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Libra Association Board Members Have Ties to Facebook

Olga Kharif

(Bloomberg) -- The Libra Association, which oversees a controversial cryptocurrency, was officially formed on Tuesday, and its five board members have one thing in common: close relationships with Facebook Inc. and its executives.

When Facebook first announced Libra, the company was quick to point out that it wouldn’t be alone in managing such an ambitious endeavor. Instead, it hoped to be one out of as many as 100 companies controlling the new digital coin. But as regulatory pressures have mounted and early partners have been leaving the project in droves, Facebook finds itself resorting to close allies to fill the Libra leadership team.

David Marcus, who heads the Facebook team that proposed Libra in the first place, is on the board. Marcus is also an investor in Xapo Inc., whose Chief Executive Officer Wences Casares is on Libra’s board as well.

Joining them is Katie Haun, a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, which was an early investor in Facebook. Another early Facebook backer, Digital Sky Technologies, is part-owned by Naspers, which has majority ownership of the parent company of PayU, the home of another Libra board member, Patrick Ellis.

The fifth board member, Matthew Davie of micro-lending service Kiva, also has ties to Facebook. One of Kiva’s board members is John Muller, associate general counsel at Facebook who, like Marcus, hails from PayPal Holdings Inc.

“Silicon Valley boards nearly always have these kinds of interconnections,” Aaron Brown, an investor and a writer for Bloomberg Opinion, wrote in an email. “Even someone without formal ties to Facebook will have informal and indirect ones. So no one qualified to be on the board is likely to be fully independent of Facebook. But I don’t see the board as being essentially an independent check on Facebook. I see it as a group of qualified and interested people.”

The board members and the Libra Association didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

“Yes, David is a very small investor in Xapo like dozens of other people from Silicon Valley. Yes, Wences and David are both in payments and fintech in Silicon Valley and because of that they have known each other for a few years now,” a spokesperson for Xapo said. “Neither David being a small investor in Xapo nor David and Wences having known each other for a few years compromises Wences’ independence in Libra’s board.”

The Libra Association board was formed after high-profile exits by a number of companies, including Mastercard Inc., Visa Inc. and PayPal. The exodus followed scrutiny by lawmakers and regulators who have expressed concern about Facebook’s poor track record in protecting user privacy.

Facebook has described Libra as a community effort. But the original group of about 28 partners has dwindled to 21 organizations that signed on as members on Tuesday. Facebook’s challenge will be to convince more companies that there is value for them in a project that has the social-media giant firmly in the driving seat, whether it intended that to be the case or not.

(Corrects number of original partners in final paragraph)

To contact the reporter on this story: Olga Kharif in Portland at okharif@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Nick Turner at nturner7@bloomberg.net, Vlad Savov

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