The founder of Turkish cryptocurrency exchange Thodex has fled the country with around $2.6 billion of investors’ assets after the exchange abruptly halted transactions last week.

Faruk Fatih Özer was last officially spotted in Istanbul airport, according to local reports, and is believed to be on the run in Albania.

Interpol has issued a red notice for his arrest at the request of Turkish law enforcement.

Özer’s cryptocurrency exchange Thodex went offline last week leaving around 390,000 active users without access to their cryptocurrency wallets.

In a statement, Özer denied any allegations of wrongdoing, saying he merely left the country to meet with foreign investors.

“[Thodex] has attracted the attention of many domestic and foreign investors, and has received very serious partnership offers at the international level,” Özer said.

“When the financial and digital data were examined together during the partnership negotiations that have been going on for about three months, it was determined as of last week that there was an abnormal fluctuation in the company accounts.

“Thodex Platform has been temporarily closed to determine the reasons and sources of this.”

Özer said some suspicious account activity could be traced back to a cyber attack and only affected 30,000 users – not the 390,000 reported.

Signs of trouble

Last month, as the price of Dogecoin started rising, Thodex said it would start giving away millions of the meme cryptocurrency to new users in a push to attract more customers.

But just days after Thodex’s month long Dogecoin promotion ended, the exchange locked withdrawal of the crypto asset while it conducted “short-term maintenance work on Dogecoin transactions”.

Soon, that same maintenance work was being extended across the platform and users began complaining their currency appeared to be stuck with no way for them to withdraw.

“We kindly inform you that the negative news on the internet do not reflect the truth and that our company continues its activities stronger,” Thodex said.

“There is no situation to worry about the existence of our users.”

According to Turkey’s state news agency Anadolu, Istanbul police made 68 arrests following raids across the country in search of 80 suspects involved in the alleged fraud.

Turkish crypto market goes bust

Thodex’s collapse began a week after the Turkish central bank announced it would ban using cryptocurrencies as a form of payment starting 30 April.

The central bank cited issues such as a lack of regulation, market volatility, and anonymity as reasons to ban using crypto assets for payments, saying it may “cause non-recoverable losses” for people using crypto to fight the effects of inflation which reached 16.5 per cent in March.

Vebitcoin, another Turkish cryptocurrency exchange, also suddenly halted trading activity over the weekend saying its transactions had “become much more intense than expected” recently.

“We would like to state with regret that this situation has led us to a very difficult process in the financial field,” Vebitcoin said.

“We have decided to cease our activities in order to fulfill all regulations and claims.”

Turkey’s cryptocurrency reckoning has coincided with a dip in the price of bitcoin which has steadily slid from its height of $83,000 per bitcoin two weeks ago to under $70,000.

Cryptocurrencies have seen a resurgence this year with the rise of NFTs in the art world and new alt-coins on the Binance Smart Chain like Safemoon enticing people to pour money into highly speculative tokens with the hopes of making a quick fortune.