In 2021, Ardana Labs claimed it would provide an innovative stablecoin platform for the Cardano network. The new project, called “Ardana,” would allow investors to lock up crypto collateral and mint fiat-pegged stablecoins, including a U.S. dollar-based token called dUSD. It raised $10 million from investors that year, but it suddenly closed up shop in November 2022, citing “funding and project timeline uncertainty.”
Some investors blamed the loss on the “crypto winter” of 2022, during which many legitimate projects went bust from lack of funding in the extended bear market. However, new evidence from Web3 risk-management platform Xerberus suggests there may be more to the Ardana story than just fundraising issues.
According to Xerberus, Ardana executives likely transferred 80% of the project’s funds to a personal wallet after first attempting to obscure the transactions by sending some through centralized exchanges. The transfers were allegedly conducted by CEO Ryan Motovu or some other C-level team member. Once the funds were in this wallet, the executives made a series of bad crypto investments, Xerberus alleges. These investments resulted in a loss of approximately $4 million, shortening the runway for the project and ultimately leading to its collapse.
Ardana’s rise and fall
Ardana was first announced in the summer of 2021, and by October 2021, it had raised $10 million from venture capital firms CFund, Three Arrows Capital (3AC) and Ascensive Assets. Thanks to its successful fundraise and the prominence of its backers, some investors came to believe that Ardana’s upcoming token, DANA, would deliver outsized market gains.
The following month, Ardana announced that it was also partnering with Near Protocol to create an asset bridge between Cardano and Near.
However, no Ardana stablecoin platform or bridge was ever launched, and the protocol closed down in November 2022 without a functioning product. The development team stated that the closure was due to “funding and project timeline uncertainty.” The closure happened amid the collapse of FTX, which had made it difficult for many projects to raise funds. One of Ardana’s backers, 3AC, had also gone bankrupt a few months earlier. Given this background, many didn’t question the official story.
However, blockchain data and analysis by Xerberus show that Ardana’s failure may have had less to do with a lack of funding and more to do with risky asset management practices by Ardana Labs’ officers.
A trail of questionable money
Xerberus co-founders Simon Peters and Noah Detwiler told Coinpostman they identified the Ethereum wallet Ardana Labs used to collect funds from the DANA initial coin offering (ICO) in November 2021. They stated that links to the address were included in the ICO platform Tokensoft’s web pages relating to the token. In addition, they claim to have identified a $1 million transaction from 3AC into this address at a time when 3AC had announced its Ardana investment.
According to blockchain data, the first transaction to this account occurred on Sept. 2, 2021, when approximately 0.46 Ether (ETH) ($1,747 at the time) was sent into it. This was approximately two weeks after the Aug. 15 start date for the first round of Ardana fundraising. Beginning on Sept. 15, the account received multiple USD Coin (USDC) transfers that eventually added up to millions of dollars worth of stablecoins.
Ardana’s liquidation and closure
Xerberus claims that the on-chain behavior of the Ardana team began to change in March 2022, when the team’s wallets began “dumping” their assets onto DEXs. They continued to sell all remaining assets until November 2022, at which point the project officially announced it was closing. The funds obtained from these sales still remain in the treasury wallet.
Nearly $4 million lost in bad trades
According to Xerberus’ Sept. 6 report on Ardana, nearly $4 million of the Target Wallet’s token balance was lost through bad trades. The wallet owner transferred most of the funds to two Safe (formerly Gnosis Safe) multisignature accounts. These funds were used to make trades on DEXs PancakeSwap, Uniswap, SushiSwap and GMX, resulting in near-total losses. The Target Wallet also made its own losing trades.
Some funds remain, while some were spent on development
Research conducted by the Xerberus team shows that approximately $1.82 million worth of Ardana’s funds were spent on development costs associated with the project, including team members’ salaries. They contacted a person they referred to as “the main contractor for the project,” who gave Xerberus their wallet address. This address showed payments totaling $1.82 million, which is approximately 20% of the funds raised.
In addition, they claim that approximately $1.4 million worth of USDC has not been lost and still remains in the possession of the project in a wallet they refer to as the “Treasure Chest” account. This account’s first transaction was an incoming transfer of 0.3 ETH, worth $562.29 at the time, which was sent to it from the Target Wallet.
CeFi exchanges join the trail
In addition to the amount moved on-chain to the Target Wallet, another $4 million was sent through centralized exchanges first, then transferred to the Target Wallet, according to the Xerberus co-founders.
They claim to have identified the Kraken, Coinbase and Gate.io deposit addresses used by the Ardana team. To find these, they looked for addresses that received funds from the fundraising wallet and sent funds to a known exchange address. For example, one address in particular received funds from the fundraising wallet and only sent funds to the Coinbase 6 and Coinbase: Miscellaneous wallet addresses.
Once funds were sent to a centralized exchange, determining what happened to them became more difficult. However, the team used a variety of techniques to determine with a degree of certainty where the funds went.
In some cases, the team was able to identify funds that were sent to Kraken and then immediately sent out to another address, as Kraken often uses the same address to send and receive funds for each user, especially if the time between transactions is short. In other cases, Kraken sent the deposited funds to another of its wallets, making it no longer obvious what the user did with the funds. Deposits sent to Coinbase and Gate.io are always sent to other wallets and pooled with other users’ tokens. So, with transactions involving these exchanges, the team could not determine what happened as easily.
However, they analyzed all outgoing transactions made by each exchange within an hour of the fundraising wallet depositing to it. They found that many outgoing transactions were for the exact same amount as the deposits. For example, the fundraising wallet would deposit $220,000 worth of Tether (USDT) to Gate.io. Then, 40 minutes later, the exchange would send exactly $220,000 in USDT out to a different wallet. Ultimately, much of these funds ended up in the Target Wallet, providing what Xerberus sees as solid evidence that the same user made the outgoing transactions.
Many Ardana investors were firm believers in the Cardano ecosystem. They expected Ardana to be the project that would finally get Cardano the attention they felt it deserved. Instead, over $10 million in capital was sucked out of the Cardano community, with virtually nothing left to show for it in the end.
The Ardana story is a sober reminder of the risks of investing in new Web3 startups with no functioning product. Although these projects can lead to outsized gains, they can also lead to catastrophic losses. Investors may want to take a close look at a project’s on-chain behavior when considering whether to invest in these types of projects.