The founder and CEO of Mirror Trading International (MTI), Johann Steynberg, is in the wind with the keys to the kingdom.
So said a Mirror Trading International statement issued on 22 December purporting to be from the remaining leadership and management of the organisation.
This sudden unravelling of a scheme which produced a constant stream of weekly profits for its members evokes several comparisons to another such failed “bitcoin trading pool” – BTC Global.
BTC Global imploded at the start of 2018, prompting an investigation by the Hawks. If this investigation yielded any results, they have not been disclosed to the public in the past three years.
Much like MTI, BTC Global promised too-good-to-be-true returns on your investment. It also used a multilevel marketing scheme to rapidly recruit new members.
When the money finally dried up, BTC Global’s alleged founder vanished and the failure of the scheme was blamed on him. The same thing is now happening with MTI.
Another interesting similarity between the two schemes is the number of key people that were part of BTC Global and MTI.
As summarised in the table below, a number of the key people in MTI were also involved in BTC Global.
Based on publicly available information, these people are Clynton Marks, Cheri Marks, Russel Jerrard, Andrew Caw, Liz Malton, Johan van Wyk, Willie Breedt, and Johann Steynberg.
In addition to BTC Global, many of the founders, leaders, and management of MTI have also been involved in several other schemes.
Johann Steynberg was involved with Cryptogold, Ker-ching, Kipi, Syntek, DevotedInvestments.com, and Dragon Mining.
Cheri and Clynton Marks were both involved with My Daily Choice, Syntek, and MMM.
Willie Breedt was CEO of VaultAge Solutions, which is currently undergoing liquidation following accusations earlier this year that Breedt scammed around 2,000 investors out of an estimated R227 million.
The launch event for Thrive was held at Solid Rock Church, the congregation of the late Johan van Wyk.
Breedt also spoke about Thrive International in videos on YouTube dating back to 2017. These videos mention Clynton Marks and Johan van Wyk as members of the global team of Thrive International.
The collapse of MTI
When members started struggling to withdraw their funds from MTI, it blamed the raid that the FSCA conducted at MTI’s offices and the homes of Steynberg and Marks on 26 October.
MTI claimed that as a result of the raid, its “unregulated broker” had lowered its daily withdrawal limit as a security measure.
When withdrawal problems persisted, the company’s leaders blamed it on various technical issues.
On 17 December, the FSCA issued a media statement regarding its investigation into MTI. The FSCA stated that it has opened a criminal case against MTI, and that the “unregulated broker” MTI claimed to be using was a smokescreen set up by Steynberg.
That same day, Cheri Marks sent WhatsApp voice notes to MTI members stating that the FSCA was lying about the fact that a criminal case was opened.
MyBroadband contacted the Stellenbosch SAPS to confirm whether a case had been opened against MTI, and the officer on duty confirmed that a case of fraud was opened against the company on 12 November. The case number is 245/11/2020.
On 19 December, a message signed “MTI Management” informed members that Johann Steynberg allegedly disappeared on 14 or 15 December while travelling in Brazil.
The message assures MTI members that a contingency plan has been activated for the company to continue operating without Johann.
On 22 December, a group claiming to represent MTI’s leadership and management issued a statement saying that Steynberg is alive, but that he was not responding to messages.
They also claimed that during contingency planning Steynberg refused to hand over control of technical operations of the company to anyone other than his wife, Nerina.
The collapse of BTC Global
The collapse of BTC Global in 2018 was also embroiled in drama.
After missing a payment of the 14% bonus to members of the scheme, a message posted by someone else to Steven Twain’s “Facebook wall” claimed that his spouse had just given birth to twins.
However, this was contradicted and the official version from BTC Global’s communications coordinator Cheri Ward (now Cheri Marks), was that Twain was brutally attacked in his home and his computers stolen.
Later that month BTC Global missed another payment day, and the scheme’s leadership claimed that Twain had disappeared and that his Facebook account was hacked.
Twain was allegedly never heard from again.
MTI and BTC Global compared
The table below compares the promises that BTC Global and MTI lured members in with, what happened when the schemes ultimately collapsed, and some of the key people in each scheme.
|BTC Global and MTI|
|Date founded||July 2017||30 April 2019 (CIPC registration date)|
|Investment promise||Regular returns on bitcoin investment (minimum $1,000) – 14% per week plus bonuses for multilevel marketing referrals.||Regular returns on bitcoin investment (minimum $100; $200 to unlock multilevel marketing bonuses). MTI’s stated average profits changed from 10% per month, to 1.5% per day, to 0.5% per day.|
|Investment strategy||Profits generated by hotshot trader “Steven Twain”. No evidence that Steven Twain existed.||Profits generated by a revolutionary automated trading program (“bot”). No evidence that the bot existed.|
|Scheme size: Money||Estimated 4,500+ BTC (over $50 million in 2018)||Estimated 23,000+ BTC (over R6.44 billion @ R280,000/bitcoin, now over R14 billion)|
|Scheme size: membership||Over 27,000
(not correcting for multiple accounts from individual members)
(not correcting for multiple accounts from individual members)
|The Collapse||Blamed the founder.
||Blamed the founder and cast aspersions on his wife.
|Prominent management and investors||
Right of reply
MyBroadband contacted Johann Steynberg, Clynton Marks, Cheri Marks, Russel Jerrard, Andrew Caw, Liz Malton, Willie Breedt, Monica Coetzee, Vince Ward, Charlie Ward, Romano Samuel, Leonard Gray, Joel Santiago, Rich Simmonds, Ignatius & Minette Bell, and Marinus Bell for comment.
Madelyn Roose and Johan van Wyk reportedly passed away. MyBroadband contacted the church that Johan van Wyk founded, Solid Rock Church, for comment.
Leonard Gray responded and said that he is a member of MTI with a small amount of bitcoin in his account, and that he is not a founder or investor of any relevance.
Gray said that he was employed at MTI under contract as a legal advisor. He said that he has not been paid his December salary and that he is helping the relevant liquidators in their enquiry into the affairs of MTI.
Andrew Caw told MyBroadband he was only an investor in BTC Global and lost a significant amount of money when it collapsed.
He said that he was a relative late-comer to MTI and funded his account with the bare minimum amount required. Caw explained that he was dubious about the fact that you don’t hold the private keys to the bitcoin you have invested in MTI.
“I always tell anyone that asks that any time you give someone else control of your bitcoin you are taking a risk – ‘Not your private keys, Not your Bitcoin’ as they say,” Caw told MyBroadband.
“The safest thing to do with Bitcoin is to hold it in a wallet only you have access to.”
Caw said that he was invited to the MTI “StratCom” leadership conference in August 2020 where he declined to be a part of the management team.
“Unfortunately, a photograph of the ‘StratCom’ attendees, including several consultants, was mistakenly published as a management photo. My only major contribution following this event was a proposal I drafted which would enable MTI to deliver cryptographic proof of their actual holdings of Bitcoin,” Caw stated.
“While this proposal was well received by the MTI management team it was never implemented due to security concerns from MTI’s broker — the broker that we now believe may be one of Johann Steynberg’s aliases”.
MyBroadband asked Caw about a screenshot posted to the MyBroadband forum showing a link to Mirror Trading International from the website of Coin Buyers Club, Caw’s cryptocurrency brokerage business.
Caw did not respond by the time of publication, but in an earlier statement he said that as a Bitcoin broker, in a non-advisory role, he did have several other clients — including family — who put funds into MTI.
“While the majority of our clients had no exposure to MTI, it seems clear now that those that did have lost whatever Bitcoin they had with MTI,” Caw said.
“At the end of the day though each person needs to decide for themselves what their risk appetite is and make their own decisions accordingly.”
On the topic of BTC Global, Caw said that the scheme was represented locally in South Africa by an “independent team of affiliates” called Team on Fire.
The “Team on Fire” name has been linked to Clynton and Cheri Marks.
“I had been working with [Team on Fire] in Syntek, a previous MLM company,” Caw said.
Because he had some limited experience with websites, Caw said he helped Team on Fire put up a quick landing page on Squarespace for the ‘Team On Fire’ affiliates to use.
“This website was later adopted for the main business. Unfortunately, my name remained in the backend as the original author. I was however neither a founder nor leader in BTC Global, although I was later accused of being both,” Caw stated.
“The Hawks also falsely linked my Bitcoin brokerage company to BTC Global in a media release in 2018. Their statement was retracted five days later after we pointed out their error.”
MyBroadband contacted the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation to allow them to comment on Caw’s statement, but they did not respond by the time of publication.
Caw said that after the collapse of BTC Global, he realised that the best investment anyone he knew had ever made was simply buying and holding bitcoin.
“That was why I launched Coin Buyers Club. The Club’s goal is to teach people to buy and hold bitcoin in their own wallets where they control their private keys. We have operated as a Bitcoin brokerage and education facility, consulting to businesses, and high net worth individuals since then,” Caw stated.
The Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) records for Coin Buyers Club shows that Caw registered the business on 25 August 2016, with him and Cheri Marks (then Cheri Gray) listed as directors. According to the CIPC, Marks was removed as director on 11 June 2018.
Looking at the history of the domain for Coin Buyers Club (via Archive.org, SecurityTrails, and WHOIS), and Caw’s Facebook profile, the business seemed to become operational some time in July 2018.
MyBroadband asked Caw about Cheri Marks being one of the original directors of Coin Buyers Club, but he did not respond by the time of publication.