This is the first decision by the Hong Kong Court on whether clients of a crypto exchange have proprietary claims to cryptocurrencies held on the platform. It confirms that cryptocurrency constitutes property under Hong Kong law.

By Dominic Geiser, Simon Hawkins, Howard K. H. Lam, Adrian Hei-Yin Fong, Flora F. W. Innes, and Tsun Ming (Truman) Mak

In a recent landmark decision of Re Gatecoin Limited [2023] HKCFI 914 involving a Hong Kong cryptocurrency exchange in liquidation, the Hong Kong Court of First Instance expressly confirmed for the first time that cryptocurrency is “property” under Hong Kong law and can be held on trust. This decision aligns Hong Kong with the position in other major common law jurisdictions.

The court also found, based on the facts and circumstances of this particular case, that the cryptocurrency exchange did not hold assets on trust for its customers under its latest applicable terms and conditions, thereby rendering such customers unsecured creditors, rather than beneficiaries, of the exchange.

This Client Alert reviews the decision of the court and looks at steps which crypto owners should take to ensure their assets are protected from the insolvency of cryptocurrency exchanges.