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Andrew Lynn acts for “Bitcoin Jesus” in cross-border jurisdictional battle

Andrew Lynn appeared in the High Court on Monday this week – on the first day of the Hong Kong courts’ reopening at the end of the General Adjourned Period (“GAP”) imposed as a result of the COVID-19 virus – acting for the plaintiff, Roger Ver, in the case of Ver, Roger Keith v OKEX Fintech Company (formerly known as Kind Castle Trading Company) and Xu, Ming Xing (徐明星) (HCA 2439/2016).

Counsel, solicitors, and observers had their temperatures checked, social distancing was observed, and oral submissions were made through disposable masks.

Roger Ver is an early investor in bitcoin and bitcoin-related startups who is known as “Bitcoin Jesus” for his promotion of bitcoin. The hearing on Monday was an appeal to a High Court judge by the second defendant, Xu Mingxing (also known as “Star Xu”), against a decision refusing his 2018 application to set aside leave granted to Mr Ver to serve process on Mr Xu out of the Hong Kong jurisdiction in Mainland China. Andrew had also acted for Mr Ver in successfully resisting Mr Xu’s 2018 application.

The underlying dispute relates to an agreement that Mr Ver would make available his domain name and website, bitcoin.com, to OKCoin, one of the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchanges, to develop and promote bitcoin business—an agreement that Mr Ver says was breached. Mr Ver is also seeking a declaration that what appears to be his digital signature on a further version of the agreement, which adds in a cancellation clause, is a forgery.

The hearing this week raised complex issues relating to whether or not the Hong Kong courts could and should exercise long-arm jurisdiction to grant leave to serve process on Mr Xu in the Mainland under one or both of two jurisdictional gateways, namely RHC O.11, r.1(1)(c) on the basis that “the claim is brought against a person duly served within or out of the jurisdiction and a person out of the jurisdiction is a necessary or proper party thereto” and/or under RHC O.11, r.1(1)(d)(iii) on the basis that “the claim is brought to enforce, rescind, dissolve, annul or otherwise affect a contract, or to recover damages or obtain other relief in respect of the breach of a contract, being (in either case) a contract which—…(iii) is by its terms, or by implication, governed by Hong Kong law”.

The Court reserved judgment, which will be handed down at a later date.

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