Cryptocurrency tycoon Ben Delo in legal challenge over data watchdog
A cryptocurrency billionaire who pleaded guilty to breaking American anti-money laundering rules is to bring a landmark legal challenge to Britain’s data regulator.
Lawyers for Ben Delo, a co-founder of BitMEX, said he had been granted permission for a judicial review of the Information Commissioner’s Office. It is thought to be the first time a decision by the watchdog has gone to court.
The move is the latest twist in a dispute between Delo and Wise Payments, a money transfer business. Delo sued Wise, formerly known as TransferWise, last December over allegations that the company had refused his requests under data protection regulations to hand over information about him that it had submitted to the National Crime Agency.
Wise had filed three suspicious activity reports to the agency, a move normally made when a business suspects that funds might be the proceeds of economic crime or may involve money laundering.
Delo challenged Wise’s refusal to hand him the data on the reports to the agency, but the information commissioner backed the company.
His legal team confirmed he had withdrawn from proceedings against Wise after the firm eventually provided all the personal data that it held on him.
Delo, 38, once described by the provost of his University of Oxford college as a “genius”, now has the green light to challenge the commission’s decision in the High Court.
His lawyer, Matt Getz of Pallas Partners, said that “the information commission is meant to protect the data protection rights of individuals – and it hasn’t done so in this case”. Getz said that Delo had taken the latest legal proceedings “reluctantly, but out of principle, wanting to ensure that entities such as Wise fully comply with their data protection obligations and that the ICO adequately upholds the information rights of individuals, which is in the wider public interest”.
Delo will argue at the court hearing that he was entitled to the information under the general data protection regulations of the European Union, which were incorporated into UK law under the Data Protection Act 2018.
Getz accused the information commissioner’s office of having “failed to perform its duties”.
To be successful at the judicial review, Delo will have to prove that the information commissioner acted unlawfully, irrationally or had failed to adhere to its procedures or standards.
In June, Delo was given a 30-month suspended sentence in New York after he was found to have breached anti-money laundering laws. He also was fined $10 million as part of what was reported by The Wall Street Journal as a deal with prosecutors and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
In February, Delo pleaded guilty to violating the Bank Secrecy Act in the US by failing to operate a “know-your-customer” procedure for BitMEX, which is based in the Seychelles.
The cryptocurrency exchange was founded in 2014 and became one of the largest in the world. However, American prosecutors said that the exchange had failed to cater for a surge in US customers and that they were not properly screened, as the law required.
At the sentencing, Delo told the judge that he regretted not having acted sooner to ensure that BitMEX was not dealing with US customers. “It was a terrible decision,” he said.
A spokesman for the commissioner’s office said: “We won’t be commenting on any ongoing proceedings that will be considered by the courts.”