TOKYO—“Everybody loves a winner,” it is said, but “when you lose, you lose alone,” especially when you lose nearly half a billion dollars and bankrupt your company.

But what would happen if even after that loss, your company miraculously managed to come back from the dead—with over a billion dollars worth of assets, twice what it lost?

You’d be a winner again and everyone would love you, right?

Not if you’re Mark Karpeles, former CEO of Mt. Gox (Tokyo), which was once the world’s biggest cryptocurrency exchange. This guy, instead of flying on the wings of a dove, is fending off buzzards—particularly one big carrion-eater: cryptocurrency entrepreneur and billionaire Brock Pierce.  

Last month, Pierce, whom comedian John Oliver once described as “that sleepy creepy cowboy from the future,” began making claims that he’s the real owner of the firm, wild claims that were repeated by some major news organizations as revelations.

In the February 2018 issue of Forbes magazine, Pierce, a former child actor, was listed among the “top 20 wealthiest people in crypto” with an estimated net worth between $700 million and $1.1 billion. But with his great wealth come some great problems.

Join us in unwinding the sordid tale of a well-meaning, cat-loving, computer coding French genius, and a unicorn-loving Silicon Valley visionary and how they came to be waging a Harry Potteresque and very public battle over The Company That Would Not Die.

The prize: $1.2 billion worth of assets.

The stakes: the hard-earned savings of thousands of people.

A Brief History Of Bitcoin and Mt. Gox

Bitcoin aka “digital gold” is the mother of all cryptocurrencies, and despite the huge fluctuations in price, the cryptocurrency boom rages on.  In 2008, the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto, who may or may not be Japanese, posted a paper on creating a digital currency that was safe, secure, and could not be duplicated. The currency was engineered to max out at 21 million bitcoins, ensuring scarcity as well. The key to this was using a public ledger—the block chain—dispersed over the internet, to make forging bitcoins impossible and also keep a record of every bitcoin transaction. By 2009, there was a working version of the software available.

The invention of bitcoin enabled people to trade virtual money over the internet with no central bank and little oversight. Anarchists, libertarians, and economic idealists all became fascinated with the idea of a currency free from government boundaries with almost no transaction fees. To some extent, there was also great anonymity.

No one was precisely sure what could be done with bitcoin in those early days. Some suggested online betting; Satoshi Nakamoto thought it might be perfect for purchasing porn without your wife knowing or giving your credit card details to “the porn guys.”

The first real-world transaction with bitcoin took place on May 22, 2010 when Laszlo Hanyecz bought two pizzas for 10,000 BTC (bitcoin) from Papa John’s via a third party. (BTC was worth .25 cents at the time). On Dec. 17, 2017, at the height of the bitcoin bubble, that pizza would have been worth  $197,830,000.