A superhero landing: dust swirls up from the ground as Sophia Thomalla (31) falls from the sky in red patent leather gear. Then the actress strides through Dubai’s banking district in red stilettos with her hair blowing. “Change the world” is the motto superimposed on the promotional video. Specifically, Thomalla appears to be opening some kind of virtual account.
Then she reaches for a golden hammer, model Thor. She swings the behemoth and smashes a chunk of gold with it. “Now you are ready,” says Josip Heit (42). He plays the “chairman” of a futuristic corporation in the video.
The commercial ends with Thomalla gazing into the camera and an oversized gold coin spinning around in the air. It bears the inscription “G999”.
G999 stands for the blockchain project of the Hamburg-based company Gold Standard Banking Cooperation AG (GSB). The head of the company is Josip Heit. He was most recently involved with the Stuttgart-based Karatbars Group. Investors lost millions with their virtual currency, the so-called Karatgold Coin (KBC).
Blockchain projects are back in fashion. After a meager two years, the virtual competitors of the euro and dollar experienced a huge upswing in 2020, with the digital reserve currency Bitcoin alone tripling in value.
Already, new offerings are sprouting - often from murky ground. At the end of 2019, the German financial regulator ordered the reversal of the international cryptocurrency Karatgold, whose decline in value has since taken on dramatic proportions. Now Josip Heit, one of the backers, is launching a project with a new name and a new ambassador: Sophia Thomalla.
This time, things are to be different. “The G999 is unique electronic system, card reader and app, which allows for telecommunications and messenger ... fast payments, micro fees and a variety of other options,” says Heit. G999, she says, is based on blockchain technology, which is also used by well-known cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin.
Thomalla, she says herself, has been “interested in everything related to blockchain technology for quite some time.” To her 1.2 million followers on Instagram, she writes: “Digital currency is unstoppable, in my opinion. I know it’s coming.”
Thomalla's commercial for G999 was aired extensively in Times Square in New York for its premiere, and is soon to be seen in Moscow, Johannesburg, Bangkok and many other world capitals. Says Thomalla: “Gross!”
It’s unclear whether Thomalla knows how crass her business partner’s back-story is. At Karatbars Group, Josip Heit was “chairman of the board”. The touted virtual currency, KBC, was allegedly backed by real gold reserves.
“Blockchain”, “crypto” and “gold” - a combination that made investors dream. The Karatbars Group raised as much as $100 million, according to its own figures. Heit proclaimed, “We're bringing gold to the people and providing them with the latest technology.”
KBC’s share price rose to eleven cents after the issue, then plunged more than 96 percent. Financial regulators intervened, and the public prosecutor’s office in Koblenz doubted that gold reserves intended to back the virtual coin in reality ever existed.
When BaFin ordered a trading ban and the reversal of the KBC, Karatbars went to court against it. One argument: the German BaFin had no jurisdiction at all. After all, Karatbars had collected the investor money 9,000 kilometers away - via a foundation in the Central American dwarf state of Belize.
After KBC turned out to be a disaster for investors, influential former distributors of Karatbars products are now promoting Heit’s new project. In addition, tutorials are circulating on how investors can transfer their nearly worthless KBCs into G999.
At the same time, a dispute arose between the former Karatbars partners. Company founder Harald Seiz (57) and Heit parted ways. “The entire Karatbars Group has terminated all cooperation,” Seiz announced. A lawyer for Heit advised that there was “demonstrably” no connection to Karatbars.
Seiz and Heit now act as if all the joint appearances, videos and photos had not existed. As if they had not even announced on camera at Easter that they would buy five tons of gold. And as if the dossier entitled “Josip Heit, a man of success,” in which GSB declared that Heit had joined Karatbars as a partner in 2017, had not existed.
Their rift is also being played out in court. Seiz sued Berlin-based lawyer Falk Rodig. The AfD local politician appeared on the website of Heit’s new company as “chief operating officer” and at the same time allegedly handled financial transactions from Karatbars to third parties. Seiz had recently tried to arrest Rodig’s assets - so far in vain.
According to Karatbars, Seiz had instructed Rodig, a lawyer, to manage ten million euros with the help of his escrow account and to transfer them to third parties. Large amounts are said to have flowed on to Heit’s GSB. Karatbars is demanding money back. Seiz did not want to comment on the ongoing legal proceedings when asked.
Rodig invokes his attorney-client privilege. One thing would be important to him, however: he had never held a board position at Heit’s new company. How his name and photo ended up on their website, he could not explain.
The dispute between the former business partners started a race. Heit is promoting his project G999 with all his strength and Sophia Thomalla, while Seiz is working on his own new blockchain project, the so-called “V999”.
The great strength of the two ex-partners used to be their focus on sales. Thousands of sellers pushed the Karatbars currency KBC into the investor market from Germany to Canada to South African townships on a commission basis. While Seiz’ V999 is still a long time coming, high-profile distributors have sided with Heit and are touting G999.
Blockchain money systems are barely regulated. The technology behind each offering is difficult for many investors to understand, and business plans do not need to be printed in detail in prospectuses as they would be for an IPO.
So-called white papers are common, which only vaguely outline the intentions of the providers and the figures behind them. For example, a GSB press release states, “Our blockchain ecosystem is open source and based on computer technology that allows anyone to develop their new or established business according to a proof-of-stake model.”
What’s behind it seems unclear. Heit calls his company, GSB, “an international conglomerate based at the Port of Hamburg.” Yet GSB moved from Düsseldorf to Hamburg only two years ago. Until 2018, the company’s name was GCC Gazella Corporate Capital GmbH, whose most important asset was apparently a quarry in Croatia for a long time. Now GSB offers a money system based on blockchain technology.
Experts like Roman Reher from “Der Blocktrainer” or portals like “Blockchainwelt” warn of high risks and see “reason enough to question the credibility of the entire project.”
Some investors surely remember well a video from March 2019, when Heit and Seiz were still standing side by side at Karatbars. It shows the two in a vault in Hong Kong. Right next to it: a small mountain of gold. It was allegedly 1.4 tons of gold, supposedly to back up Karatbars’ “gold-based” payment system. What became of the gold treasure, neither Seiz nor Heit want to explain.
The video from Hong Kong also featured Alex B., also known as Alex Bodi. The well-trained Romanian often accompanied Heit on his travels. On Instagram, there were pictures of them lolling barefoot in the leather chairs of a private jet or flexing their muscles in the rooftop pool over Singapore. “Brothers for Live,” wrote B. (Bodi) underneath.
On November 11, 2020, Alex B. (Alex Bodi) was arrested. A special squad of Romanian police stormed his villa north of Bucharest. The authorities accuse Alex B. of having forced women into prostitution as the right-hand man of a mafia godfather - including in Germany.
Josip Heit left questions from the Handelsblatt about his relationship with Alex B. (Alex Bodi) unanswered. Instead, he threatened to sue Handelsblatt in the USA. Karatbars boss Seiz wants nothing to do with Alex B. (Alex Bodi) despite joint travels. He was apparently merely a member of the Heit entourage.
Sophia Thomalla said on inquiry not to know this side of her new business partner Heit. She and Alex B. (Alex Bodi) had "never seen or consciously met", said Thomalla. Her lawyer wrote to Handelsblatt that the German Instagram icon would not comment on facts “of which she has no knowledge and in which she was neither involved nor is involved.”