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Who is Do Kwon? Where is the Controversial Terra Founder Now?

Crypto suffers from no shortage of controversial figures, and one of the most controversial right now is Do Kwon. The South Korean is the co-founder of Terra, a blockchain network that was the home to the TerraUSD (UST) stablecoin, which at one point in time had a market cap of $18.77 billion. However, despite becoming one of the biggest stablecoins in the cryptocurrency market, UST spectacularly lost its peg with the US dollar in May, causing Terra to collapse and investors to lose their life savings.

Needless to say, this made Do Kwon an unpopular person fairly quickly, with the South Korean police initiating an investigation a few days after Terra’s demise. However, since the collapse, the whereabouts of Do Kwon have remained a mystery, with early admissions of the Terra co-founder residing in Singapore recently being contradicted by Singaporean police, who confirmed last week that Kwon is not in the city-state.

To help illuminate just where Do Kwon may be now, this article recounts a history of Do Kwon and looks at the available evidence pointing to his current whereabouts. In so doing, it hopefully provides insight into the kind of person who launches their own cryptocurrency platform, as well as the kind of person who does so without introducing sufficient safeguards for its investors.

Terra founder Do Kwon

Early Life and Education

Born in Seoul, South Korea in 1991, Do Kwon graduated from Daewon Foreign Language High School in 2010 and then moved to the United States, where he studied computer science at Stanford University.

He received his BS in Computer Science from Stanford in 2015, after which a personal blog of his reports that he worked for “short stints” at Microsoft and Apple, although neither company has provided confirmation of this claim.

Reports from Korean media suggest that he returned to South Korea shortly after he graduated from Stanford and/or worked at Microsoft and Apple, in either 2015 or 2016. He appears to have made this return with the attention of launching his first startup.

First Business Ventures and Terra Launch

Back in South Korea, Do Kwon founded Anyfi in January 2016. According to LinkedIn, Anyfi was a startup that “builds peer-to-peer connectivity solutions using mesh networks,” a description that suggests it operated within the nascent cryptocurrency space, although mesh networks aren’t the same as blockchain networks.

Anyfi appears to have dissolved in October 2017, with LinkedIn listing only three employees for the short-lived firm, with two of these unnamed (one is likely to be Do Kwon himself). Soon after, in January 2018, Do Kwon co-founded Terra, along with entrepreneur (and fellow South Korean) Daniel Shin.

In early press releases and reporting, Terra was described as an “ambitious crypto project to build a stable coin through e-commerce.” Early investors included Binance Labs, OKEx, Huobi Capital, and Upbit, as well as Polychain Capital, China’s FBG Capital, Hashed, 1kx, Kenetic Capital and Arrington XRP.

Originally, Terra planned to increase adoption of its stablecoin — and secure its stability — by leveraging e-commerce in Asia, using its own payment platform to get people actually spending a cryptocurrency for a change. It reportedly signed up 15 Asian  e-commerce services — such as Chai, Woowa Brothers, Qoo10, Carousell, Pomelo, and Tiki — to use its stablecoin once it launched, meaning around 40 million customers would potentially be able to use the incoming cryptocurrency.

Of course, this plan wasn’t quite realized in practice. Terra did have designs to grow to “annual transactions of $150 billion by 2022,” and had signed up a wide roster of ecommerce partners. It had even signed a memorandum of understanding with Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, in January of 2019 to form a task force team to establish mobile payment infrastructure.

Of course, none of this really developed into substantial real-world use, and instead TerraUSD was used much more for speculation than for commerce. Indeed, Terra promised 20% yields if users deposited UST into its Anchor Protocol, something which was raising serious concerns by March of 2022.

Terra Collapse and Flight

These concerns were hardly overblown, and in May 2022, amid a general downturn in cryptocurrency prices, the price of TerraUSD fell dramatically below $1. Terra had bought bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to support the price of UST, but with such coins falling in value, and users withdrawing UST from Anchor to sell it, UST collapsed.

As stated above, many holders of UST were left in some very dire financial straits. In the face of an investigation from South Korean prosecutors, there were reports that Do Kwon had fled to Singapore and had even liquidated Terra’s South Korea operations. However, in tweets from May 21, the Terra co-founder claimed that he had been “in Singapore since last December” and that Terra has “always been incorporated in Singapore,” with its Korean operations merely being a subsidiary.

Source: Twitter

Such affirmations appeared not to have much of an effect on Singaporean police, who received legal complaints against Do Kwon but nonetheless refused to investigate. This stood in stark contrast to South Korean authorities, which at nearly every opportunity issued the co-founder with notices upon arrival and departure bans, while also raiding crypto-exchanges in search of evidence.

While Do Kwon had claimed as recently as August 17 that police in South Korea hadn’t been in touch with him, local news agencies reported that he had hired the services of a lawyer, in preparation for a likely legal battle.

However, as mentioned above, his whereabouts have now become a mystery once again. This began last week, when South Korean police issued a warrant for his arrest and sought to void his passport. The authorities also reached out to their counterparts in Singapore, yet the latter issued a statement to the effect that Do Kwon is no longer within the city-state.

This has most recently led to South Korean law enforcement asking Interpol for a ‘red notice’ that will prevent Do Kwon from flying and that will facilitate his extradition to South Korea in the event of discovery.

However, in something of a twist, Do Kwon claimed on September 17 that he is not “on the run,” implying that he’s still in Singapore or South Korea. This is likely to be disingenuous though, since with South Korean police issuing an arrest warrant, someone who is not on the run — and who is “in full cooperation” with relevant authorities — would report to their nearest police station in order to plead their case.

In turn, this suggests that Do Kwon is on the run, and could now be anywhere. Given the revocation of his passport, he may have traveled via land to Taiwan (which is not a member of Interpol) or China, although this is pure speculation, and lacks any real evidence.

Anyone interested can, however, try asking Do Kwon himself directly via Twitter, since the Terra co-founder continues to tweet, as if to prove his innocence of crime and/or negligence.

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CryptoVantage Author Simon Chandler

About the Author

Simon Chandler

Simon Chandler is a journalist based in London. He writes about technology, markets and politics, and has bylines for Forbes, Digital Trends, CCN, Wired, TechCrunch, the Verge, the Sun, the New Internationalist, and TruthOut, among many others. His Twitter handle is @_simonchandler_

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