A career timeline of Justin Sun, crypto’s most annoying over-marketer

Justin Sun is a colorful character in crypto history to say the least. Here's a timeline of his career, the good, bad, and ugly.
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Tron (TRX) founder Justin Sun is a colorful character in crypto history. Sun’s infamy increased this month when The Verge reporter Christopher Harland-Dunaway released a second instalment of his ongoing investigation into the Chinese crypto mogul.

Among various revelations about Sun’s misbehavior, Harland-Dunaway alleges that Sun is now the subject of an active FBI investigation and:

  • directed Poloniex employees to assume ownership of 300 BTC ($11.6 million) from its own customers,
  • gave insider information to Chinese “market-makers” to pump-and-dump TRX,
  • and purchased citizenship in various countries to avoid extradition to China.

With these fresh controversies in mind, below is a map of crypto-related events in Sun’s career. It will help to contextualize some of these allegations.

2013: Sun serves as Ripple Labs’ chief representative and adviser in Greater China.

January 2014: Crypto exchange Poloniex registers its domain. Its WHOIS information lists Tristan D’Agosta as a contact in Somerset, Massachusetts.

March 2014: Poloniex loses 97 BTC ($46,000 then, $3.8 million now) to a hacker. This was 12.3% of its bitcoin holdings at the time. D’Agosta, who went by “Busoni” on BitcoinTalk, reports that the exchange had been compromised by a vulnerability in its code.

July 2014: Poloniex claims to have fully compensated users who lost funds in its March hack.

April 2017: Forbes ranks Sun on its Asia “30 under 30” list for his pre-crypto hook-up app Peiwo.

August 2017: TRX’s ICO begins. It will run until September and raise $70 million.

September 2017: Binance uniquely announces it will refund Chinese residents who purchased Tron (TRX) tokens on its platform. The move was to align with a Chinese central bank announcement regarding the legality of initial coin offerings (ICOs).

February 2018: Stablecoin issuer Circle buys Poloniex for $400 million. Circle ramped up anti-money laundering compliance and planned to transform Poloniex into a regulated exchange in the U.S.

June 2018: Sun and Tron acquire seminal torrenting platform BitTorrent in a $140-million cash deal. BitTorrent would later issue its own crypto token, BTT.

June 2019: Sun places a winning bid to have lunch with Warren Buffett for $4.6 million. The lunch is delayed due to pushback from the Chinese government regarding some of Sun’s prior activities.

June 2019: Poloniex announces “planned maintenance.” However, it turned out that some trading pairs had “flash crashed” and caused massive losses in Poloniex’s BTC margin lending pool. Poloniex reduced the principal of BTC loans by 16.202%, a move that affected 0.4% of users. Poloniex promised to restore lenders affected by the flash crash and resulting “haircut.” It made at least one BTC loss payment and credited trading fees to lenders, however some reports indicate not everyone was made whole.

October 2019: Circle publishes a blog post saying it will “spin out” Poloniex by selling it to “an Asian investment group.” Poloniex said it will close trading for US customers on November 1, and they will have until December 19 to transfer their assets to Circle. Sun led the consortium that acquired Poloniex.

January 2020: Sun finally has lunch with Buffett, six months after winning the auction. Guests include Litecoin creator Charlie Lee and eToro leader Yoni Assia.

February 2020: Sun’s Tron Foundation acquires Steem. Initially, Tron and Steem announces a “partnership” in which Steem planned to migrate to Tron’s blockchain. However, Sun later reveals the acquisition as outright during an Ask Me Anything session on DLive.

February 2020: Steem announces a soft fork to secure its blockchain during the migration process.

March 2020: Huobi, Binance, and Poloniex vote to make Sun a top delegated witness in Steem’s delegated proof of stake system, apparently at Sun’s request. Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin quickly criticizes Sun’s actions.

March 2020: Sun announces the recovery of 65 million STEEM tokens ($10 million) previously hacked from Steemit and its developers.

March 2020: Binance withdraws its vote on Sun’s Steem governance proposal. Binance chief Changpeng Zhao says that he has no interest in voting on Steem’s on-chain governance.

March 2020: Huobi withdraws its vote on Sun’s Steem governance proposal. It says that although it had the power to use users’ funds to increase voting power in the event of malicious activity, it was misled into thinking that there was an actual security threat with Steem (in reality Sun just wanted to assume Steem’s users into the Tron ecosystem).

March 2020: Binance publishes an apology for what it calls “miscommunication” regarding its vote on the Steemit hard fork proposal. It says that it will reserve any potential actions for any risks posed to STEEM token holders on Binance if Tron and Steem fail to reach a consensus.

March 2020: The Steem community announces a hard fork named Hive. Binance and Huobi say they will support the hard fork and award the appropriate amount of Hive tokens to Steem token holders on their platforms.

March 2020: A content creator alleges that Steem is censoring Hive-related social content.

March 2020: Hive posts an update announcing that it has gone live.

April 2020: STEEM activates a soft fork, freezing the accounts of former Steemit witnesses (validators) that moved to Hive. The freeze affected 17.6 million STEEM tokens ($2.9 million). Some observers speculate that Sun was retaliating for Hive freezing him out of the hard fork and its resulting token airdrop.

April 2020: Binance lists HIVE for trading.

May 2020: Steem freezes another $5 million in tokens belonging to former witnesses that moved over to Hive with another hardfork. Buterin again chimes in with a suggestion that all Steem users should migrate to Hive.

May 2020: Sun denies that neither he nor Steemit, Inc., are responsible for the hard forks in which users lost funds. Sun reiterates his allegations that Hive supporters attempted to steal funds from Steem, and says both he and Steem are working with law enforcement to recover the money supposedly lost.

September 2020: Verge reporter Harland-Dunaway publishes his first exposé of Sun’s seedy career.

March 2021: Sun is outbid during a Christie’s New York auction for a Beeple NFT, Everydays: The First 5000 Days. He complains on Twitter.

August 2021: Protos reveals that Sun is the personal recipient of over 200 million USDT from Tether, more than any other individual. Also, the SEC announces a settlement with Poloniex in which the exchange agrees to pay $10 million in fines. Poloniex does not admit wrongdoing related to the SEC’s charges that it operated as an unregistered securities exchange.

December 2021: Sun leaves his position as Tron CEO and becomes a diplomat for Grenada. Grenada assigns him as a representative to the World Trade Organization in Geneva, granting him diplomatic immunity in Switzerland.

December 2021: Sun announces that he placed the winning bid for a trip into space on a spacecraft built by Jeff Bezos’ aerospace venture Blue Origin. Blue Origin had announced that the seat fetched a price of $28 million in June, but did not reveal the name of the winning bidder. Sun later steps aside from that flight. In a tweet, Sun says that he has instead booked a dedicated flight with Blue Origin and will select five people to fly with him.

March 2022: Harland-Dunaway publishes another report about Sun’s career.

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Out now: the first three episodes of our new investigative podcast series Innovated: Blockchain City.