The struggle between the South Korean Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Justice over the future of cryptocurrency regulation - a debate that mostly played out during December and January - terrified crypto traders who feared the South Korean government was on the verge of - wittingly or unwittingly - devastating the market.
Headlines about a pending ban in South Korea helped drive the bitcoin price more than 60% lower in January - its largest monthly drop in years - but now that the debate has been settled, the price has been steadily climbing again, breaking above $11,500 earlier today...
...having nearly doubled off the mystery dip-buyer lows...
But in a shocking development that's almost guaranteed to contribute to speculation about whether any foul play was involved, the Wall Street Journal reports that one of the country's top crypto regulators was found dead Tuesday.
While some speculated that the cause of death was a heart attack, the official statement - so far - is that the cause of death remains"unknown."
Semiofficial news agency Yonhap reported that Mr. Jung was presumed to have suffered a heart attack and police had opened an investigation into the cause of death. Yonhap also reported that Mr. Jung was found at home. The government spokesman said later that “he died from some unknown cause. He passed away while he was sleeping and [his] heart [had] already stopped beating when he was found dead.”
His death comes barely a month after the country's regulators appeared to settle on a suitable regulatory framework: Crypto exchanges and banks will soon be required to collect customers' names and information.
The meteoric rise in bitcoin concerned South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon, who warned late last year that rising interest in cryptocurrencies could “lead to some serious distorted or pathological phenomenon.”
The dead regulator ran a government economics office that was responsible for South Korea's legislative framework for bitcoin:
A South Korean official who guided Seoul’s regulatory clampdown on cryptocurrencies was found dead on Sunday, according to a government spokesman.
Jung Ki-joon, 52, was head of economic policy at the Office for Government Policy Coordination. He helped coordinate efforts to create new legislation aimed at suppressing cryptocurrency speculation and illicit activity, the spokesman said.
Semiofficial news agency Yonhap reported that Mr. Jung was presumed to have suffered a heart attack and police had opened an investigation into the cause of death. Yonhap also reported that Mr. Jung was found at home. The government spokesman said later that “he died from some unknown cause. He passed away while he was sleeping and [his] heart [had] already stopped beating when he was found dead."
Coincidentally, a different regulator, Choe Heungsik, governor of Financial Supervisory Service, said Tuesday that he wants to see "normal" trading in cryptocurrencies and FSS will "actively" support it. In addition to registering accounts, the country is also seeking to develop a suitable anti-money laundering framework.
Jung’s colleagues said he had been under heavy stress in recent months as South Korea worked to tackle cryptocurrency speculation. There's no indication that foul play was involved.
According to CryptoCompare, about 4.5% of all bitcoin transactions world-wide last year used the South Korean won, making it the most widely used fiat currency in bitcoin trading after the dollar, the yen and the euro. Bitcoin prices in South Korea are sometimes up to 50% higher than on other exchanges - a phenomenon bitcoin traders have termed "the kimchi premium".