Crypto lender Celsius Network cleared to exit bankruptcy

FILE PHOTO: Illustration shows Celsius Network logo and representations of cryptocurrencies

By Dietrich Knauth

NEW YORK (Reuters) -Crypto lender Celsius Network received U.S. bankruptcy court approval for a restructuring plan that will return cryptocurrency to customers and create a new company owned by Celsius creditors.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Martin Glenn in Manhattan signed off on the restructuring in an order published on Thursday. The reorganized business will be managed by Fahrenheit LLC, a consortium that includes hedge fund Arrington Capital, and it will focus on mining new bitcoin and earning "staking" fees by validating blockchain transactions.

New Jersey-based Celsius filed for Chapter 11 protection in July 2022, one month after freezing customer accounts to prevent withdrawals. Celsius, which was once valued at $3 billion, was one of the largest crypto collapses last year.

The crypto lender is working to implement the plan and is expected to emerge from Chapter 11 in early 2024,according to a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Michael Arrington, founder of Arrington Capital, on Thursday said Celsius' revival stands apart from other crypto companies that collapsed in 2022 and were unable to reorganize.

Crypto lenders BlockFi and Voyager Digital were wiped out in bankruptcy, and cryptocurrency exchange FTX remains stuck in Chapter 11 proceedings.

"Today marks the culmination of a journey that has been far too long and far too expensive for Celsius creditors," Arrington said in an email. "We are eager to dig in on our go-forward plan to make things whole for our creditors."

Fahrenheit will buy a minority stake in the reorganized Celsius for $50 million and will publicly list the new company's stock on Nasdaq, allowing Celsius customers to sell equity shares that they will receive as part of their bankruptcy recovery, according to court documents.

In addition to their stake in the new company, Celsius customers will receive a partial repayment of the cryptocurrency assets they deposited on the platform.

Celsius said on Thursday it would return about $2 billion in cryptocurrency to account holders.

Celsius had 600,000 customers who held about $4.4 billion in interest-bearing Celsius accounts when it filed for bankruptcy, according to court documents.

The restructuring plan includes a settlement that values Celsius's proprietary crypto token, CEL, at 25 cents. A court-appointed examiner reported in January that Celsius inflated the value of its own token to benefit company insiders, using methods that Celsius staff described as "very Ponzi-like."

The reorganized company will pursue litigation against Celsius founder Alex Mashinsky, who already faces U.S. criminal charges and a New York civil lawsuit for allegedly misleading customers and artificially inflating the value of CEL. Mashinsky has pleaded not guilty.

(Reporting by Dietrich Knauth; Additional reporting by Urvi Dugar Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi, Lisa Shumaker, Bill Berkrot and Diane Craft)