The English Commercial Court recently gave summary judgment in Gary Jones v Persons Unknown et al  EWHC 2543 (Comm), in which it found that Huobi Global Limited (Huobi), an exchange registered in Seychelles, was a constructive trustee of the Claimant’s stolen Bitcoin.
According to the Claimant, between 22 January 2019 and 10 January 2020, he purchased over 89 Bitcoin which he then transferred to what he believed was a crypto investment company. The Bitcoin the Claimant believed he had invested was dissipated by the First Defendant. Investigators were able to identify a wallet ultimately owned by the Second Defendant, which was provided and controlled by Huobi. The Claimant did not know the identity of the First and Second Defendants.
On 28 June 2022, the High Court granted an ex parte worldwide freezing injunction against the First and Second Defendants and a proprietary injunction against the First and Second Defendants as well as Huobi. These injunction orders were continued on the return date on 22 July 2022. After the deadline had passed for the Unknown Defendants’ and Huobi to file their defence, the Claimant sought and obtained summary judgment both against the First and Second Defendants and Huobi. The Claimant also sought an order for Huobi to deliver up the stolen Bitcoins on the basis that Huobi was a constructive trustee for the stolen Bitcoin.
The judge, Mr Justice Nigel Cooper KC, granted the request for summary judgment as well as the order for Huobi to return the Bitcoin to the Claimant. In doing so he found that there was no evidence that the Unknown Defendants’ or Huobi had a proprietary interest in respect of the Claimant's Bitcoin, which would override the Claimant's beneficial interest in the Bitcoin.
This decision confirmed that a Claimant who has been defrauded into transferring crypto assets to unknown persons will be entitled to restitutionary remedies for the return of such assets under both common law and statute. It also confirmed that equitable tracing principles will impose a constructive trust where the Claimant had a proprietary interest in the assets that were stolen or obtained by fraud.