Aragon Mulled Sale of Crypto Project, Leaked Screenshot Shows

  • Decentralized governance-focused crypto project the Aragon Association considered selling itself in June.
  • The deliberations came after months of pressure from activist investors who have eyed Aragon’s $180 million treasury.

The Aragon Association, one of the biggest crypto projects building tools to support decentralized governance, is trying to get out of its own governance pickle.

After months of pressure from activist investors eyeing its $180 million treasury, Swiss-based Aragon in June explored “selling the project” to an undisclosed bidder for an unknown price, according to a screenshot of a conversation between an employee of the investment firm Arca and other activists.

The screenshot is part of a 24-page investigative report on Aragon Association written by crypto trading firm Patagon Management LLC. On Wednesday, a message linking to the report was sent by an anonymous Ethereum address to Ivan Fartunov, head of partnerships at Aragon, via a public Ethereum transaction.

The undated report accuses the Aragon Association of years of missteps, including squandering its hulking $180 million treasury of various crypto assets, and questions the organization’s compliance with Swiss nonprofit law. CoinDesk couldn’t immediately confirm those allegations.

A spokesperson for Aragon neither confirmed nor denied the sale discussions when contacted by CoinDesk, denied the report’s “unsubstantiated allegations” and said Aragon would release a transparency report with more detail this month.

For months activist investors engaged in crypto’s “risk free-value,” or RFV, trading subculture — a digital-age version of 1980s’ corporate raiders — have accumulated ANT governance tokens in order to pull the levers of Aragon DAO; a token entitles holders to vote on governance matters like how to manage or distribute the project’s treasury.

Unlike most crypto traders who speculate on price action, RFV traders attempt to collect paydays from crypto projects whose native tokens have fallen below “book value,” or the value of its treasury — as Aragon’s ANT has. A common tactic is to lobby for token buybacks and, in some cases, liquidations.

In May, Aragon, wary of the activists’ growing influence, canceled plans to give token holders control over its treasury. That emergency action capped a week of escalating tensions that saw Aragon purge its public documents and ban many suspected activist investors from its Discord.

The CEO of Patagon, Diogenes Caseres, said his firm compiled the report after Aragon expelled the activist investors from its Discord server. Patagon shared it in a community-run server where the banned investors congregated.

“It reflects a distrust Patagon and the wider community had in the project at the time, which is not emblematic of our current view of the project, which has made strides towards protecting token holders,” he told CoinDesk.

Both sides have refused to comment on the situation since May. But the Arca screenshot contained in the report, which CoinDesk verified was authentic, shows that negotiations continued into the summer.

An employee of Arca, one of the leading voices in the activist fight, said the firm is “waiting for the Aragon Association to present next steps/path forward,” and declined to comment further.

Two other activist investors declined to comment on the report ahead of an upcoming meeting with the Aragon Association.

The proposed buyout of Aragon was expected to take “a couple weeks,” according to the screenshot dated June 12; Aragon planned to “re-evaluate” the activists’ proposals if the deal did not go through.

While it is unclear what exactly it would mean to sell a nominally decentralized project, the proposed transaction would be valued at a premium to book value, the Arca employee told fellow activists.

The report, which doesn’t detail the status of any sale negotiations, indicates activists have explored a number of mechanisms through which to process redemptions of ANT.

Allegations

According to the report, the media blackout was ordered by Aragon’s leader, Joan Arus, as a precondition to negotiations.

“The Aragon team went as far to [imply] in private conversations that they believed the CoinDesk reporter had been paid to write articles that were not, in the eyes of Aragon, ‘fair’ to them,” the report said. (For the record, CoinDesk reporters don’t and have never accepted payment from interested parties for articles.)

Aragon’s own public forums were purged during the activist row in May, the report said. It estimated that 27% of posts remain. Lengthy discussions of Aragon’s acquisitions of other projects had been deleted.

The report delivered to Fartanov Wednesday came from a freshly created crypto wallet. He responded with his own transaction-embedded missive in which he rejected some of the report’s conclusions as “a joke.”

“Cool story Bro. I am responding as I respect the hustle of sending on-chain messages,” Fartanov wrote.

UPDATE (Aug. 10, 18:35 UTC): Adds Aragon spokesperson’s comment.

Edited by Marc Hochstein and Bradley Keoun.

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