Cryptocurrency is property capable of being held in trust, Judge Philip Jeyaretnam of the High Court of Singapore ruled on July 25. The judge said he didn’t see any difference between crypto, fiat money or shells as long as all those objects, physical or not, share value created by mutual faith in them. 

Jeyaretnam handed down his ruling in a case brought by Bybit against its former employee, Ho Kai Xin. Bybit claimed the staff member transferred around 4.2 million of Tether (USDT) from the crypto exchange to her private accounts. The court has now ordered Ho, who has accused a non-present cousin of controlling the relevant accounts, to return the money to Bybit.

While the decision may seem obvious, it contains some formulations important for the juridical status of digital assets. Jeyaretnam calls the stolen USDT, as well as cryptocurrencies in general, property. Even though they don’t have any physical presence, the judge said:

“We identify what is going on as a particular digital token, somewhat like how we give a name to a river even though the water contained within its banks is constantly changing.”

He rebukes the common suspicion of crypto not having any “real” value, reminding that value is “a judgment made by an aggregate of human minds.” Jeyaretnam also classifies crypto in the category of “things in action.” In British common law, that means a type of property over which personal rights could be claimed or enforced by legal action, not by taking physical possession.

Related: Singapore to require crypto firms to put user assets into trusts by year-end

In his decision, the judge cited the consultation paper by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) that will implement segregation and custody requirements for digital payment tokens. If it is possible in practice to identify and segregate such digital assets, it should be legally possible to hold them on trust, the judge stated.

The decision mentions Order 22 of Singapore’s Rules of Court 2021, which defines “movable property” to include “cash, debt, deposits of money, bonds, shares or other securities, membership in clubs or societies, and cryptocurrency or other digital currency.”

In May 2022, the High Court of Justice in London ruled that nonfungible tokens (NFT) represent “private property.” Experts called the decision a “great precedent” for people investing in NFTs who hoped that British courts would protect their property rights.

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