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NextHash director Ana Benčič charged with misuse of company funds

Months after the collapse of a WorldTour team bearing its name, the wayward crypto company is in the headlines again.

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Former WorldTour cycling team sponsor Ana Benčič – director of the London-based crypto company NextHash – has been charged in Slovenia for misuse of company money and certifying false documents, according to local media reports and multiple sources.

NextHash was at the core of a contentious sponsorship of the South African WorldTour team, Team Qhubeka-NextHash, through the second half of the 2021 season. NextHash signed up as title sponsor for what was initially touted as a five-year term, but cracks quickly began appearing. By August, payments were in arrears, and by the end of the season, according to sources, barely a third of NextHash’s financial commitments had been met. 

That financial instability was a factor in the eventual demise of the Team Qhubeka WorldTour outfit, which for 2022 regrouped as a Continental team with hopes of building its way back up through the ranks.

Meanwhile, bizarrely, NextHash continues to tout a forthcoming NFT partnership with Team Qhubeka – months after they had a hand in the team folding. [Attempts to contact Doug Ryder, principal of Team Qhubeka, to confirm the status of NextHash’s outstanding payments and whether there was an ongoing NFT collaboration, proved unsuccessful.]

Curious business practices like these are, evidently, not isolated to NextHash’s involvement in cycling.

Slovenian news outlet Primorske Novice reports that the Slovenian police acted on a criminal complaint from the country’s Financial Administration, alleging that in 2017 Benčič had spent around €200,000 of company money on property. That funded an Isola apartment for Benčič, “without the consent of her partners and contrary to the interests of the company she was supposed to take care of,” according to a police spokesperson. CyclingTips understands that KonsultFin – of which Benčič is a director – was the exploited business.

KonsultFin is a company that – in addition to providing funding to NextHash – was involved in an ill-fated attempt to take over a stake of rival crypto brand NiceHash after a team of North Korean military hackers made off with millions of dollars worth of Bitcoin. KonsultFin also provided funding for a cutting-edge sex toy firm, EighteenPlus, which has since collapsed, leaving its visionary vibrators languishing.

A second complaint alleges that Benčič prepared a fake loan agreement with her mother, certified by a notary. “The daughter and mother forgot to say to the notary public, who certified the contract, that its content was not true, thus committing the crime of certifying false content in complicity,” a police spokesperson said. 

Team Qhubeka NextHash at the 2021 Tour de France.

Slovenske Novice reports that Benčič faces up to eight years in prison for abusing her position if found guilty, while her mother could face up to three years. 

Benčič, 48, has had a long and tumultuous business career, as detailed in a major investigative feature by CyclingTips, published in January 2022. At the time, multiple sources told CyclingTips that they are personally owed money by Benčič – in amounts ranging from €2,000 to €200,000. Meanwhile, multiple businesses associated with Benčič have collapsed. Slovenske Novice says that of 13 companies she was director of in 2017, “too many of them ended up in bankruptcy, and tax debts accumulated”. There were also questions around NextHash’s navigation of European anti-money laundering laws.

In the months since that article was published, financial documents for UK NextHash’s entity show that the company’s financial course has not corrected itself. As of its most recent accounts, NextHash LTD has £50 cash in hand, and owes £752,178 to a range of other entities, all associated with Benčič. A separate entity called NextHash Tech Limited – of which Benčič is also director – is owed more than a million pounds by NextHash LTD, but has liabilities of £4.9 million, a net worth of -£4 million, and a cash balance of £40. It has not filed its accounts up to September 2021.  

CyclingTips contacted the media representative of the investigating Koper branch of the Slovenian police for comment, but they declined to confirm further details of the investigation – including Benčič’s involvement – “due to the provisions of the Personal Data Protection Act”. It is unclear at this stage when the matter will proceed to trial.

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