Three of Israel’s largest and most hyped ICOs were outright scams, according to their former employees. The three projects raised over $250 million in their respective token sales, but according to the employees, the operators directed the funds to their own personal expenses.
The three—Sirin Labs, Stx Technologies Ltd (Stox) and Leadcoin—conducted their ICOs in 2017 and 2018. Of the three, Sirin Labs was the most famous, grabbing headlines with its promise of the world’s first fully blockchain-powered smartphone. It raised $158 million in July 2017, leveraging celebrity promotion, including by soccer icon Lionel Messi.
Stox, on its part raised $34 million a month later to build a decentralized predictions market. In March the following year, Leadcoin conducted its ICO, raising $58 million for a decentralized lead sharing network.
However, according to a new report in Israel, the three were operated by the same cabal; one which was just out to defraud investors.
Three former employees have filed a lawsuit accusing their former bosses of scamming investors with no intention of building the products they promised. The three worked for Singulariteum, a venture capital fund whose executives allegedly orchestrated the ICO scams.
The employees have accused a number of people and entities, but one name stands out: Moshe Hogeg. The Israeli entrepreneur has been one of the big names in the country’s blockchain scene. He is perhaps best known as the man behind Sirin Labs. After a successful ICO in 2017, his company kept on making promises on when its anticipated blockchain-powered smartphone would hit the market, but always falling short.
In 2019, he laid off a quarter of his staff and in 2020, he was sued by Foxconn for failure to pay $6 million it owed for the production of 10,000 smartphones. Hogeg has also been sued many other times away from his Sirin Labs venture, but according to local reports, he has always settled the cases out of court.
The plaintiffs are suing Hogeg and his alleged gang of scammers for $16.1 million. They claim to have invested their funds into the companies Hogeg started, in firm belief that they would be a success. They also solicited their friends and families to put in their money as well. However, they’d later allegedly come to discover that their bosses were spending the money on expensive trips overseas and luxurious condominiums. According to reports, one of them was reportedly paying $15,000 a month in rent for a penthouse in Tel Aviv
Part of the lawsuit claimed, “The defendants understood the advantages and the potential inherent in raising money through initial coin offerings, especially the lack of oversight and regulation in this area.”
The Times of Israel has pointed to statements made by representatives for one of Hogeg’s firms illustrating his belief that the unregulated digital currency industry allowed him to do as he wished.
At an industry event in December 2017, during the height of the ICO popularity, the representative stated, “It’s the Wild West. No one knows what is going on. Facebook aren’t blocking the ads yet. Google aren’t blocking the ads. You can do whatever you want.”
Hogeg has denied the allegations, Walla!News reports. This is despite recordings from his now-deceased accountant confirming that the entrepreneur was out to defraud investors. The accountant, who died from complications from surgery, claimed that Hogeg used blackmail, threats and even ‘bribing his critics with European women’ to keep them quiet.