By Dietrich Knauth
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A lawyer for Celsius Network on Wednesday said the crypto lender hopes to conclude an auction for its assets within days and the current lead bidder is Fahrenheit LLC, a consortium that includes blockchain-based venture capital firm Arrington Capital, at a U.S. bankruptcy court hearing in Manhattan.
Celsius attorney Ross Kwasteniet told U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Martin Glenn the auction has taken longer than expected, but has been highly competitive. The current bids are "hundreds of millions of dollars" higher than the initial bid by NovaWulf LLC, a digital asset investment firm, he said.
New Jersey-based Celsius filed for Chapter 11 protection in July, one of several crypto lenders to go bankrupt following the rapid growth of the industry during the COVID pandemic. Celsius said at the time it had more than 1.7 million registered users and approximately 300,000 active users with account balances greater than $100.
Celsius kicked off an auction on April 22, seeking to find a buyer who can guide its crypto lending and bitcoin mining businesses out of bankruptcy. Celsius initially planned to accept NovaWulf's bid, but took more time to develop additional bids from Fahrenheit, and Blockchain Recovery Investment Committee (BRIC), a holding company affiliated with the Winklevoss-owned Gemini Trust.
Celsius plans to choose between the Fahrenheit and NovaWulf bids, since both offer a way to continue Celsius's lending business as well as its bitcoin mining business. Celsius has not set a deadline for final offers, but expects to conclude the auction within a week, Kwasteniet said.
BRIC's bid, which would preserve only the mining business, will serve as a backup bidder in case the Fahrenheit or NovaWulf bids fail to get regulatory approvals.
Kwasteniet said he does not expect Celsius to share the fate of Voyager Digital, a crypto lending company forced to liquidate after regulatory concerns scuttled Binance.US's plan to acquire it.
"We've kept the regulatory concerns front of mind and are confident that either party would be able to consummate a transaction," Kwasteniet said.
(Reporting by Dietrich Knauth, Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Chris Reese)