Disclaimer: Nexon has subsequently denied reports that it is engaged in an acquisition deal with Bithumb.
After a troubled few months, crypto exchange Bithumb looks like it's set on turning over a new leaf through an acquisition by one of South Korea's top gaming firms.
South Korean media reported on Jan. 7 that Nexon, a multi-billion dollar gaming conglomerate, has signed a memorandum of understanding, or MoU, to acquire the exchange at an evaluated price of 650 billion won ($460 million).
Nexon, led by CEO Kim Seoung-Ju, will reportedly work with one of the major shareholders in Bithumb, Vidente, to buy out the exchange and take control of the company, crypto journalist and Cointelegraph contributor Joseph Young has summarized. According to South Korean media, Nexon plans to take a 65% stake in Bithumb.
As the report notes, Bithumb's existing shares are trading at a total value of 1 trillion won ($914 million) on the over-the-counter market, meaning that the deal, if successful, will allow Nexon to take over at a "discounted price."
The sale of the exchange has reportedly been in the works since late August 2020, with a preliminary bidding held in September at which a number of financial and strategic investors, including domestic and foreign private equity fund managers, bid for success.
Yet the ongoing police investigation involving Lee Jung Hoon, chairman of board at Bithumb Korea and Bithumb Holdings, appears to have slowed down the process.
The report notes that the legal entanglement of the exchange's current shareholders, who are also being sued for embezzlement by investors, could make it difficult for the exchange to secure the legally required registration as a crypto entity with South Korean authorities.
An acquisition and change in management could clear this regulatory obstacle. Young has commented that Nexon's acquisition would, more generally, "improve the image around the most dominant crypto trading platform in the local market."
Nexon's holding company, NXC, has previously invested in cryptocurrency and fintechs, including the well-known exchange Bitstamp. Given Bithumb's prime position as South Korea's largest crypto exchange by trading volume, Nexon's market dominance is expected to benefit if the acquisition is successful.
In the third quarter of 2020, the number of subscribers to Bithumb reportedly exceeded 5 million, and the company is said to have plans to expand its products and upgrade its compliance measures in the hope of securing a virtual asset business license.