Singapore police probe suspected suicide of digital currency exchange CEO

SINGAPORE Thu Mar 6, 2014 12:35am EST

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SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore police are investigating the apparent suicide of a 28-year-old American woman who ran a small exchange in the Asian city state trading virtual currencies.

Autumn Radtke, chief executive of First Meta Pte Ltd, was found dead at her Singapore home on February 26. Police said they were investigating her "unnatural" death, and "preliminary investigations showed no foul play is suspected."

Neighbors said they thought Radtke jumped to her death from a residential apartment complex.

First Meta said in a statement on its website that its team was "shocked and saddened" by the tragic loss of its CEO, saying "Autumn was an inspiration to all of us."

First Meta runs an exchange for virtual currencies and assets. It initially functioned as an online trade platform for the currency used in the Second Life online world, and then expanded to other games. Last year, it allowed users to sell bitcoins for dollars. That feature is not currently available.

The company has been moving towards adding bitcoin as another crypto-currency on its platform, but has not yet launched that service, according to Jupe Tan, VP of International Operations at Sunnyvale, California's Plug and Play Tech Center, which invested in First Meta in 2012.

Steve Beauregard, CEO and founder of Singapore-based GoCoin, rented a room in Radtke's Singapore home and was among the last people to see Radtke alive.

"This wasn't a bitcoin-related death. She had other things going on in her life. Collectively, there were a lot of small factors. ... It appears she picked a permanent solution to a lot of short term problems," he told Reuters.

"AWESOME" EXECUTIVE

Tan first got to know Radtke, who he described as an "awesome" executive, around the time Plug and Play invested in the company.

"I asked her, 'are you sure you want to move from the U.S. to Singapore? It's a very different climate, weather and otherwise.' And she was just so enthusiastic. This was the first time she'd be the CEO of a start-up and it was going to be a great adventure," Tan said.

Tan said he didn't know whether Radtke had personally invested in bitcoin, but said First Meta's exposure to bitcoin is not significant.

Bitcoin is a digital currency that, unlike conventional money, is bought and sold on a peer-to-peer network independent of central control. Its value soared last year, and the total worth of bitcoins is now about $7 billion.

The digital currency is under scrutiny after Tokyo-based Mt. Gox, once the world's dominant bitcoin exchange, filed for bankruptcy in Japan last week, blaming hackers for the loss of 850,000 bitcoins - worth more than $550 million at today's rates. Flexcoin, a Canada-based bitcoin bank, also shut this week, saying it lost $600,000 worth of the online currency to hacker theft.

"GO-GETTER"

Radtke, who moved to Singapore in early 2012, previously worked at another start-up in Santa Monica, California.

Plug and Play's Scott Robinson, who focuses on Silicon Valley bitcoin start-ups, said Radtke's years of experience in video game virtual currencies made her an instant expert and an asset to the relatively young, predominantly male, bitcoin community.

Robinson said he had gone to bitcoin conferences with Radtke and that she had planned to visit Plug and Play's headquarters in California next month to mentor other bitcoin entrepreneurs.

"She was a go-getter, she always worked very hard ... she stuck out as one of the only women representing bitcoin."

Before heading up First Meta, Radtke had business development roles at tech start-ups Xfire and Geodelic Systems, according to information on her LinkedIn profile.

(Additional reporting by Laura Philomin and Brian Leonal in SINGAPORE and Noel Randewich in San Francisco; Editing by Ian Geoghegan)

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