The Curious Case of Melania Trump’s NFT Auction

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  • Melania Trump’s NFT collection was sold for 1,800 SOL last month, but the auction has courted controversy
  • Blockchain records show the wallet that created the Head of State NFT collection also paid for it
  • Melania’s team suggested they had facilitated a “third party” purchase

Melania Trump’s ‘Head of State’ NFT collection has courted controversy with accusations that she paid for the winning bid herself, with blockchain records seeming to back up the accusations. We look at the details of the story and what the records suggest really happened..

‘Head of State’ Fails to Take the Crown

Melania’s NFT collection launched in January this year, close to the two-year anniversary of her husband being formally removed from that very position. The auction, held on the Solana blockchain, contained art from her first official state visit in 2018 and was intended to be one of many planned auctions she would release at “regular intervals”.

Melania announced the winner of the auction on her website, with the winning bid being 1,800 SOL (today worth $183,500). This being the blockchain, the winner’s address was also published, which is where the waters get a bit murky.

On the day the auction ended, the address listed as the creator of Melania’s NFT collection transferred 372,657 USDC to a second wallet that converted it to 1,800 SOL and sent it to a third address – the address listed as the winner of the auction on Trump’s website. When the auction ended, the 1,800 SOL was sent back to the second wallet which converted it back into USDC again.

This shows unequivocally that, for some reason, the creators of the Head of State NFT collection sent the money for the winning bid to the winner’s wallet. Hence the scrutiny.

“Third-party Buyer” Necessitated Crypto Transfers

The reason given for this anomaly is, according to Melania’s office, because “The transaction was facilitated on behalf of a third-party buyer.” This would suggest that the winner was not in possession of the amount of SOL needed to cover the winning bid and so they paid Melania’s team in cash, got the USDC in return, converted it to SOL, won the auction, and paid up. They then, for some reason, got the SOL returned to them which they then cashed back out.

This is an extremely unlikely set of events for several very obvious reasons, and there is an alternative – Melania’s team realized the price was nowhere near what they hoped to achieve and they created a fake six-figure buyer to avoid bad press. The New York Times noted at the time that the prices being offered were far below the figure touted by the auction’s press release, largely due to a drop in crypto prices at the time.

However, in taking this course of action (assuming they did) they have received worse press coverage as a result, with a legitimate charge of wash trading now able to be levelled at Melania and her team, merely adding to a problem that is already endemic in the NFT world.

We will likely never know (officially at least) who the buyer of Melania’s Head of State collection was, but the evidence (and the financial history of her ex-president husband) leaves the whole incident with a bad taste..