Turkish authorities on Friday detained 62 people over alleged links to an Istanbul-based cryptocurrency exchange after its founder fled with a reported $2 billion in investors’ assets, official media reported.
The suspects were apprehended in raids carried out in eight cities including Istanbul, the Anadolu news agency reported. Police issued arrest warrants for 16 other people.
There was no immediate information about the detainees.
The Thodex exchange suspended trading after posting a mysterious message on Wednesday saying it needed five days to deal with an unspecified outside investment.
Reports said the exchange shut down while holding at least $2 billion from 391,000 investors.
Turkish security officials then released a photo of Thodex founder Faruk Fatih Ozer going through passport control at Istanbul airport on his way to an undisclosed location.
Security sources cited by HaberTurk television said he was in Albania.
Investors’ lawyer Oguz Evren Kilic told AFP on Thursday that hundreds of thousands of users were unable to get access to their digital wallets.
“We have started the legal procedures and lodged a complaint at the prosecutor’s office,” he said.
Prosecutors were investigating the businessman on charges of “aggravated fraud and founding a criminal organisation”.
Police raided the company’s headquarters on the Asian side of Istanbul and seized computers and digital materials, press reports revealed.
In a message on the company’s Twitter account, Ozer said he was abroad for meetings with foreign investors and would return home “in a few days and cooperate with judicial authorities so that the truth can come out”.
Growing numbers of Turks are turning to cryptocurrency in a bid to shield their savings in the face of a sharp decline in the value of the Turkish lira and high inflation.
The Turkish crypto market remains unregulated despite growing scepticism from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government about its safety.