LIFELabs, a United Kingdom-based cryptocurrency company that partnered with the Virgin Islands government last year with plans to develop a digital currency known as BVI~LIFE, said last week that it planned to close. Then it quickly retracted the statement.
Though BVI~LIFE apparently never launched, thousands of people now may be waiting to hear what will become of their investments in another LIFELabs product, the LIFE token. One investor told the Beacon that he believes the firm communicated poorly and left him feeling misled — sentiments that have been echoed by Twitter users also purporting to have a stake in the cryptocurrency.
A May 12 statement on LIFELabs’ website announced, “We regret to inform you that due to the Covid-19 outbreak, LIFELabs Global Ltd has been forced to close down with immediate effect.” The seven-paragraph statement went on to explain that “forces outside of our control” had brought the LIFELabs “project” to a halt and that the firm “cannot sustain the products and services going forward.”
“We have done everything we possibly can to keep this company going; unfortunately we cannot go any further,” the statement explained.
On Friday, however, that statement was removed and replaced by another: “We are suspending any action concerning liquidation at this present time. We are in negotiations with investors and hope to bring news to you all soon!”
History with VI
LIFELabs and the VI government announced their partnership in April 2019. At the time, Premier Andrew Fahie claimed the company would help provide a “rapid cash response” to use in the event of emergencies such as hurricanes.
In another joint release in December, he called the firm “our partner.”
Besides producing the LIFE cryptocurrency token, LIFELabs operates a mobile app called LIFEwallet that allows users to store and send currency including LIFE, bitcoin and ether, according to the original announcement.
The partnership would have involved the implementation of related services in the Virgin Islands, allowing VI residents to download the LIFEwallet on their smartphones or use it in the form of a debit card to spend cryptocurrency, according to an April 2019 press release from the government. The transactions would be tracked at every step using blockchain technology, the release stated.
In a later press release issued in December, Mr. Fahie praised the firm again, saying, “LIFElabs has demonstrated with their proven track record that their ideology is not just mere words, and we look forward to continuing our partnership with them on the rollout of BVI~LIFE, our digital currency.”
Nature of partnership
In December, then-LIFELabs CEO Sanjay Jadhav and then-Chief Marketing Officer David Pugh-Jones travelled to the VI to reveal further details during a presentation to stakeholders and the media.
At the time, Mr. Jadhav — a UK-based executive of technology companies — said the firm was working with the government and banks to roll out the technology in time for this year’s hurricane season.
Mr. Pugh-Jones — a UK-based former global creative strategy director at Microsoft — said that LIFElabs was “here to stay” in the VI and that the firm was in the process of establishing a head office here.
“We’re looking at buildings now; we are on an accelerating growth path to have local employees from the islands that will be here,” he said.
Claude Skelton-Cline, who emceed the presentation, said at the time that — despite the earlier statements announcing a partnership — the government had “not yet made any decisions” on an official deal with LIFElabs. The company, he added, is “out there doing what they do as a private entity.”
“But all of this falls under the ambit of our Premier’s Office and his government, and decisions will be sought and heard as they see fit,” Mr. Skelton-Cline said at the time.
Erroneous news reports
Later that month, after news reports erroneously claimed that the VI was planning to adopt BVI~LIFE as its official currency, the Premier’s Office released a statement clarifying the partnership, saying that LIFELabs was just one of multiple companies that had recently proposed doing such business in the territory.
“Based on presentations made by LIFElabs, the company intends to offer a product with the letters ‘BVI’ in the brand name,” the statement read. “This, however, does not mean that this particular product has been developed by or in collaboration with the government of the Virgin Islands as a national currency, nor that it will be adopted as the territory’s national currency. Any such statement or inference is absolutely untrue.”
Mr. Skelton-Cline said Monday that he was unable to comment on the firm’s potential closure because he was unaware of it. Mr. Fahie did not respond to requests for comment.
Now, at least two of the executives attached to LIFELabs appear to have left the company. Via Twitter and LinkedIn, Mr. Pugh-Jones indicated that the company had closed. His LinkedIn profile indicated that he no longer worked for the firm as of this month, and last Thursday, he tweeted: “Over the past few weeks so many talented people in my network have become another career-ending statistic, all due to #coronavirus. I now sadly join that burgeoning number where my #worklife has unexpectedly imploded.”
Reached by the Beacon via LinkedIn and Twitter, he initially agreed to answer questions about the firm. However, he later responded, “I have personally taken legal advice and cannot comment on any questions surrounding the company in question. I did pass your mailed request for information on to the company directly; the response is below: ‘The company, LIFElabs, does not wish to comment at this time and anything written incorrectly or without prior approval will be dealt with by our legal team. Please do not use third party communities to act as company authority on this matter.’”
According to Mr. Jadhav’s LinkedIn profile, he was no longer CEO of the firm as of April. He could not be immediately reached.
Social media uproar
However, some investors apparently are searching for answers. Since the company’s announcement last week, dozens of angry tweets have criticised the company for perceived communication shortfalls. The Beacon contacted at least five of the users behind the statements, some of whom identified themselves as LIFELabs investors but declined to comment further.
The firm itself did not appear to respond directly to them. However, on Friday, the LIFELabs’ official Twitter account posted what it labelled an “official company statement” that explained, “LIFE is currently in discussions with potential investors regarding the future of the company. We would politely ask that we are given time to manage the situation until further notice. More news to follow.”
The firm did not explain exactly how the Covid-19 pandemic contributed to the threat of a shutdown. In a statement on its blog released March 3, LIFElabs said it had been “monitoring the situation closely” and “the forced interruption and impact this is having on the company’s capacity to function effectively.”
It added, “Behind the scenes, we have focused what are now limited resources on product and technology development. … Over the period of Q1 2020, we have been working on token issuance and payment rails for multiple piloting programmes with future sovereign nation adopters.”
However, the firm had suspended all employee travel and meetings with governments and stakeholders, according to the blog.
Victor Williams, a Texas-based public school teacher and investor who had joined the chorus of social media critics, told the Beacon he was blindsided by the announcement, calling the firm “horrible at communicating.”
“[The] CEO and members of the team have been breaking promises and plans consistently,” he said, adding that communication had dwindled starting around October, culminating in the firm suddenly cancelling a Telegram group for investors and deleting some social media accounts the same day as last week’s retracted statement.
Mr. Williams said he owns 643 million LIFE tokens, for which he paid about $23,000 of his “hard-earned life savings.” The investment, he added, likely put him in the “top 25” investors in the firm.
When he heard the announcement last week, he said, “I was in disbelief, saddened, and felt victimised.”
Yesterday, Etherscan, a cryptocurrency tracker, showed a “circulating market cap” for LIFE of approximately $357,000. Market cap typically is calculated by multiplying the price of the token by the number of tokens in circulation.
The total supply of LIFE tokens is 100 billion, according to Etherscan, which does not publish the number in circulation.
However, Mr. Williams estimated that the amount of investors’ money at stake could be upwards of $1 million, reflecting the market cap listed on Etherscan before the firm’s announcement last week.
He is currently unable to sell his tokens, he said. In an April 2019 blog post, the company announced access to a “fiat ramp,” a tool designed to allow investors to easily convert tokens to cash, but it was not available to United States citizens, according to the post.
“This company only allowed American investors to buy and never sell,” Mr. Williams said. “I kept being told we would get ‘fiat ramp’ so LIFE could be ‘simply for everyone.’ It was not.”
VI ‘done deal’
As for the VI partnership, Mr. Williams said he was told that it was “a done deal.”
“We were told that LIFElabs was to create a stablecoin that was pegged to [the US dollar one to one] and that it’s going to function within [LIFELabs’] ecosystem and LIFE tokens would be used as transaction fees which would have value when they launched,” he said, adding, “That … never happened.”
He also said the LIFE wallets were buggy and “never worked” well.
In its May 12 statement, however, LIFELabs said all currency stored in the wallets was retrievable “as the data is stored on the immutable blockchain.”
Mr. Williams said the company had suggested to him and other investors that it was trying to re-form under a new team. Sudden changes in leadership are not uncommon for LIFELabs, he said, explaining that the company had at least three CEOs since 2017, including Mr. Jadhav.
According to the UK Companies House registry, four of six directors at the firm resigned over the past two weeks and another resigned in late February. Mr. Jadhav and Johnathan O’Brien resigned May 10; Alistair Hammond and Timothy Luce on May 9; and Jonathan Bushnell on Feb. 29, the registry shows.
Messrs. Bushnell and Hammond were identified as “cofounders” in a 2018 document released by the company. Mr. Bushnell is also a former CEO, according to the company’s official Twitter account. Karl Higbee, who was identified in the 2018 document as another “co-founder,” is the only officer currently listed as “active” in the UK registry.
LIFELabs was incorporated in the UK in 2019, according to the UK Companies House registry, though a timeline included in the 2018 document indicates that the firm was “born” around 2016.
Now, Mr. Williams is calling on LIFELabs to refund investors at least some of their money.
“If not, I think there should be some sort of civil lawsuit in order to seek out who’s responsible for this, and to come to some sort of settlement with any investor who can prove their contributions,” he said.
“Also, to send out a letter to all investors explaining why we were left in the dark for so long. We just need answers.”