Puerto Rico's Noble Bank Seeks Sale Amid Crypto Slide

(Bloomberg) -- Noble Bank International, the Puerto Rican financial services firm with clients that have included prominent cryptocurrency ventures, is looking for a buyer, according to a person with direct knowledge of the situation.

The bank has lost many of its customers, including Bitfinex and Tether, and is no longer profitable, the person said. The company could sell itself for a price between $5 million and $10 million, based largely on the value of its Puerto Rican license to operate as an international financial entity, the person said, asking not to be identified discussing confidential talks.

A spokesman for Noble declined to comment, and a representative for Bitfinex and Tether didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment outside normal business hours.

Even in the world of cryptocurrencies, known for their rapid price swings, this year is proving to be unusually perilous. Bitcoin, the largest digital currency, has lost about two-thirds of its value since a December peak.

Noble Bank attracted attention in cryptocurrency circles earlier this year because of its willingness to work with Tether and Bitfinex, which was dumped last year by Wells Fargo & Co. The two crypto ventures, which share management, were subpoenaed by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission in December as the regulator examined whether Tether has more than $2 billion in customer money to back its virtual coin, a person familiar with that matter said in January.

Authorities haven’t accused Bitfinex or Tether of wrongdoing. And while Noble faced an audit from Puerto Rico’s main bank regulator last year that raised concerns, according to a person with knowledge of the situation, it hasn’t been faulted publicly

In June, Tether released an analysis of its bank accounts by a law firm that the company said shows it had adequate dollar reserves. Still, the lack of a full, public audit has left British Virgin Islands-based Bitfinex and Tether, incorporated in Hong Kong, facing questions over their how their businesses operate and whether they boost the price of Bitcoin and other virtual currencies.

Puerto Rico has seen a surge of cash related to cryptocurrencies. By the end of 2017, cash and equivalents held by so-called international financial entities, such as Noble, soared to $3.3 billion from $191 million a year earlier, according to data from Puerto Rico’s bank regulator. As of June 30 this year, the total had dropped to $2.6 billion. The majority of that money on the island was held by Noble, people familiar with the matter said earlier this year.

On its website, Noble has said it used Bank of New York Mellon Corp. as its custodian. BNY Mellon no longer has a banking relationship with Noble, one person said. Peter Gau, a BNY Mellon spokesman, declined to comment.

As an international financial entity, Noble must report suspicious financial activities and help U.S. government agencies prevent money laundering. Still, accounts tied to non-Americans can remain anonymous if the assets are held through offshore companies or trusts. Some of Bitfinex’s customer activity at Noble may be shielded under such rules because of its British Virgin Islands registry.

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