Justin Sun Yuchen, founder of Tron and CEO of BitTorrent, speaks during Ifeng Finance Summit at China World Summit Wing on November 4, 2015 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Jiang Xin/VCG via Getty Images)
Jiang Xin | VCG | Getty Images
Who would’ve thought Warren Buffett‘s charity lunch this year would involve kidney stones, a reported and disputed money laundering investigation, and the winner apologizing for his “out-of-control, excessive self promotion?”
It all happened in the span of three days. Justin Sun, a Chinese cryptocurrency entrepreneur, paid a record $4.57 million in the 20th-anniversary charity auction to dine with the Oracle of Omaha. Pledging to change Buffett’s hatred of bitcoin, Sun invited other cryptocurrency leaders to the three-hour lunch scheduled to take place in San Francisco Thursday and was counting down the days on Twitter where he has 1.4 million followers.
However, on Monday evening, three days before the lunch, the founder of cryptocurrency TRON announced the postponement due to a kidney stones illness.
Chinese news outlet Caixin reported on Tuesday Sun was being held at the Chinese border, suspected of illegal fundraising, money laundering and involvement in pornography and gambling.
TRON spokesman told CNBC Tuesday the report was not true and Sun was in San Francisco.
Sun took to live video streaming app Periscope Tuesday, showing San Francisco landmarks in the background to demonstrate he was not in China.
“I’m feeling better… This is the Bay Bridge. So everything is okay….It’s pretty comfortable in San Francisco,” he said in the live video.
He then rebutted the report on Chinese social media platform Weibo, claiming it was “completely untrue” and saying he will meet everyone once he recovers.
Asked about Sun’s situation, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs told CNBC: “It’s not a diplomatic matter. We are not aware of the situation.”
“Excessive self promotion”
At 2:46 a.m. Beijing time Thursday, Sun abruptly apologized on Weibo where he has about 1.2 million followers that he acted immaturely and felt deeply ashamed of his “excessive self-promotion” as well as his “penchant for hyping things up.”
The excessive marketing campaign has become “out of control and failed,” and caused many consequences he had never experienced, Sun said in the post. He ignored his social responsibility, he said.
In a separate Weibo post Thursday, Sun denied the allegations of money laundering and illegal fundraising. Because Tron Foundation complies with local laws and regulations in Singapore, its agreement is a “decentralized blockchain agreement” and there is also “no legal deposit and cryptocurrency withdrawal channel,” he said.
The Chinese government has cracked down on the fledgling crypto industry since bitcoin became a household name two years ago. China banned the fundraising method behind new cryptocurrencies, known as initial coin offerings, in 2017 and has shut down multiple exchanges.
While some past winners of the Buffett charity lunch have remained anonymous, they are usually pretty staid events, taking place at New York’s Smith & Wollensky steak house. Berkshire investment manager Ted Weschler and Greenlight Capital’s David Einhorn have won in previous years.The proceeds from the lunch go to the Glide Foundation to help the homeless in San Francisco.
Sun’s bid is the highest on record for the charity’s 20-year history and he has already made the donation, despite the postponement.
TRON spokesman told CNBC the lunch will be rescheduled.
—CNBC’s Kate Rooney, Maggie Fitzgerald and Eunice Yoon contributed reporting.