Dubai Court finds Canadian company and its owner liable in USD 7M cryptocurrency dispute
The plaintiff, a Canadian businessman, filed a suit before the Dubai Primary Court against the first defendant, an individual who owned the second defendant, a company established according to the laws of British Columbia, Canada. The company operated in the cryptocurrency market, facilitating the buying and selling of various currencies using fiat currencies such as Canadian and US dollars.
In early 2018, the first defendant traveled from Canada to the United Arab Emirates and met the plaintiff at a hotel in Dubai. Following their discussion, an agreement was reached wherein the company owned by the plaintiff, would use the services of the Canadian company (second defendant) to facilitate electronic transfer payments. It was agreed that the second defendant would act as a third-party payment processor for both the plaintiff personally and his company for payments and wire transfers.
As a part of the agreement, the plaintiff opened a trading account with the second defendant. The plaintiff would transfer Bitcoin or any other currency to the second defendant using his personal account. The terms and conditions allowed the plaintiff to cancel the account and withdraw all his balances at any time.
By the end of 2018, the second defendant delayed several transfers and claimed to have sent electronic transfer confirmation forms to the plaintiff, but the plaintiff received none of these transfers. In early 2019, the plaintiff emailed the first defendant, pointing out the pending transfers that lacked tracking codes. He asked the first defendant to provide the tracking numbers for these transfers. The first defendant promised to send them to the plaintiff, but the plaintiff received neither the tracking numbers nor the transfers that the first defendant claimed to have sent.
In mid-2019, the plaintiff attempted to withdraw his cryptocurrency assets from his account with the second defendant. However, the first and second defendants refused to hand over the cryptocurrency assets and wrongfully retained them. The value of the cryptocurrencies in the account of the plaintiff with the second defendant amounted to USD 6,782,459.96, representing the average price of the cryptocurrencies in said account during the period from February 2021 to March 2021 according to details in an expert report submitted by the plaintiff.
The court deliberated the submissions and issued an interim order to appoint a financial expert to report on the technical submissions of the plaintiff.
The court-appointed expert relied on details of the digital currency wallet of the plaintiff, extracted from the website of the Canadian company (the second defendant). The details contained the balance of the digital currencies and their value at the dates of transfer and claim proceedings. The total value of the digital currency balance as of the date of transfer to the second defendant was found to be USD 2,711,570.98 and as of the date of the preliminary court-appointed expert report was USD 7,460,838.38.
The court found a definite relationship between the parties, evidenced by the email correspondence exchanged between the plaintiff and the first defendant. Furthermore, the cryptocurrency wallet details, obtained from the website of the Canadian company (second defendant), including the cryptocurrency balance and its value, played a crucial role in the proceedings.
The court accepted the values of USD 2,711,570.98 and USD 7,460,838.38 as points for formulating the quantum of the amount claimed.
The plaintiff had snapshots of his trading account with the second defendant, which confirmed the balance demanded in the lawsuit. As pointed out by the court-appointed expert in his report, this balance was owed to the plaintiff by both defendants, based on an email sent by the first defendant to the plaintiff in early 2019. This correspondence acknowledged the outstanding balance in the account of the plaintiff, including the existence of cryptocurrencies in the crypto wallet.
Moreover, the plaintiff presented extracts from the accounting software used by both defendants, showing the balances of the crypto wallet belonging to the plaintiff and the deposited cryptocurrencies. The court found that this electronic correspondence and documents pointed to the liability of the first and second defendants for the crypto wallet belonging to the plaintiff.
Based on these findings, the court deduced that the first defendant, as the owner of the second defendant, controlled the tracking numbers of the transfers and the cryptocurrencies in the crypto wallet of the plaintiff.
The court found the first and second defendants jointly liable to pay the plaintiff an amount of USD 6,782,459.96 or its equivalent in Emirati Dirham, along with legal interest at an annual rate of 5% from the date of judgment until the full payment.
This recent judgment by the Dubai Primary Court marked a significant precedent, displaying the ability of the Dubai Courts to pierce the corporate veil of foreign companies, in this case, a Canadian company, holding its owner personally liable. This judgment highlights the universal reach of Dubai Courts, effectively adjudicating multi-jurisdictional disputes, irrespective of the place of incorporation or domicile of the entities involved.
In this case, the decision by the Dubai Primary Court to hold the owner of the Canadian company personally responsible signifies a significant expansion of Court authority over international entities in cryptocurrency disputes, demonstrating the commitment by the Dubai Courts to ensuring justice and enforcing liability.
This decision also highlights the acceptance of the Dubai Courts of sophisticated evidence regarding crypto transactions and crypto wallets. This development can be regarded as progressive in the rapidly evolving digital world of today.
The reliance by the Court on digital currency balances, the examination of email correspondences, and data from accounting software indicate a keen understanding and acceptance of digital and cryptographic evidence.
As the world continues to grapple with the legal implications and complications of cryptocurrencies, the judgment by the Dubai Courts represents a significant step towards developing an effective judicial framework that can handle cases involving international crypto transactions. The ruling sends a clear message that the Dubai Courts are capable of providing justice in cases involving cryptocurrencies, despite their inherent complexity and the international jurisdictional issues involved.
The progressive stance and competent handling of such complex cases by the Dubai Courts are likely to attract more international crypto-related cases, thereby further establishing Dubai as a global hub for resolving disputes in the realm of digital currencies, and reaffirming the commitment by Dubai to innovation, technological advancement, and its position as a pioneering legal jurisdiction in the age of digital finance.
Mahmoud is a Harvard graduate solicitor of the Supreme Court of Victoria, a Qualified Arbitrator by the ADR Institute of Canada, and registered with the Dubai International Financial Centre Courts and the Abu Dhabi Global Market.
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