The boss of a cryptocurrency exchange has been kidnapped by a group of hooded men driving a Mercedes in Ukraine.
Pavel Lerner, who heads up Exmo Finance, was snatched from the street after he left the firm’s office in Kiev’s Obolon district on 26 December.
Russian and Ukrainian media report that a number of balaclava-clad men dragged the 40-year-old into the car before speeding off.
Speaking with the BBC, local police confirmed a man had been kidnapped on the day in question, but provided no further details, such as the identity of the individual concerned.
Lerner, a high-profile Russian blockchain expert, fell silent on social media in the middle of the day on Tuesday, around the time eyewitnesses reported seeing him being bundled into the vehicle.
Interior ministry spokesperson Anton Gerashchenko said this appeared to be the first kidnapping linked to cryptocurrencies in the country’s history.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Exmo said: “We are doing everything possible to speed up the search of Pavel Lerner.
“Any information regarding his whereabouts is very much appreciated. We are kindly asking you to email to email@example.com in case you are aware of any facts that might help the investigation.
“Despite the situation, the exchange is working as usual. We also want to stress that nature of Pavel’s job at EXMO doesn’t assume access either to storages or any personal data of users. All users’ funds are absolutely safe.”
While commentators in the cryptocurrency community accepted that Lerner’s abduction was most likely linked to his work, mystery surrounded the motives of his captors, with no news of the issuing of ransom demands.
Days after Lerner was kidnapped, Exmo took to Twitter to tell its followers it had been targeted in a DDoS attack.
Exmo, which is based in East Sussex in the UK, and has workers in Spain, Russia, India and Thailand, as well as “financial advisers” from the UK, the USA, Lithuania and Singapore.
The company trades a number of cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin, Monero, Litecoin and Dash, among others, against traditional currencies such as the US dollar, the euro, or the Russian rouble.
Russian-born Lerner, who had been living in Spain with his family since 2014, was said to have been in Ukraine to coordinate a number of start-ups related to cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology.
Bitcoin, which hit record highs at the end of last year, has increasingly become a target of organised crime gangs along with other cryptocurrencies as their value has soared.
Earlier this month, hackers stole $64 million from Slovenian cryptocurrency exchange NiceHash.
“A hacker or group of hackers were able to infiltrate our internal systems through a compromised company computer,” said Marko Kobal, CEO of NiceHash.
“We’re still conducting a forensic analysis on how the affected computer was actually compromised.”