Russian Crypto Billionaire Dies in Unexplained Helicopter Crash, the Third Unexplained Crypto Death in Recent Weeks

By Grit Daily Staff Grit Daily Staff has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
Published on November 29, 2022

A Russian crypto billionaire is the latest cryptocurrency businessman to die in mysterious circumstances after his helicopter crashed in good weather near Monaco.  Entrepreneur Vyacheslav Taran, 53, died after the helicopter plunged near the resort town of Villefranche-sur-Mer after taking off from Lausanne in Switzerland.

Taran is the third cryptocurrency entrepreneur to die unexpectedly in the past few weeks. Tiantian Kullander, 30, died ‘in his sleep’ last week, while fellow crypto millionaire Nikolai Mushegian, 29, drowned on a Puerto Rico beach after tweeting that he feared the CIA and Mossad, the Israeli foreign intelligence agency, were going to murder him.

Since the crash that killed Taran happened in good, clear weather – and after another passenger reportedly cancelled last minute – mystery now surrounds the billionaire’s death. 

Taran, the co-founder of trading and investment platform Libertex and Forex Club, was flying from Lausanne with an experience pilot in a single-engined H130 helicopter when it crashed at around 1pm on November 25. The 35-year-old French pilot was also killed.

The deputy public prosecutor of Nice, who visited the scene, said the fault of a third party could not be ruled out.

Taran, a highly successful offshore specialist who has lived in Monaco for the past ten years, has three children with wife Olga, founder of Hello Monaco media.

Ukrainian news agency UNIAN claimed, without citing any evidence, that Taran  was a ‘billionaire crypto businessman with likely ties to the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service’. 

It alleged he was linked to the SVR foreign espionage agency and was responsible for “laundering Russian funds through a system of cryptocurrency operations.”

Russian crypto billionaire
Businessman Vyacheslav Taran, 53 – pictured with his wife Olga Taran in 2020

A spate of mysterious deaths

A number of Russian businessmen have died in mysterious circumstances since the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine. 

Earlier this month, Viktor Cherkesov, 72, a close KGB spy and mentor of Vladimir Putin who was demoted after publicly criticizing the Kremlin leader, died from an unexplained ‘serious disease’.

Recent deaths also include Ivan Pechorin, 39, director of the Far East and Arctic Development Corporation, who ‘fell overboard’ from his yacht in September. 

Pavel Pchelnikov, 52, a PR manager for the Russian Railways, was shot dead in his Moscow apartment the same month, and Alexander Tyulakov, 61, a senior Gazprom executive, was found hanged at his house, also in Moscow.

Cryptocurrency businessman Vyacheslav Taran, 53, is the third industry leader to die unexpectedly in a matter of weeks.

Taran was killed in a helicopter crash near Monaco, days after Tiantian Kullander, 30, died ‘in his sleep’.  

In addition, fellow crypto millionaire Nikolai Mushegian, 29, drowned on a Puerto Rico beach after tweeting that he feared the CIA and Mossad were going to murder him.  

The deaths mean at least five cryptocurrency tycoons have died unexpectedly since 2018, at times triggering wild and unfounded conspiracy theories.

The two others, Gerald Cotten and Matthew Mellon, died without sharing the keys to crypto wallets worth hundreds of millions of dollars, leaving the funds inaccessible.

Cotten’s demise was so mysterious and controversial that it prompted a Netflix documentary into whether the whole thing was faked.

Meanwhile Mellon – the ex-husband of Jimmy Choo co-founder Tamara Mellon – suffered a heart attack while preparing to check into a drug rehab clinic in Mexico.

Tiantian Kullander

Tiantian Kullander, 30, was the co-founder of Amber Group, a cryptocurrency trading platform which was recently valued at $3 billion. Kullander died “unexpectedly in his sleep” on November 23, the company announced in a statement on Friday.

He is survived by his wife and their son, a statement from Amber Group said.

The company, which is based in Singapore, didn’t say where Kullander passed away. A cause of death had also not been revealed on Monday.

Kullander was credited with ‘co-founding Amber and building it into a multi-billion fintech unicorn’.

He was also on the board of Fnatic, an e-sports organization.

Kullander and several of his Amber Group colleagues were featured together in the Forbes 30 under 30 list in 2019.

Kullander, a former Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs trader, founded the Amber Group in 2017. The company was valued at $3billion in recent months.

Nikolai Mushegian

Nikolai Mushegian, 29, died on October 28, hours after tweeting that he feared the CIA and Mossad were going to murder him. His family do not believe there was any foul play, as the troubled young millionaire had a history of mental health problems.

But some of his associates have bought into the unfounded clams that his death was suspicious – claims which are unfounded. In a tweet hours before he died, Mushegian said: ‘CIA and Mossad and pedo elite are running some kind of sex-trafficking entrapment blackmail ring out of Puerto Rico and Caribbean islands. They are going to frame me with a laptop planted by my ex [girlfriend] who was a spy. They will torture me to death.”

He was discovered by a surfer in the water at Ashford Beach on October 29, fully clothed and carrying his wallet.

Brock Pierce, a cryptocurrency entrepreneur who is well known in the community, told The New York Post he was satisfied Nikolai’s death was not suspicious after speaking to his family in Florida.

“His mother clarified that his death had nothing to do with his [conspiracy] tweets,” he said. ”He was a beautiful man and a child at heart. He was also an incredible visionary, I don’t call people brilliant very often but Nikolai was brilliant. And brilliant people sometimes walk the edge of insanity,” he said.

Nikolai’s family had become so concerned for his welfare that his father had gone to stay with him in Condado, Puerto Rico, where he is said to have lived in a $6million house.

Gerald Cotten

The death of Gerald Cotten in 2018 prompted so much intrigue and controversy that it was investigated in the Netflix documentary Trust No One.

The 30-year-old founder of the bankrupt cryptocurrency firm QuadrigaCX died while honeymooning in India with his wife on December 9, 2018. He was the only person with knowledge of keys needed to access crypto assets worth millions of dollars.

The odd circumstances surrounding his untimely death also included the fact that he signed a will just nine days before his demise — fueling suspicions that Cotten, CEO of Canada’s largest crypto exchange, faked the whole thing.

To this day $169million is missing, prompting investigators and victims to question whether he orchestrated the mystery and pocketed the funds. Some investors have even demanded his body be exhumed to prove it’s really him. Rumors on the internet have spread that Cotten is still alive and living off embezzled funds.

The hard drives that granted access to the assets, which were not connected to the internet, stored the cryptocurrency of 75,000 clients and for which only he had the password. Investigators found the wallets were commonly used to store Bitcoin starting in April 2014, but in April 2018 all but one of them were abruptly emptied and left dormant. The final wallet was still used to transfer currency until December 3, six days before Cotten died, before it was also left empty.

Various theories have emerged about Cotten, the most compelling perhaps, claims that he is alive and living off the millions that went missing.

His widow, Jennifer Robertson, said her husband’s death ‘should not be in doubt’.

According to Vanity Fair, Cotten claimed in a 2014 interview that he wrote his passwords on paper and locked them in a safe deposit box at a bank, ‘because that’s the best way to keep coins secure’.

Later he joked that he had a ‘safe bolted to the rafters in the attic.’

Shortly before his demise, Cotten told close friends and family that Quadriga had a ‘dead man’s switch’ that would send them access to the exchange’s funds in the case of his disappearance or death. None of this was true.

According to Canada’s Globe and Mail, Cotten and his wife were nine days into their honeymoon when the couple arrived at the $932-a-night Oberoi Rajvilas hotel in Jaipur on December 8, 2018.

Soon after checking in, Cotten complained of acute stomach pain and was driven to a nearby hospital where he was diagnosed with traveler’s diarrhea. He was dead 24 hours later. No autopsy was performed.

Sparking more suspicion was the fact that just three days before leaving for India, Cotten filed a detailed will that left everything to Robertson: his $12 million real estate portfolio, a Lexus sports car, his Cessna aircraft, a 50-foot sailboat, bank accounts and even frequent flyer points. He set aside $100,000 for the care of their Chihuahuas, but curiously made no mention of the external hard drives that stored most of Quadriga’s funds.

Matthew Mellon

Troubled banking heir Matthew Mellon died of a heart attack in 2018 while preparing to check into a drug rehabilitation clinic in Cancun, Mexico. He held XRP coins valued at upwards of $200 million, and was the only person who could access the cryptocurrencies.

Mellon reportedly never shared the keys needed to access the XRP with anyone. Some of the keys were in storage around the US and held in the names of other people.

XRP was trading at only a fraction of a penny when Mellon first took an interest in the asset. At its height the cryptocurrency has traded at more than $1 per coin. At its peak, Mellon’s initial $2 million investment was worth around $1 billion.

Mellon was survived by his first wife Tamara Mellon – who is the co-founder of Jimmy Choo – and his second wife, fashion designer Nicole Hanley. He also has three children – one with Tamara and two with Nicole.

He met his first wife Tamara in 1998 at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting and they tied in the knot in a lavish wedding held at the birthplace of Winston Churchill, attended by glamorous guests including Hugh Grant and Liz Hurley in 2000.

In 2006 he met second wife Nicole at a wedding and they wed two years later at family friend Diane Von Furstenberg’s home in the Bahamas. The pair later divorced in 2016.

In February, Mellon told Forbes that he liked XRP, used by currency exchange network Ripple, because it was one of the handful of cryptocurrencies that actually operated within the traditional banking system.

“Crypto is scary and dark. It’s anti-America,” Mellon told Forbes, explaining that he chose Ripple because he is ”pro-America, pro-business and pro-bank.”

He had battled an OxyContin addiction, spending $100,000 a month and taking about 80 pills a day. In 2016, Mellon blamed doctors for his addiction, saying they were ”writing prescriptions like they were Smarties.”

At the time, he was checked into Passages Malibu, an addiction-treatment center popular with boldfaced names, and said that ”I’m here as long as it takes.”

Mellon was born in New York City into one of the oldest banking families, descending from of Mellon Bank founder Judge Thomas Mellon and American banker and Drexel University founder Anthony Joseph Drexel.

He was raised between Delray Beach, Florida and Northeast Harbor, Maine and inherited a cool $25million when he turned 21, according to Vanity Fair. After attending The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School he led prosperous careers in fashion, telecommunications, and finance. Mellon also served as the chairman of the finance committee of the Republican Party in New York for a period of time.

He added to his wealth with his crypto-currency career by buying and selling Bitcoin. In May 2015 he became Global Ambassador of Ripple Labs and invested $2million in XRP coin, which grew into a $1billion fortune.

However, in light of his death, his family is scrambling to find his crypto-currency fortune that has seemingly “disappeared,” according to a family friend.

“Something weird has happened to all his crypto money and his family can’t find it,” the friend said.

By Grit Daily Staff Grit Daily Staff has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team

Journalist verified by Muck Rack verified

Grit Daily News is the premier startup news hub. It is the top news source on Millennial and Gen Z startups — from fashion, tech, influencers, entrepreneurship, and funding. Based in New York, our team is global and brings with it over 400 years of combined reporting experience.

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