”
“He was very rude to me,” Ms. Coppola said. Asked about the tweets, Mr. Kwon told the Journal: “Do I regret some of the things I said in the past? Yes.”
Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: July 22, 2022.
Following the devastation of recent flooding, experts are urging government intervention to drive the cessation of building in areas at risk.
An expansive waterfront property with global designer flair.
It’s bold to refer to any property in absolutes, but here Portovenere Estate represents Clontarf’s grandest waterfront statement and its most coveted residence.
Designed in the 1960s, the two-storey, 7-bedroom, 8-bathroom and 5-car parking pile is set on an impressive 3015sqm waterfront plot. Since its inception, the home has had no expense spared in its contemporary reimagining.
Within, the home sees a global interpretation of design elevated by bespoke luxurious finishes from all over the world at every turn.
It starts from before you enter the front door — here an imported Ghizzi and Benatti fixtures from Italy. Once inside, one notices the heated marble and Savadi timber flooring that sweeps through the multiple living and entertaining zones including the family room, formal and casual dining.
Here in these living zones is a combination of designer furnishings and chandeliers from Fendi, Versace and Articolo and a made-to-order Ravens 11 ping-pong table — all of which is available as an option when purchasing the home.
Elsewhere the home’s kitchen is replete with Manhattan calacatta marble and is fitted with Gaggenau appliances and Sub-Zero refrigerators. The butler’s pantry is almost equally luxurious with Miele commercial appliances found here.
Further, the home’s multiple bathrooms are, too, fitted with Ceraba mosaic tiles and Gessi luxury tapware and shower systems.
Throughout the home’s many bedrooms, each is fitted with a timber veneer bedhead design, while the master bedroom sees a Madrona Burl veneer back panel and is complete by its own expansive ensuite (with a spa) and walk-in robe.
Both levels of the home feature outdoor space built to entertain fitted with outdoor BBQ appliances, pizza oven and Janus et Cie furnishing. Further outdoor amenities include the L.A Lakers half-court basketball court, mini soccer field and elevated podium pool.
Back inside, the home is fitted with a number of mod-cons including a poker table, in-home cinema, wine cellar, gym, salon and study with home automation and security managed by a Savant smart system.
A sandstone adorned rooftop entertaining terrace tops off the heady list of amenities that this residence holds, offering stunning views across the waterside suburb and beyond. All levels are accessed via a KONE lift.
The home is also privy to completely contained staff quarters suitable for an in-house au pair.
The property is listed with Monika Tu (+61 409 898 888) of Black Diamondz Property Concierge with a price guide of $35m -$38m; blackdiamondz.com.au
The city-fringe locale continues to boom with its prized mansions and natural amenities
From stately historic mansions to expensive new builds with underground garage space for 20 cars, Medindie, the exclusive inner northern suburb of Adelaide, has always been a well-heeled location with buyers lining up to own property bearing the blue-ribbon address.
Many keen buyers and investors are prepared to wait years for a grand Victorian mansion or a more contemporary sprawling home to come on the market in the area. Such properties tend to move fast. Stunning mansions with impressive facades, sweeping lawns, manicured gardens, tennis courts and swimming pools are located on expansive 1-acre landholdings that cannot be developed or subdivided, making them even more attractive to buyers.
The suburb is home to many historic dwellings including Willyama, built in 1883 by prospecter Charles Rasp, who discovered the rich ore deposits at Broken Hill in New South Wales, and The Briars, built in 1856 for George Hawker, which became a hospital.
Robe Terrace is the suburb’s star attraction, lined with attractive mansions including The Elysian, a modern residence which smashed the state’s residential sales record after selling in excess of $10 million last year. Pretty Victorian villas, contemporary terraces, townhouses and cottages are also sought after, but it’s those grand mansions that are the drawing card.
Medindie offers quality inventory at all levels and attracts families looking for a long-term hold and professionals after a “lock and leave” lifestyle seeking a comfortable base while in Adelaide.
It appeals to medical professionals wanting to be close to major hospitals as well as farmers based in the north of the state wanting a weekender close to the CBD, North Adelaide and Adelaide Oval, a sports and entertainment venue
Nature lovers and fitness fans enjoy the Adelaide Park Lands, known as Australia’s biggest backyard, while the River Torrens Linear Park Trail is a spectacular 30-kilometer nature walk.
It is also on the doorstep of vibrant cosmopolitan precincts including Prospect Road, Walkerville Terrace and O’Connell Street, which showcase charm and convenience.
There is direct access into the city centre, Adelaide Zoo and the Botanical Gardens, plus it’s an easy walk into Rundle Street precinct for shopping.
Adelaide real estate agent Stephanie Williams of Williams Luxury Real Estate said Medindie exudes glamour and prestige with some jaw-dropping homes.
“As well as stunning properties, there are some new properties with show off features such as underground accommodation for 15 to 20 cars and mind-blowing cellars,” she said.
The suburb is a 10-minute drive north from the city center and a 20-minute drive to Adelaide International Airport.
Medindie is adjacent to the Adelaide Park Lands, north of North Adelaide, and is bounded by Robe Terrace to the south, Northcote Terrace to the east, Nottage Terrace to the north and Main North Road to the northwest. It is close to Adelaide’s central business district and surrounded by parklands.
According to Kaytlin Ezzy, CoreLogic research analyst, Medindie houses recorded a median value as of April of A$2 million with top-tier values ranging from $2.38 million to $3.47 million. Compared to the nearby Prospect-Walkerville, Medindie’s median value is 62.6% higher, equivalent to a value gap of approximately $771,863, and nearly double (91%) the median value of the greater Adelaide region ($1.05 million).
Ms. Ezzy said the trend in Medindie’s house values has been positive over the past few years, rising 30.1% over the year to April and 57.2% over the past five years. This has resulted in the median value rising from $1.27 million in April 2017 to $1.54 million in 2021 before rising $463,644 over the past year resulting in a current median value of just over $2 million.
Medindie continues to be one of South Australia’s most prestigious suburbs and is home to generations of families who have resided there for centuries as well as newly wealthy buyers, according to Ms. Williams.
“Once they buy there, they remain, as it is an extremely tightly held location, offering unsurpassable exclusivity and prestige—significant mansions and luxurious estates and properties with prominent land holdings have encouraged affluent families to invest in this area for generations,” she said.
There is a very pronounced short supply of luxury properties on the market in Medindie, where there is a variety of architecture from historic Victorian styles to modern contemporary housing.
There are attractive villas, terraces, townhouses and cottages that are also sought after.
Ms. Williams said lifestyle estates and family homes always sell within their scheduled sales campaigns whether via expressions of interest, auction, or private treaty.
“Covid has changed the buying patterns of the luxury market in particular with wealthy clients changing their priorities to more home-based activities, with health and wellness being a major priority,” Ms. Williams said. “The desire for swimming pools, tennis courts, beautiful established gardens, wellness retreats and home offices being more popular than ever before. Luxury homes have never been in greater demand.”
Statistics show Medindie has 394 residential homes for sale compared to the nearby suburbs of Norwood, which has 1,901 residential homes on the market, and St. Peters, which has 870 residential homes for sale.
Buyers are attracted to Medindie for the magnificent adjacent parklands, its proximity to central Adelaide and larger-than-average block sizes.
It is also the only suburb within a short stroll of the exclusive girls-only Wilderness School.
Medindie is surrounded by shopping locales, including the Rundle Mall and Rundle Street in the city, which offer a wide range of luxury boutiques, including the David Jones department store. It is also very close to fashion-forward Melbourne Street and cosmopolitan O’Connell Street, the North Adelaide Shopping Village, and the shops along super-trendy Prospect Road.
Grocery stores in North Adelaide include Cibo Espresso, The Flying Fig, Coffee Gods Café, Romeo’s Foodland and The North Adelaide Village.
Top restaurants include The Lion Hotel, a South Australian icon that is directly across the Parklands, and North Adelaide has the Gin Long Canteen, Ruby Red Flamingo and Marrakech. The nearby Adelaide CBD has a vast range of excellent restaurants including Soi 38 known for its Thai cuisine, Italio-American inspired Fugazzi Bar and Dining Room, Osteria Oggi, Japanese-inspired Erato Teppanyaki, Arkhe on The Parade where chef Jake Kellie from Michelin star Burnt Ends in Singapore stars, and Orso on Kensington Road that has a following for its seafood and pasta.
Private schools include the Wilderness School, St. Peters College, Prince Alfred College and St. Andrews School. Nearby public schools include the new Adelaide Botanic High School, North Adelaide Primary School, Walkerville Primary School and Prospect Primary School.
Property tycoons, farmers, bankers, medical specialists, successful IT professionals and socialites all call Medindie home.
Ms. Williams said the market in Medindie continues to be incredibly strong, with buyer demand for this esteemed suburb at an all-time high and showing no signs of slowing down.
“We are continuing to experience a very high level of buyer inquiry for homes for sale in the area and some homes are selling off-market without reaching the paper or any online platforms,” she said.
“The suburb has always performed extremely well from a capital growth perspective and consistently features in the top 10 performing suburbs in South Australia. The average house price in Medindie over the past 12 months is A$2.68 million, which is an incredible growth of 82.4% during this time.”
Ms. Essy said while still reporting strong quarterly growth compared to the national trend (5.6%), capital appreciation across the Adelaide house market has started to ease.
“With the cash rate starting to rise and consumer confidence continuing to trending downwards, it’s likely the housing market is inching toward a downswing, with the higher end of the market typically showing more volatility both in the upwards and downwards phase of the cycle,” she said.
Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: June 18, 2022.
In the year to May, an additional 497 markets joined the million-dollar club.
A record number of Australians spent $1 million or more to purchase a home in the past 12 months according to CoreLogic’s annual Million Dollar Markets report.
Over the year to March 2022, CoreLogic collected 596,733 sales nationally up 19.8% from the 497,923 recorded over the previous year. Of those sold this year, 23.8% sold for $1 million or more.
In the year to May, an additional 497 markets 450 houses and 37 unit markets) joined the million-dollar club bringing the total markets to 1367 or 30.4% of house and unit markets analysed in May to a median value of $1 million or more.
“High consumer sentiment, tight advertised supply, and low-interest rates fuelled strong home value growth throughout 2021, resulting in a new record high annual growth rate of 22.4% over the 12 months to January,” said CoreLogic Research Analyst Kaytlin Ezzy.
“Despite values having risen across all capital cities and rest of state areas annually, we have seen a divergence in growth conditions across markets over the year to date.
“Since January, dwelling values across Sydney and Melbourne have started to decline, while values have continued to rise across South Australia and Queensland. More recently, Canberra, which had previously recorded many months of consecutive growth, recorded its first falls in dwelling values in some years in May.”
Sydney suburbs made up 26.3% of the new million-dollar markets with more than half of all Sydney sales over the 123 months to May transacting at or above $1 million.
In Sydney, 448 house and 104 unit markets have a current median value of $1 million dollars or higher, an increase of 26.6% from the previous year. The new million-dollar markets are largely concentrated in the city’s South West (30) and Outer South West (15) as well as the Central Coast region (20).
In the year to May, 51.9% of transactions in Sydney sold for $1 million or more. Bellevue Hill in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs is the most expensive house market, both across Sydney and nationally, with a current median value of $8,024,682.
Elsewhere, in Melbourne 212 house and 11 unit markets had a median value at or above $1 million in May majority of which are located in Melbourne’s Inner (39), Inner South (42), Inner East (30) and Outer East (30).