Release Number 8696-23

Federal Court Orders South African CEO to Pay Over $3.4 Billion for Forex Fraud

CFTC’s Largest Fraud Scheme Case Involving Bitcoin

Highest Civil Monetary Penalty Ordered in a CFTC Case

April 27, 2023

— The Commodity Futures Trading Commission today announced Judge Lee Yeakel of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas entered an order of default judgment and permanent injunction against Cornelius Johannes Steynberg of Stellenbosch, Western Cape, Republic of South Africa. The order requires Steynberg to pay $1,733,838,372 in restitution to defrauded victims and a $1,733,838,372 civil monetary penalty, which is the highest civil monetary penalty ordered in any CFTC case. This action is also the largest fraudulent scheme involving Bitcoin charged in any CFTC case.

Additionally, under the order, Steynberg is permanently enjoined from engaging in conduct that violates the Commodity Exchange Act (CEA), as charged, registering with the CFTC, and trading in any CFTC-regulated markets.

The order finds that Steynberg, the founder and CEO of Mirror Trading International Proprietary Limited (MTI), a company currently in liquidation in the Republic of South Africa, is liable for fraud in connection with retail foreign currency (forex) transactions, fraud by an associated person of a commodity pool operator (CPO), registration violations, and failure to comply with CPO regulations.     

The order resolves the CFTC’s enforcement case against Steynberg. [See CFTC Press Release No. 8549-22] The CFTC’s litigation continues against MTI.

Sternberg is currently a fugitive from South African law enforcement, but has been detained in the Federative Republic of Brazil on an INTERPOL arrest warrant since December 2021. 

Case Background

The order, entered on April 24, stems from a CFTC complaint filed June 30, 2022. The order finds that, from approximately May 2018 through approximately March 2021, Steynberg, individually and as the controlling person of MTI, engaged in an international fraudulent multilevel marketing scheme to solicit Bitcoin from members of the public for participation in an unregistered commodity pool MTI operated. MTI and Stynberg controlled the commodity pool and purportedly traded off-exchange, retail forex through what they falsely claimed was a proprietary “bot” or software program. During this period, Steynberg, individually and as the principal and agent of MTI, accepted at least 29,421 Bitcoin—with a value of over $1,733,838,372 at the end of March 2021—from at least 23,000 individuals in the U.S., and even more throughout the world, to participate in the commodity pool without being registered as a CPO as required. Either directly or indirectly, the defendants misappropriated all of the Bitcoin they accepted from pool participants.   

The CFTC cautions that orders requiring payment of funds to victims may not result in the recovery of any money lost because wrongdoers may not have sufficient funds or assets. The CFTC will continue to fight vigorously for the protection of customers and to ensure the wrongdoers are held accountable.   

The CFTC appreciates the assistance of the South African Financial Sector Conduct Authority, the Financial Services Commission of Belize, the Texas State Securities Board, the Alabama Securities Commission, the North Carolina Secretary of State, Securities Division, and the Mississippi Secretary of State, Securities Division.

Division of Enforcement staff members responsible for this case are Timothy J. Mulreany, Danielle Karst, George Malas, Julia C. Colarusso, and Paul G. Hayeck.