On December 26th 2017, unknown men wearing balaclavas forced the lead analyst for cryptocurrency exchange EXMO into a car and let him go only three days later having received a big ransom. The news made it to the headlines of cryptomedia around the world.
After freeing and cooperating with the police, Mr. Lerner left Ukraine feeling it was unsafe to stay there. Now he is working at BitSonar, an international project engaged in quantum analytics of trading data and building quantum strategies for trading.
For more than a year, Mr. Lerner stayed silent and never contacted any media. However, recently the leading Russian-language cryptocurrency media outlet ForkLog managed to interview him about the abduction and his current work.
This article is based on the authorized English translation of the interview.
First, to rebut the rumors of his severe injuries, Mr. Lerner said:
“I wasn’t severely injured. The handcuffs left some fractures in my radial bones, though, and my wrists hurt sometimes. For a few months after the kidnapping I had a hard time typing things so I couldn’t do my main job, which is coding and analyzing the market.”
“My biggest trauma is psychological. Such things aren’t normal. It’s good I had friends and relatives by my side. They helped me switch my mind off that story.”
He added that, while the police were working professionally, he does not believe the investigation will bear any fruit.
“When the kidnappers set me free, or, more accurately, threw me out of the car, I had to speak with the Ukrainian police almost all the time. The police acted professionally. The investigation is still underway, though I don’t think they’ll find the culprits.”
He also noted that there might be “an international criminal network involved” that targets cryptomillionaires.
“The investigators showed me some darknet posts: find us millionaires, and we’ll pay you for info. There were around 20 names on the list. I wasn’t even the first one to be kidnapped.”
However, it seems that the criminals themselves were not very good at crypto.
“They wanted me to give all my bitcoins to them. Apparently, they weren’t good at it as they requested 10,000 BTC as ransom. Back then, 1 BTC was worth around $20,000. [In the end, the ransom] was 102 BTC. Back then it was around $2 million.”
“I would like them to be brought to justice. As far as I know, the investigation is still going on, and there is a list of suspects. Somebody was even arrested, but I don’t think they’ll find the kingpin.”
Mr. Lerner believes that while such incidents are less likely in developed countries with higher levels of personal safety, nobody is truly safe.
“Please remember that anyone can be abducted and robbed. It’s just a question of price and time. Your objective is to make it clear to all criminals: it’s easier to rob twenty shops and drive away on a fire truck than to abduct you,” he said.
When asked about his current life and work, Mr. Lerner said:
“BitSonar asked me to assess their algorithmic trading part. I liked their system, the team, and the partners. We have similar views on modern freedoms and the place cryptocurrencies have therein. I think that’s why they offered me to lead the algorithmic trading department.”
“The project is engaged in quantum analytics. Using software, we analyze data for big periods of time, find matches, build hypotheses and test them. If the hypothesis is proven right, we make it a quantum strategy. BitSonar doesn’t work exclusively with cryptocurrencies. It’s not just a project but a whole philosophy for the new world. For now I cannot disclose much detail but I can say that BitSonar plans to solve problems with personal freedom, security, movements, and asset management.”
He also noted that the prime audience for the project are “holders” who “bought bitcoin for 17 or 18 thousand dollars, so the cryptosummer has not come to them yet” as well as “investors with high risk appetite and users of trading bots”.
“BitSonar will increase the number of coins such people own with robots, neural networks, and quantum strategies,” Mr. Lerner added.
Mr. Lerner recommended everyone involved in crypto to leave former USSR republics if they wish to maintain personal safety. Additionally, he offered a piece of advice for those who fear that they might be targeted by criminals. He also noted that wearing a tracking device with a secret panic button might be a good idea.
On the final note he said, however, that the most important part of one’s personal security is the belonging to the local community.
“Join the local community. Legal and financial assistance is easier to find in this case. When like-minded people join their efforts and build systemic processes, there is a brand new level of service.”