Patrick Byrne Severs Ties with Overstock Over Russia Controversy
Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne has announced he will sever ties with the company he founded. A major figure in the bitcoin and blockchain industry, Byrne announced the news today after revealing in July he had been in a relationship with a Russian national embroiled in the now-infamous “Russiagate” series of news conspiracies. These revelations caused Overstock’s share price to drop 36 percent.
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Controversial CEO Would ‘Complicate’ Matters for Overstock
Byrne has been involved with cryptocurrency since 2013, becoming interested in bitcoin’s then-libertarian ideology. He later founded Medici Ventures and tZERO, companies that would build a blockchain-based stock market, featuring Overstock shares. He founded Overstock in 1999, initially as an online retailer selling surplus office furniture but which later expanded to include a range of brand new household products.
He announced his resignation from Overstock in a public letter to shareholders, saying his “presence may affect and complicated all manner of business relationships, from insurability to strategic discussions regarding our retail business”. He added:
“While I believe that I did what was necessary for the good of the country, for the good of the firm, I am in the sad position of having to sever ties with Overstock, both as CEO and board member, effective Thursday August 22.”
Byrne’s involvement in the Russian narrative concerned his relationship with Maria Butina, a Russian gun rights activist who was convicted in the U.S. in 2018 for failing to register as a foreign agent. He had communicated with both the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice, turning over documents concerning Russian donations to the Clinton Foundation and sales of nuclear material to Russia during the Obama administration.
He revealed his actions to journalists in July 2019, after rumors had circulated for a year. Previous to his bitcoin involvement and since it began, he has been famous for his strong libertarian views and support for both gun rights and “sound money” such as cryptocurrencies and precious metals.
Byrne stated that he still believes the “blockchain revolution will reshape key social institutions” including identity, land governance, central banking, capital markets, supply chains, and voting.
He also pointed to an unnamed competitor in the retail market, which “will have lost close to $3 billion” by the end of the year. Overstock, he said, had initially copied that competitor’s strategy — but its business had recovered since taking a different path.
Why Is Overstock so Famous in the Bitcoin World?
Overstock made headlines in October 2013 when Byrne hinted his company would accept BTC payments. The bitcoin community rallied to assist in making this a reality, and Overstock became the first major mainstream retailer to accept BTC just a few months later.
Such was Overstock’s popularity in Bitcoin that “bedsheets” became a well-known meme and joke as the product most-bought by BTC users. In that sense, it reached par with alpaca socks and pizza as products synonymous with bitcoin use.
The DOJ’s investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election (popularly known as “Russiagate” consumed over two years of media time and online punditry.
However a lengthy investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller found there was no evidence to support the allegations, and the only prosecutions from the matter concerned process crimes related to the investigation itself. Research that initially triggered the investigations came from state-connected private investigators hired by the Hillary Clinton campaign in the lead-up to the 2016 election.
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Images via SarahACarter.com, Overstock