Thursday, May 23, 2024

Jerry Yu has the trappings of what the Chinese call second-generation rich. He boasts a Connecticut prep-school education. He lives in a Manhattan condominium bought for $8 million from Jeffrey R. Immelt, the former General Electric chief executive. And he is the majority owner of a Bitcoin mine in Texas, acquired last year for more than $6 million.

Mr. Yu, a 23-year-old student at New York University, has also become — quite unintentionally — a case study in how Chinese nationals can move money from China to the United States without drawing the attention of authorities in either country.

The Texas facility, a large computing center, was not purchased with dollars. Instead, it was bought with cryptocurrency, which offers anonymity, with the transaction routed through an offshore exchange, preventing anyone from knowing the origin of the financing.

Such secrecy allows Chinese investors to avoid the U.S. banking system, and the accompanying oversight of federal regulators, as well as sidestep Chinese restrictions on money leaving China. In a more traditional transaction, a bank receiving the funds would know where they were coming from and would be required by law to report any suspicious activity to the U.S. Treasury.

None of this would be known had Mr. Yu’s company — BitRush Inc., also known as BytesRush — not run into troubles in the tiny Texas Panhandle town of Channing, population 281, where contractors say they weren’t fully paid for their work on his mine there.

A flurry of lawsuits over the work has shaken loose documents that bring to light transactions not normally made public as Chinese investors have flooded into the United States, spending hundreds of millions of dollars to build or run crypto mines, after the Chinese government banned such operations in 2021.

The mines are a way for Chinese investors to generate cryptocurrency, primarily Bitcoin, which they can cash in for U.S. dollars on exchanges. The Channing mine, built on an open field, consists of several dozen buildings designed to hold 6,000 specialized computers that can operate day and night trying to guess the right sequence of numbers that earn new Bitcoins, currently worth more than $40,000 each. Such sites can place a burden on the nation’s electrical grid, The New York Times has reported, and their Chinese ownership has drawn national security scrutiny.

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