On Sunday 18 December 2022, Aurélien Michel vibrated, from the stands of the Lusail stadium, where he watched the World Cup final, in the ideal position to film Kylian Mbappé’s shot on goal. The highlight of a dream stay in Qatar: great hotels, good restaurants and “ten games, including the final, the best game of my life”she wrote on Instagram.
Three weeks later, on January 4, there was a radical change of mood: when he got off the plane at John F. Kennedy airport in New York, this 24-year-old Frenchman was arrested by the police. After a night in police custody, he was presented to a federal court judge in Brooklyn, who decided to detain him pending trial.
For the American authorities, Mr. Michel is the mastermind of an NFT scam (non-fungible tokens, non-fungible tokens in English) well established, which allegedly allowed him to siphon off nearly $3 million (€2.7 million) from gullible investors. Second the accusation, Aurélien Michel was the principal administrator of the “Mutant Ape Planet” project, a series of virtual images of monkeys which was a plagiarism of the famous “Mutant Ape Yacht Club”, one of the most popular NFT collections in the world. The project promised early investors a variety of benefits and rewards and assured them that the value of their virtual images would skyrocket through an extensive online marketing campaign.
Only that it was all wrong. Having raised several million dollars in cryptocurrencies, the creators of the project simply kicked off the fund in February 2022 – a carpet sweater (literally “pull the rug” in English), in the parlance of the crypto-active community. Both the project website and the Discord chat server have been shut down. Now unsaleable, the NFTs of the project are no longer of any value.
According to documents published by the American justice system, Aurélien Michel, together with other unidentified people, would have extracted the equivalent of 2.9 million dollars in cryptocurrency from the victims of the scam. The project administrators also reportedly said on social media that they initially had no plans to walk away with the investors’ money, but that “the community had become too toxic”. The investigators managed to link a telephone number and two e-mail addresses belonging to Mr. Michel to the account to which all the investors’ cryptocurrencies were transferred.
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