Silent no more: Hong Kong YouTuber relives attack after JPEX video, says clueless cryptocurrency investors need education

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Former Hong Kong software operations manager and YouTube personality Leo is not ready to reveal his identity – but he is no longer holding back on his views on under-investigation cryptocurrency platform JPEX. He said it was time for Hong Kong authorities and everyone in the know to educate the public and prevent another case such as the JPEX affair. Leo explained he was beaten up after a single post in 2020 that said JPEX offerings at the time seemed to be a scam and he was convinced the attack was related to the video. He did not voice any more misgivings about the cryptocurrency platform, which promised investors high returns he thought were too good to be true, after the attack. About 2,500 people in Hong Kong have complained to police in recent weeks that they fell victim to a massive alleged fraud involving more than HK$1.5 billion (US$192 million) they sank into JPEX cryptocurrency products. More than two dozen people have been arrested, including prominent social media influencers who had painted a rosy picture of JPEX and helped persuade people to put their money into a scheme many barely grasped. Leo, in his 30s, said he started to invest in the digital currency bitcoin in 2017 and was probably the only full-time Cantonese-speaking YouTuber in Hong Kong specialising in cryptocurrency. He said he became uneasy the first time he heard of JPEX. That was in 2020, when used his fledgling YouTube channel to post about the little-understood world of cryptocurrencies. He told his followers how he had got burned and lost more than HK$1 million investing in the mainland Chinese cryptocurrency exchange FCoin, which suddenly became insolvent and left investors to count their losses. Then he learned that flamboyant Hong Kong online personality Wong Ching-kit was promoting JPEX. The 20-something, better known as “Coin Young Master”, was given a suspended jail sentence for a 2018 publicity stunt that sent crowds in one of the city’s poorest neighbourhoods into a frenzy as banknotes fell from the sky. Leo said in his video, posted on YouTube in August 2020, that he suspected all was not right with JPEX. He explained the first red flag was the platform’s name because he was convinced it was not the Japanese exchange it pretended to be. “The biggest problem is that one of its products claims to offer over 40 per cent of annualised returns … I don’t think any programme can turn a profit all the time in such a volatile market,” he told his followers. Hong Kong police impound Lamborghini suspected to be tied to JPEX scandal He was beaten up on the street two weeks later as he headed to the opening ceremony of a “cash-for-crypto” changer shop in Tsim Sha Tsui and he spent two days in hospital. He later got a series of chilling anonymous text messages. “This was only a small lesson,” the first, seen by the Post, warned. Leo was convinced he was targeted because of his JPEX comments. He immediately hid the video from public view and avoided discussion of the platform again. But news of the attack spread in Hong Kong’s small community of cryptocurrency enthusiasts. Cheung To, an influencer who wrote a book on decentralised finance in 2022 and who owns a blockchain security consultancy, said that, besides Leo’s beating, he had heard other stories of intimidation. “People in our circle spread the word two or three years ago, saying things like ‘don’t talk about this thing and stay away’ because they’re ferocious,” Cheung said. He added, on reflection, the fear-induced silence, the cryptocurrency circle’s niche nature and a lack of interest from the mainstream media combined to prevent the public from finding out about JPEX’s alleged dark side sooner. Instead, the platform’s publicity drive began to pick up in 2021. JPEX continued to promote itself as a Japanese exchange, including in a citywide advertising campaign that featured billboards at MTR stations and major harbour crossing tunnels. The “Japanese” was dropped only after the Japan Exchange Group (JPX), owner of the world’s fifth largest securities exchange by market capitalisation, issued a statement in February 2022 to distance itself from JPEX. Hong Kong’s Security and Futures Commission said it first contacted JPEX in March 2022 and included it on an “alert list” four months later. But, in its nine later statements that appealed for caution in trading virtual assets, JPEX was never mentioned. Hong Kong JPEX crypto scandal: police arrest 6 more suspects The financial services watchdog last month, more than three years after Leo was attacked, at last named JPEX in a statement which mentioned “suspicious features” and triggered its dramatic downfall. Leo pursued his YouTube ambitions over the same period and increased his subscriber base from 1,000 to 19,000. “I don’t know where I got the courage, but I felt like I did nothing wrong. It’s not easy to find something that I’m fond of doing, so I kept going,” he explained. He unlocked his 2020 JPEX video last month and spoke about the attack in a new video posted on September 19. Leo said that some followers of influencer Chan Yee, who was among those arrested, remained devoted to him and to JPEX “like a religion”. “The strange thing about social media is how powerful it is. As long as you have the guts to keep talking on social media, people will believe you. Of course, you first have to be honest,” he added. Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu pledged to increase investor education efforts after the JPEX controversy. Leo and cryptocurrency influencer Cheung To agreed that investors had to protect themselves through education to avoid falling prey to fraudsters. Cheung appealed to the authorities to tap into the experience of the wider cryptocurrency world to help organise the education drive. “The cryptocurrency world is still in its early stages and while opportunities are plenty and the potential is great, the risks are also high,” Leo said. And he warned investors lured by the prospect of easy profits that the bottom line was always “don’t be too greedy”.

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