Below are articles referencing more detailed precedence set in 2019. The subject matter is extensive. I highly recommend performing a “Ctrl+f” command to lookup any specific topics you are interested in. You can also search in the content for 2020.
Bank of Ghana to Issue Digital Currency and South Africa Setting Up New Regulations- The Governor of the Bank of Ghana has indicated that the central bank will soon issue a digital version of the Ghanaian cedi in a regulatory sandbox environment. The South Africa Reserve Bank Deputy Governor told local media that new regulations covering cryptocurrencies can be expected as early as next year. The new regulations will reportedly put cryptocurrencies within the same capital control rules for sending money abroad that fiat currency currently requires in the country. Moreover, Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey recently stated that “Africa will define the future (especially the bitcoin one!)” after meeting fintech entrepreneurs and pledging to live on the continent for a portion of next year.
Officials from the Republic of Burundi’s central bank made statements that indicate the trading of cryptoassets is unlawful within the African country and justified their position by emphasizing consumer protections.
Algo Capital Loses Crypto Funds After CTO’s Phone Is Hacked- Coindesk reports that an investment firm executive from Algo Capital had his mobile phone compromised, which led to the theft of between $1-2 million worth of Tether and “ALGO” tokens from the firm’s hot wallet. Their Algo VC Fund reportedly raised $200 million in ALGO tokens earlier this year and exclusively invests in projects related to the Algorand blockchain. The executive published a Medium post that promised to cover most of the stolen funds with the rest covered by Algo Capital General Partners and confirmed his departure from the firm.
Argentina Passes Sanctions and Public Registry Law, Condemns Hezbollah- On the 25th anniversary of the AMIA bombing, Argentina passed a sanctions and public registry and asset freeze law. FinCEN Director Kenneth A. Blanco confirmed in a statement: "Argentina’s Unidad de Informaciὀn Financiera de la República Argentina (UIF-AR) took courageous action to freeze assets belonging to the Hezbollah terrorist organization and list them on a public registry pursuant to a new law just instituted by the Marci government of Argentina to designate, sanction, and publicly list terrorist organizations along with the individuals and entities connected to them." Hezbollah “continues to represent a current and present threat to national security and the integrity in the Argentine Republic’s financial economic order,” the UIF said regarding its inclusion in the new registry. Said Blanco, “FinCEN is proud of the work we are doing together with our Argentine partners… we continue to value our strong partnership and shared commitment to fight terrorism and the financing that supports it.”
Australian Government Publishes Update on Cryptocurrency and ICO Rules- Going forward, companies issuing crypto assets deemed to be financial products will be required by law to procure an Australian Financial Services (AFS) license. On the flipside, for crypto assets which aren’t financial products, promoters must ensure that they don’t engage in any form of deceptive advertising.
Australlia / ATO
The Australian Tax Office (ATO) is sending letters warning 18,000 Self Managed Super Funds (SMSFs, similar to an individual retirement account) to diversify their holdings. The letters from the ATO warns SMSFs they have a “duty to comply with legal requirements to adopt investment strategies avoiding risky investments.” It is against the law for SMSFs to have a concentration of 90% or more in one asset class.
Australia / AUSTRAC
Australia Watchdog Suspends Two Cryptocurrency Exchanges For Drug Offences- The Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) and Australian Federal Police issued a joint statement announcing a man involved in a multimillion-dollar darknet drug dealing syndicate has been arrested. Following the arrest, AUSTRAC suspended the registrations of two cryptocurrency exchanges associated with the man, reportedly AUSCOIN ATM and MK Buy & Sell, which trades as SK BTC. The businesses lost their licenses to operate for allegedly facilitating the crimes that go back to at least 2017 when two other members of the syndicate were arrested with 30 kilograms of narcotics.
Bahrain / Central Bank
The Central Bank of Bahrain has released a final version of new rules concerning cryptoassets in the Kingdom, which span from trading and custody guidelines to licencing requirements for exchanges.
U.S. Regulated Crypto Derivatives Industry Leaders Look to Expand Offerings- CME Group has announced that they plan to launch options trading on their bitcoin futures contracts by January 2020, pending regulatory review. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission has allowed the transfer of a swap execution facility registration to Tassat Derivatives, a cryptoasset derivatives firm, which takes it one step closer to becoming another regulated avenue for U.S. traders. Intercontinental Exchange subsidiary Bakkt has made their Bakkt Warehouse custodial service available to all institutions, not just clients trading the Bakkt Bitcoin Futures contracts. Bakkt’s press release states that Pantera Capital, Galaxy Digital, and Tagomi are among the first clients to choose the service as their preferred digital asset custodian.
Bakkt: Cleared to Launch- The New York State Department of Financial Services has permitted Bakkt to form its Bakkt Trust Company LLC under New York Banking Law. This will enable Bakkt to provide custody services for bitcoin and to launch its physically delivered bitcoin futures contracts, both long-awaited by the marketplace. Bitcoin futures will be listed for trading on Intercontinental Exchange (ICE, the parent of NYSE, in partnership with Bakkt) Futures US, and clear through ICE Clear US. To date, DFS has approved 22 charters or licenses for companies in the virtual currency marketplace, and this is the first under Superintendent Lacewell, “This approval demonstrates New York’s competitiveness as a hub of innovation and leadership in emerging technologies,” the Superintendent said in a statement. Kelly Loeffler, Bakkt’s CEO, said: “We believe that the availability of a benchmark that can be referenced globally will create confidence in the true price of Bitcoin.” Bakkt will begin offering its long-awaited Bitcoin futures on September 23rd.
How Virtual Currency Businesses Can Obtain and Maintain a Bank Account- Securing a banking partner is one of the biggest challenges virtual currency businesses face. That’s why it is crucial for them to know what to expect in the due diligence process. Michelle Sabins, SVP Managing Principal in the Fintech Consulting Practice at Silvergate Bank, works with hundreds of virtual currency businesses and has shared a few tips with us. Read on.
Basel Committee Invites Comments on the Design of a Prudential Treatment for Cryptoassets- The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision (BCBS), which is a global standard setter on banking regulation and comprised of international banking regulators, published a discussion paper on the prudential treatment of cryptoassets. The paper invites comments from stakeholders regarding topics such as the classification of cryptoassets for banks’ books, which affects their regulatory capital and liquidity requirements. The guiding principles for the discussion paper were that simplicity should be emphasized, similar risks and activities should receive the same treatment, and that only minimal standards were being developed. The BCBS is receiving comments concerning the discussion paper until March 13th, 2020.
Signature Bank to Offer Accounts to Bermuda’s Crypto Startups- The government of Bermuda’s fintech initiativeannounced a partnership with New York’s Signature Bank to give licensed Bermudian crypto-startups banking services. According to the press release, there are 66 fintech companies that are incorporated in Bermuda, and while they do not all utilize cryptocurrencies, they do share a difficulty in acquiring deposit accounts and corporate debit cards from banks. Premier, the Hon. David Burt, said, “Signature Bank’s endorsement showcases how Bermuda is competitively placed to advance the pace of the digitization of global commerce as modern technology is applied to the highly regulated world of finance.”
How Binance Helped UK Authorities Fight Cybercrime and Keep Customers ‘SAFU’- The cryptoasset exchange Binance showcased their cooperation with international law enforcement by sharing some details of a recent cybercrime investigation that they supported. While working with the Cyber Crime Unit of the UK’s Metropolitan Police Service, the exchange assisted with investigating a Bulgarian man who eventually pleaded guilty to charges stemming from creating and selling phishing scripts. Other media outlets reported that the perpetrator developed fake versions of over 50 legitimate websites and it is estimated that the fraud affected 500,000 people and earned over $51 million.
Binance Announces Open Blockchain Project, “Venus”; Binance US to Open “by November”- Binance, the Malta-based cryptocurrency exchange which recently wound down its U.S. business, made two announcements this week:First, Binance has announced Venus, an “initiative to develop localized stablecoins and digital assets pegged to fiat currencies across the globe.” The exchange seeks to collaborate with institutional partners, and to “empower developed and developing countries to spur new currencies.” Binance launched Binance Chain last April, which has issued stablecoins including the BTC-pegged stablecoin (BTCB) and the Binance BGBP Stable Coin (BGBP) pegged to the British Pound. Second, an update on Binance US. Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao “CZ”, in an interview with Cheddar this week said that the new Binance US will launch “in a month or two,” though Binance US will not launch in New York until it obtains a BitLicense from the NYDFS. CZ acknowledged the regulatory hurdles Binance faces in the US: "We want to be fully compliant. Before we didn't feel we had the experience to do that but now we have our partners so we want to take this opportunity to explore the market,” adding, "unlike banks, when the assets get stolen it's difficult to get them back. There's a high responsibility on the centralized exchanges we need to carry out well."
Cryptocurrency exchange Binance announced the forthcoming launch of Binance.US, a trading service for users in the United States, in tandem with a ban on United States users until this service is launched. Binance will license its technology to U.S. partner BAM Trading Services Inc., a recently registered money services business with the U.S. Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). “We are excited to finally launch Binance.US and bring the security, speed, and liquidity of Binance.com to North America,” said CZ, CEO of Binance. “Binance.US will be led by our local partner BAM and will serve the U.S. market in full regulatory compliance.” In the meantime, Binance revealed that it “is unable to provide services to any U.S. person” in a 14 June revision to their Terms of Service. Binance had already included six U.S. states, including New York, on its restricted list. Users will have 90 days to comply or face a trading ban, according to the general statement accompanying the revision. “Binance constantly reviews user accounts to improve our platform security and to comply with global compliance requirements,” the statement said.
Binance security breach- Yesterday, Binance reported their exchange’s hot wallet– storage connected to the internet– was hacked. The attackers stole 7000 BTC (approximately $40M) in one transaction. Binance will leverage their secure asset fund for users (SAFU), an emergency issuance fund that Binance implemented in 2018 using a portion of Binance transactions fees, to cover the incident in full. Binance will also conduct a security review of their systems and data. Chainalysis is currently working to identify and label the stolen funds in our products and will update customers in a separate communication.
Binance Update- Two weeks after $40M worth of Bitcoin was stolen from Binance’s hot wallet, CZ posted a recap that is well worth the read, and we’ve kept our eyes on the stolen funds. After they were moved to a cluster of twenty-six addresses, they were sent to seven addresses, where they have been held for the last two weeks. With the industry watching these wallets, it remains to be seen how the hackers seek to cash out their stolen funds. For more information on what to do if your organization has been hacked, or on how Chainalysis helps with compliance and investigations, see our blog post.
Central Bank Plans to Create Digital Currencies Receive Backing- Agustín Carstens, who heads the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), known as the central bankers’ bank, told the Financial Times: “Many central banks are working on it; we are working on it, supporting them… and it might be that it is sooner than we think that there is a market and we need to be able to provide central bank digital currencies.” Commenting on tech-company coins, Carstens said, “How will the currency be used? Will there be a discovery of information or data that can be used in credit provision and how will data privacy be protected?” Adding, “a very simple way to regulate this is to start with anti-money laundering rules. That is a very immediate and very obvious concern.” In Carsten’s view, digital currency launches may be accelerated based on market demand: “Perhaps people can do what they want by using electronic wallets provided by banks or fintech companies. It depends on the development of payment systems.” BIS published its annual reportlast week.
Three Men Arrested in $722 Million Cryptocurrency Fraud Scheme- Three defendants were arrested in connection with the BitClub Network, an allegedly fraudulent cryptocurrency mining pyramid scheme that is estimated to have defrauded investors out of over $722 million. There are two more undisclosed defendants still at large and the DOJ claims the perpetrators boasted that they were “building this whole model on the backs of idiots” while referring to investors as “sheep.” Additionally, two Romanian cybercriminals and members of the Bayrob Group were sentenced to over 18 years apiece for creating a botnet of over 400,000 infected computers in order to steal personal information and mine cryptocurrencies via cryptojacking. In the U.K., a hacker was ordered to pay over £270,000 after causing millions in damages as part of an organized Russian ransomware operation.
A Toronto judge ordered the forfeiture of over 280 BTC from a Canadian cocaine, PCP, and ketamine dealer, making it Canada's largest BTC seizure to date. An Oregon man also pled guilty to distributing fentanyl or its derivatives via darknet markets, which resulted in the death of a Wisconsin man in 2017.
Chainalysis in Action: Analyzing a Fentanyl Dealer’s Cryptocurrency Transactions- Chainalysis has released a report on how blockchain analysis can help law enforcement investigate fentanyl trafficking by tracing cryptocurrency transactions. The blog post discusses a notorious fentanyl dealer known as ETIKING to exemplify the information and potential leads than can be ascertained from nothing more than a Bitcoin address. While ETIKING was eventually apprehended by DEA agents on information gathered via traditional investigative methods, Chainalysis tools could have surfaced substantive leads as to the trafficker’s identity by analyzing the entities that transacted with his Bitcoin address. For example, two identified darknet markets sent BTC to the man’s address, four known cryptoasset exchanges received BTC from the address, and additional addresses may be under his control due to certain idiosyncratic transactions with other addresses on the blockchain.
25,000 Blockchain Firms in China Tried to Issue Cryptos, Senior Official Claims- The People’s Bank of China (PBoC) collaborated with multiple trade associations to release three “bluebooks” covering financial technology, regulatory technology, and blockchain. The Bluebook of Blockchain claims that the value of the Chinese cryptocurrency black market is over 110 billion yuan ($15 billion). The report says there are nearly 28,000 blockchain companies in China and the President of the Beijing Blockchain Technology Application Association said that around 25,000 of those companies are issuing their own crypto assets, with the remaining companies developing applications that utilize blockchains. The PBoC also recently issued other warnings to blockchain businesses and potential investors, further indicating that they plan to continue regulating the industry.
In China, the head of the People’s Bank of China’s digital currency initiative said in an interview that the digital yuan under development will be transferable between phones without an internet connection as long as the devices make physical contact.
People's Bank of China Digital Currency “Almost Ready”- Mu Changchun, deputy director of the payments department at the People’s Bank of China (“PBOC”), announced that the bank’s virtual currency is “almost ready” for release, according to Chinese media. The virtual currency is reported to have a two-tier system where the PBOC and commercial banks can issue the token. PBOC also said it would not rely on blockchain exclusively as it “cannot handle transaction volumes in China.” The PBOC began investigating virtual currency in 2014, with much secrecy around its development.
Additionally, the People’s Bank of China published a 2019 priority agenda which included "strengthen supervision of virtual currency monitoring" and reiterated their plans to "promote the research and development of central bank digital currency." While not technically a "central bank" itself, the Asian Development Bank Institute distributed a working paper that categorized the spectrum of proposals central banks are considering with regard to central bank digital currency, and stated, "digital coins, such as bitcoin, can be considered as newly emerged private sector money."
Coinbase and Circle UDSC Stablecoin soon to be issuable and redeemable across platforms- The U.S. Dollar-pegged USD Coin Stablecoin (USDC) launched by Circle and Coinbase will soon be able to be issued and redeemed across multiple platforms, the firms announced last Thursday. The jointly founded CENTRE Network (a “membership-based framework and governance scheme for the development and growth of money on the internet”) will grant licensed institutions the right to issue or redeem USDC, provided that those institutions follow CENTRE’s operating rules, issuer settlement, and liability framework, and meet certain technological standards. USDC is the second largest stablecoin with a market cap of over $300m USD.
Crypto Capital Official Nabbed in Money Laundering Probe- Polish authorities arrested Ivan Manuel Molina Lee, the President of Crypto Capital, on money laundering charges in one of the largest cases of its kind in Poland’s history. Lee was deported back to the country from Greece due to allegedly laundering roughly $390 million dollars from illicit sources. An indictment was unsealed from the Southern District of New York against another Crypto Capital principal, Oz Yosef, on charges relating to bank fraud and operating an unlicensed money transmission business. The cryptocurrency exchange Bitfinex has a documented history of working with the company and released a statement claiming “Bitfinex is a victim of a fraud and is making its position clear to the relevant authorities.”
The Rise of Cryptojacking- Cryptojacking is the use of malware to secretly mine cryptocurrencies on victims’ computers for the benefit of the attacker. A cyber security firm reports that in Q1 2019 cryptojacking grew by 29% and says that attackers are actively creating new versions of cryptojacking software that can target Microsoft Windows and Apple users. In Seattle, a woman was indicted for her alleged role in the Capital One hack, which exposed the personal information of over 100 million people, and the prosecution claims that the woman additionally used her unlawful server access for cryptojacking. In France, law enforcement officials recently disrupted one of the world’s largest cryptojacking botnets that consisted of over 850,000 infected computers and reportedly generated millions of euros in cryptocurrency mining rewards.
Silk Road Vendor Guilty of Laundering $19M, ‘Discount Bitcoin Bandits’ Plead to Robbery- A prominent Silk Road narcotics vendor who operated under the moniker “Pharmville” pleaded guilty to laundering the proceeds of the operation which ultimately totaled over $19 million in bitcoin. The indictment indicates that the defendant had falsely stated to his bitcoin exchange that the bitcoin were the proceeds of mining while the true source was “large-scale narcotics trafficking, including of the deadly opioid fentanyl.” Separately, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced that the “Discount Bitcoin Bandits,” a pair of East Hollywood residents, have pleaded no contest to charges arising from the robbery of five people who sought to buy discount bitcoins. The Bandits robbed 5 people in 2017 and 2018 by advertising bitcoins online for in-person sales and then forcibly taking the victims’ cash at gunpoint.
Two Men Pleaded Guilty to Extortion and Darknet Fentanyl Dealer Gets 12 Year Sentence- A Florida man and a Canadian national pleaded guilty to extorting Uber and LinkedIn for bitcoin in exchange for a promise to delete stolen confidential data. The two defendants conspired to use stolen credentials to download the data from Amazon Web Services, which included 57 million Uber user records that Uber paid $100,000 in bitcoin in order to have deleted. Additionally, a New York man was sentenced to over 12 years for conspiring to distribute fentanyl and carfentanil (a fentanyl analogue approximately 100 times stronger than fentanyl) in thousands of transactions across multiple darknet markets under the monikers “Chemusa” or “Chems_usa.” In imposing the sentence, the court stated that the defendant played a critical role in the conspiracy and was responsible for “shipping death.”
DOJ Announces Shutdown of Largest Child Pornography Website- This morning, U.S. and international law enforcement officials announced the takedown of one of the world's largest child pornography sites. On our blog, we discuss how Chainalysis Reactor helped investigators analyze the website’s cryptocurrency transactions that ultimately led to the arrest of the site’s administrator and 337 users and the rescue of at least 23 children from their abusers. We’re proud to have been a part of this important case.
Darknet Market Cases: Distributor Gets 30 Years, Money Launderers and Vendors Plead Guilty- A man was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison for distributing approximately 245 kilograms of fentanyl, methamphetamine, and other drugs on the darknet market Alphabay. He also acquired an industrial pill press from AlphaBay in order to manufacture over 350,000 counterfeit oxycodone and over 340,000 counterfeit Adderall pills that contained fentanyl and methamphetamine in lieu of their real components. The fatal overdose of an active duty Marine is directly linked to the scheme. In a separate case, two darknet marijuana vendors set up a cash-only Bitcoin selling operation in San Diego called “BayCoins” in efforts to cash-out their illicit Bitcoin proceeds. They pleaded guilty to charges that included operating an unlicensed money transmission business. In another case, a California couple pleaded guilty to running the vendor account known as “Dankstix,”which sold marijuana on Dream Market.
Darknet Drug Dealers, an Attorney, and Two Hackers Indicted For Crypto-Related Crimes- Three men across the country were charged for their alleged roles in a conspiracy to distribute anabolic steroids via the dark web. An attorney and a cohort were arrested for allegedly extorting millions of dollars worth of ETH from an ICO project that hired the two men to assist with their fundraising efforts. The prosecution claims that the defendants demanded a loan of 10k ETH from the ICO proceeds or they would “destroy” the project’s community. Additionally, two suspects charged with stealing funds from the users of the decentralized exchange EtherDelta were indicted. The defendants purportedly were able to alter the legitimate EtherDelta domain and redirect traffic to their own copy of the website that would steal the private keys of users after logging into their accounts.
Darknet Drug Dealers Lose Millions and Go to Prison- Four defendants in Georgia have pled guilty to charges relating to the production and distribution of tens of thousands of counterfeit prescription pills a month; in fact, one defendant was arrested with over 5,200 counterfeit Xanax pills. A Wisconsin man could face 20 years in prison for selling a variety of narcotics on multiple darknet markets after pleading guilty to the associated charges. The man will consequently forfeit $1.5MM worth of cryptocurrency that was previously seized and may end up to an additional $1MM fine. In California, a darknet methamphetamine dealer was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison for his role in a distribution ring that sold pounds of meth to over 1,500 buyers.
Darknet Criminals Plead Guilty and Get Sentenced- A California man has pleaded guilty on charges related to the attempted purchase of the “incredibly dangerous biological toxin” known as ricin, which only requires “a few tiny grains” to be lethal. The man tried to use Bitcoin to buy enough ricin to kill a 110lbs person online, but was instead sent fake ricin by an undercover FBI agent. Prosecutors are recommending 87 months in prison, but he has yet to be sentenced. In Chicago, a man was handed a prison sentence of over eight years for using Bitcoin to buy more than 6,000 stolen credit card numbers online and making in excess of 4,000 unapproved purchases with the stolen information. The man would routinely post pictures to social media while wearing the luxury items purchased with the stolen information, such as shoes from Louis Vuitton and Balenciaga.
Human-Trafficking Expert Urges US Congress to Regulate Crypto Miners- A vice president at the Financial Integrity Network, David Murray, gave expert witness testimony to the Senate Banking Committee’s Subcommittee on National Security and International Trade and Finance at a hearing about combating human trafficking. Murray recommended that in order to disrupt human traffickers, “virtual asset transaction validators” (i.e., miners) should be brought under the scope of the Bank Secrecy Act and coupled with “well-designed programs for vetting the issuers, exchangers, and custodians that they serve.” Murray concedes that this suggestion would render some cryptoassets inoperable and compares blockchain-based payments to other financial products, such as bearer shares, that are similarly “so risky that they have been banned.”
Jury Convicts Leader of Darknet Counterfeit Pill Trafficking Network- Aaron Shamo, a 29-year-old Utah man known as “PHARMA-MASTER” on the now shuttered darknet marketplace AlphaBay was found guilty by a federal jury on multiple drug trafficking charges. Shamo imported fentanyl and alprazolam from China in order to manufacture counterfeit oxycodone and Xanax pills, which were then shipped to all 50 states for distribution. It is estimated that he oversaw the selling of over 500,000 fake pills and personally profited millions of dollars. While his enterprise was still operating, Shamo’s co-defendants would use “a vacuum to clean up pills from the floor because they believed it was not worth their time to pick them up because of the volume of pills they were manufacturing.” He potentially faces a mandatory-minimum life sentence.
Darknet Fentanyl Crisis Developments- In light of the last week's crackdown by the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) against Chinese fentanyl kingpins, the White House published advisories on the manufacturing, marketing, movement, and money behind the synthetic opioid. The advisories indicate that darknet markets are central to the crisis, but hopefully, the sharing of common “red flags” and case studies of successful law enforcement measures will assist in curtailing the epidemic. Additionally, a darknet market fentanyl dealer in California was recently sentenced to over 17 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to selling counterfeit opioid pills laced with fentanyl. Pursuant to the dealer’s initial arrest in April 2018, some of his property was seized which included: 100,000 fake oxycodone pills, six kilograms of fentanyl, bundles of cash, and “a gold and diamond Bitcoin necklace.”
On Thursday, "prolific" dark web fentanyl dealer, Richard Castro (aka “Chemsusa”), pled guilty to money laundering and participating in a conspiracy to distribute fentanyl, carfentanil and other drugs over the dark web, including on AlphaBay and Dream Market. Castro will also forfeit over $4 million in criminal proceeds. Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said: “As he admitted today, for years, Richard Castro used the dark web to distribute prolific quantities of powerful opioids.” Castro had boasted on the Dream Market that he had completed more than 3,200 transactions on other dark web markets, including more than 1,800 on AlphaBay. “Extremely potent and definitely the real Carf,” “The Carfent is unbelievably well synthesized, keep up the amazing work,” read some customer feedback. Castro laundered his proceeds, which he received in Bitcoin, through wallets, and bought approximately 100 quadrillion Zimbabwe bank notes, and other stores of value.
Fiat Money Outpaces Bitcoin 800-to-1 for Darknet Activity- In response to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s comments last week regarding the scale of cryptocurrency fraud, crypto site Messari published data aggregated from Chainalysis and the United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime showing that for every $1 in BTC spent on the black market, $800 USD is laundered. The data also highlighted the rate of Bitcoin issuance at 1/14,000th the rate of the Federal Reserve’s Balance Sheet expansion and quantified the stock of narrow money held in BTC internationally.
Man Arrested in $19m Crypto Laundering Drug Scheme- Ohio man Hugh Haney was arrested and charged with money laundering and engaging in a transaction with criminally derived money, Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Angel M. Melendez, the Special Agent-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”) announced last Thursday. Haney allegedly was an administrator of the Pharmville illicit drugs network on the infamous Silk Road site. “Today’s arrest should be a warning to dealers peddling their drugs on the dark web that they cannot remain anonymous forever, especially when attempting to legitimize their illicit proceeds,” said Berman. Melendez added, “In 2013, Silk Road was put out of business, and as a result of that, cyber criminals sought ways to continue their criminal activities and more importantly launder their illicit digital currency. Haney was allegedly one of those criminals who was still holding on to a stash of cyber gold.” HSI agents used blockchain analytics to uncover and seize the bitcoin stash valued at $19m so that Haney could face justice in New York.
Europol and others deliver double-blow to dark web marketplaces- Last week we covered the chaos over at Wall Street Marketplace, the preeminent dark web marketplace which had just shut down. Later in the week, Europol announced they helped the German Federal Crime Police shut down the marketplace, along with the help of other agencies, including various US government agencies. The Silkkitie, or Valhalla Marketplace, was also shut down with its contents seized by Finnish customs in close cooperation with French National Police and Europol. Europol’s Executive Director, Catherine De Bolle, commented: “These two investigations show the importance of law enforcement cooperation at an international level and demonstrate that illegal activity on the dark web is not as anonymous as criminals may think.” Europol has assembled a “dark web team” to monitor illicit activity on the dark web.
Two major darknet marketplaces shut down this month- Last month, the operators of the prolific darknet marketplace, the Dream Market, announced the site would be shuttered at the end of April due to a law enforcement leak, and that same day, the DEA, FBI, Europol and others announced over ten related arrests. This week, another darknet marketplace, Wall Street Market (WSM), launched an exit scam, stealing $14.2M USD of user funds from the criminals who do illicit business on the site. It is likely that the influx of Dream Market users seeking another marketplace brought additional unwanted attention to WSM and thus the operators decided to steal $14.2m USD of the illicit funds on their site and shut down, rather than welcome the exposure to law enforcement. The WSM admins took the funds, which were kept in escrow to guarantee site transactions, and moved them to private wallets. The situation has devolved into chaos with WSM support agents publishing private addresses and demanding additional ransoms.
Nets’ Spencer Dinwiddie Can’t Sell Shares in His Contract, N.B.A. Says- Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie garnered attention this week after suggesting that he planned to tokenize and sell shares of his $34.4 million N.B.A contract to investors. The “$SD8” token was proposed to exist on the Ethereum blockchain and would have required a minimum $150,000 investment, but the N.B.A. has since issued a statement which said the described arrangement is prohibited and “no player shall assign or otherwise transfer to any third party his right to receive compensation from the team under his uniform contract.” Dinwiddie plans to meet with N.B.A. officials in order to convince them to pivot on their current stance.
Dutch / FIOD
Law Enforcement Seizes Cryptocurrency Money Laundering Service- Law enforcement shut down the cryptocurrency mixing platform, Bestmixer.io, in the first seizure of its kind. The Dutch Fiscal Information and Investigation Service (FIOD), in close cooperation with Europol and the authorities in Luxembourg, conducted a year-long investigation that led to the seizure of six servers in Luxembourg and the Netherlands. The Bestmixer.io service enabled users to mix cryptocurrency funds to obscure their origin while maintaining user anonymity. The investigation so far into this case has shown that many of the mixed cryptocurrencies funds on Bestmixer.io had a criminal origin or destination. The site launched in May 2018 and has since had over $200m EUR worth of turnover in cryptocurrency. FIOD gathered records from the site, including IP addresses, chats, and transactions, and seeks to share this intelligence with other countries to support criminal investigations.
Police Arrest Dutch Man in Cryptocurrency Fraud- A man leading a counterfeit Bitcoin mining operation was arrested according to an announcement by the Dutch tax authority’s investigative department, FIOD. The fraud claimed approximately €23 million ($25 million) in funds from victims who thought they were funding the purchase of computers and other equipment for the mining operation. The man is accused of fraud, forgery, and money laundering. The business began in 2017, promising investors a return of 0.3 bitcoin per month. Following complaints, FIOD raided the man’s apartment in November 2018. Dutch financial authorities earlier this year suggested a licensing scheme for cryptocurrency firms to prevent financial crime.
The University of Michigan Board of Regents disclosed that their endowment invested $3MM in Andreessen Horowitz’s cryptonetworks fund, CNK Fund I, in June 2018 and is now planning additional investments from its $12B endowment.
A startup called Electroneum launched a separate blockchain-enabled phone priced at roughly $80, known as the M1.
Blockchain security consultants uncover Ethereum public key scheme, “Cryptobandit” still at large- Independent Security Evaluators (ISE), a blockchain consultancy, discovered 732 weak ETH public keys responsible for tens of thousands of ETH transactions. These vulnerabilities may have been caused by wallet coding errors that cut off keys at a fraction of their intended length, inexperienced users who choose their own keys, or even malicious code that corrupted the randomization process to make keys easy to guess, though the report made no formal conclusion. Upon encountering these weak keys, ISE discovered that the funds from those addresses were then immediately pilfered by a “cryptobandit,” a malicious individual or group, still at large. The bandit had amassed 38,000 ETH valued at over $54M USD as of the market peak, January 2018.
European Union (EU)
The European Union Council and Commission issued a joint statement on stablecoins following a meeting of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council. The statement said that “no global ‘stablecoin’ arrangement should begin operation in the European Union until the legal, regulatory and oversight challenges and risks have been adequately identified and addressed.
Alarmed by Libra, EU to Look Into Issuing Public Digital Currency: Draft- Reuters reports that a draft European Union (EU) document which could eventually be adopted by EU Finance Ministers states that the bloc should, “develop a common approach to cryptocurrencies, including possibly banning projects deemed too high-risk.” However, the draft also reportedly says, “[t]he ECB [European Central Bank] and other EU central banks could usefully explore the opportunities as well as the challenges of issuing central bank digital currencies.” Likewise, the Association of German Banks similarly called for the creation of “a programmable account and crypto-based digital Euro” in their latest position paper. The position paper and the EU draft document both lambast the Libra Association saying it would “be highly likely to exacerbate economic conflict,” which may be why a group of 5 EU countries have reportedly been meeting to establish a united front in efforts to push back against the project. Additionally, the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO) has released a statement clarifying that “so-called ‘stablecoins’ can include features that are typical of regulated securities. This means IOSCO Principles and Standards may apply.”
Europol arrested five men and one woman in connection with a €24 million cryptocurrency theft. In simultaneous warrants, five men and one woman were arrested in their homes in the UK and the Netherlands. The scheme related to typosquatting (e.g. "favebook.com”, “gooogle.com”), the technique used by hackers to spoof or imitate a legitimate site to gain access to user credentials and thus bitcoin wallets and their funds. The theft of bitcoin tokens affected at least 4,000 victims across 12 countries, although the full extent of the fraud has yet to be uncovered. The British and Dutch authorities cooperated, holding joint meetings at Europol’s headquarters. The case was referred to the European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) and the Joint Cybercrime Action Taskforce (J-CAT) after the British authorities identified possible suspects living in the Netherlands.
European law enforcement agencies and Europol have arrested a suspect in Oxford, U.K. on suspicion of fraud, theft, and money laundering. Police claim that a malicious IOTA seed-generator was available online to create new IOTA wallets and after victims transferred IOTA into the compromised wallets their funds would be stolen. The suspect is accused of stealing €10MM worth of the IOTA cryptocurrency through this scheme from over 85 victims since early 2018.
Facebook, Zuckerberg Dig In for Long Haul on Cryptocurrency- The CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, testified before the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday and answered questions from legislators for over 6 hours (we’re a day late on today’s Weekly Brief because your author attended). Many of the Committee’s concerns revolved around the possibility that the Facebook-backed Libra Association will release the Libra stablecoin with functionality that allows for non-KYC, thus pseudo-anonymous, wallets. He clarified that the wallet developed by Calibra, the wholly-owned FB subsidiary, would have KYC, but other members of the Libra Association may not. Also, the Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs at the Department of the Treasury indicated in a letter to a Congressman that many regulatory aspects of the project remain uncertain. Despite the increased scrutiny of the project, at least one member of Congress has recently expressed support for the project to a member of the Libra Association.
Facebook-Led Libra Forms Governing Council After Big-Name Departures- The Libra Association has announced the members of their board of directors and 21 organizations formally signed the Association’s charter at a recent meeting in Geneva. However, multiple companies have recently left the Association after receiving published letters from U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) that contained statements such as, “[y]our companies should be extremely cautious about moving ahead with a project that will foreseeably fuel the growth in global criminal activity.” Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg is scheduled to testify before the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services at a hearing concerning these developments on October 23. Additionally, the Chair of the Financial Stability Board, an international body established to make recommendations about the global financial system, indicated in their latest letter to G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors that global stablecoins “could pose a host of challenges to the regulatory community, not least because they have the potential to be systemically important, including through the substitutions of domestic currencies.”
Libra Alarm Sounded in EU With Warning on High Bar for Approval- Facebook’s proposed Libra stablecoin has garnered significant attention from European financial regulators, legislators, and central banks this week. French and German officials have both adamantly opposed the project by stating they are “deeply convinced that we should refuse the development of Libra within the EU” and described it as a threat to the “monetary sovereignty” of countries. Facebook responded to these statements and will soon meet with representatives from 26 central banks to answer questions. Notably, Swiss financial regulators were markedly more optimistic about the opportunities and benefits of the technology being developed by the Swiss-headquartered Libra Association. Additionally, a European Central Bank board member has publicly concurred with the Bank of England Governor’s theory that recent developments in both nation-backed and private digital currencies, such as Libra or other stablecoins, could eventually threaten the U.S. dollar’s dominance in international trade.
Facebook Announces Libra Cryptocurrency- In a whitepaper released Tuesday, Facebook announced its cryptocurrency, Libra, “a simple global currency and infrastructure that empowers billions of people,” will launch in the first half of 2020. Facebook focused Libra’s mission on providing access to the 1.7 billion adults who do not have to bank services but may have a mobile phone or internet access. Here are the key components:
The Libra blockchain is open source and supported by a new programming language called Move. Move defines the core mechanisms of the blockchain, which “enable the creation of a unique governance mechanism that builds on the stability and reputation of existing institutions in the early days but transitions to a fully open system over time.” The Libra protocol does not link accounts to real-world identities, following the example of Bitcoin and Ethereum in that it provides pseudonymity for users. Features include support for smart contracts that may facilitate lending and other activities on the Libra Blockchain.
The Libra Association is the not-for-profit independent entity based in Geneva that will govern Libra. The Libra Association already has several committed firms who will work on the organization’s charter, including Mastercard, Paypal, eBay, Uber, Vodafone, and several other technology and venture capital firms. Each member will be empowered to operate a node on the blockchain, though Facebook intends for the governance of Libra to become permissionless.
The Libra reserve will back the cryptocurrency. The money in the reserve will come from two sources: investors and users of Libra. The Libra Association will pay out incentives in Libra coin to encourage adoption by users, merchants, and developers. On the user side, for new Libra coins to be created, there must be an equivalent purchase of Libra for fiat. Every time a user buys a Libra, the money will be deposited into the reserve, which will hold a basket of low volatility assets. The Libra is unpegged but will be worth about $1 USD.
Calibra is “a regulated subsidiary that will ensure separation between social and financial data and build and operate services on its behalf on top of the Libra network.” The first product Calibra will introduce is a digital wallet for Libra, which will be available in Messenger, WhatsApp, and as a standalone app.
Regarding compliance, Facebook urges the network’s wallets and exchanges to “follow applicable laws and regulations and cooperate with law enforcement,” adding “the ledger of transactions on the Libra Blockchain will be publicly accessible so that it is possible for third parties to do analysis to detect and penalize fraud.” Facebook expects the authorities to use tracking services similar to those that have been developed for Bitcoin and Ethereum. In the coming months, Calibra will conduct a risk assessment based on the guidelines of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and is building a “robust Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) program on its platform. Calibra has registered as a money services business in the U.S, it will follow the EU money laundering directives, and it will implement necessary KYC measures for its customers, among other security and compliance measures.”
Stablecoins Face Global Scrutiny- The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a G7 working group, and the U.S. Federal Reserve recently made public statements, issued reports, and given speeches concerning potential risks that stablecoins raise with regard to the global financial system. The risk most commonly emphasized is that global stablecoins will not have the same AML/CFT oversight as the legacy financial system; however, according to the G7, another potential problem could be that their proliferation would diminish the effectiveness of domestic monetary policy. In contrast, a former Federal Reserve nominee announced his involvement with a stablecoin project that only keeps fractional reserves and is called “Frax.”
Nations Plan Global Crypto Monitoring System- Nikkei reported on August 9th that a number of countries have plans to collaborate on a new system to collect and share personal data on individuals who conduct cryptocurrency transactions. The project is in response to global regulatory guidance by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) that requires sharing of such information between virtual currency asset providers to reduce money laundering and illicit money flows. The original story stated the system would be designed by FATF and initiated in 2020, and later managed by the private sector. While the spirit of international collaboration is accurate, the story was later corrected that FATF itself is not involved in developing such a cryptocurrency monitoring system.
Intergovernmental Financial Action Task Force (FATF) published its regulatory guidance on virtual currencies. Chainalysis reviewed the guidance and provides key takeaways from the surprisingly comprehensive document in their latest blog post. He discusses what will happen next as different jurisdictions adopt the regulatory standard and FATF conducts mutual evaluations, as well as what cryptocurrency and related firms should be doing to comply now and how Chainalysis transaction monitoring helps.
Chainalysis Provides Feedback to FATF in Advance of Industry Guidelines- In our latest blog post, we discuss the draft regulatory guidance on virtual assets issued by the Financial Action Taskforce (FATF), the international regulatory body against money-laundering and the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT). We believe the forthcoming guidelines as they are drafted today are technically infeasible for the industry, and recommend other technical and organizational measures to achieve the AML/CFT objectives of the FATF.
Finland / Financial Supervisory Authority (FIN-FSA)
Finland’s financial regulator begins role as crypto sector supervisor- On May 1, Finland’s financial regulator, the FIN-FSA began regulating the cryptocurrency industry. The regulation will apply to virtual currency exchange services, custodian wallet providers, and issuers of virtual currencies. On May 15, the FIN-FSA will conduct a briefing to the cryptocurrency industry in Helsinki on the nature of these regulations and the registration timelines for industry participants. FIN-FSA noted that the regulations are a response to the May 2018 EU directive on anti-money laundering (AML), which focused particularly on the financing of terrorist activities. France is rumored to be the next EU member state to announce a cryptocurrency-regulation based response. While this is an exciting development for cryptocurrency legitimization in the EU, the FIN-FSA took care to remind the public that the risk virtual currencies pose to investors “remains unchanged.”
LocalBitcoins: AML Regulation and New features Update- A blog post by the widely-popular peer-to-peer bitcoin exchange stated that the Financial Supervisory Authority of Finland will now oversee the company, thanks to the passage of the Act on Virtual Currency Service Providers and the amendment of AML laws by the Finnish Parliament. In order to comply with the regulatory shift, LocalBitcoins will implement varying levels of account verification that will “provide a safer and better service conforming to the regulations.” The post goes on to say that the supervision “should improve significantly Bitcoin’s standing as a viable and legit financial network.”
France / FMA- Financial Markets Authority
France Launches New Rules on Digital Coins- France’s financial watchdog, the Financial Markets Authority, has approved new rules by which cryptocurrency firms will comply with capital and consumer protection requirements, and will pay taxes in France. “France is a precursor. We will have a legal, tax, and regulatory framework,” said Anne Marechal, executive director for legal affairs at the Financial Markets Authority. The FMA is working with “three or four candidates” for ICOs, and is in talks with several exchange platforms, custodians, and fund manages. France is also launching a task force to investigate how central banks can ensure cryptocurrencies are regulated, in its capacity as president of the Group of 7. European Central Bank policymaker Benoit Coeure will deliver preliminary comments on that matter at a meeting of G7 finance ministers in Chantilly later this week.
Gatehub XRP Wallet Hack- Gatehub, a cryptocurrency wallet service, announced that 103 of its XRP wallets had been hacked and cryptocurrency stolen. Gatehub identified over 18,000 accounts that may have been affected by a series of API calls from a limited number of IP addresses, which were all authorized with valid access tokens. “From these 18,473 accounts, 5,045 XRP Ledger wallets contained active balances. We promptly notified all GateHub customers who might have been affected through multiple channels, including emails, telephone messages, and calls.” Gatehub is working with law enforcement and its forensics partners. The funds were tracked to various exchanges, all of which have been notified of the theft. Gatehub encouraged its affected customers to move their XRP to a Gatehub hosted wallet.
Germany: Crypto Businesses will Require a BaFin License Next Year- New Anti-Money Laundering (AML) regulations will come into effect next year in Germany. As reported by Cointelegraph Deutschland on July 24, cryptocurrency businesses will be required to hold a Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin)-issued license. Crypto assets are to be considered a financial instrument in Germany starting on January 1, 2020. Cointelegraph Deutschland reported that Frank Schäffler, the Free Democratic Party’s “crypto expert” and board member of BaFin, is critical of the regulation, as he clarified to the FAZ: "The government is now forcing the cryptocurrency trading platform providers to overrun the country and seek a new location in the EU."Meanwhile, a recent statement from the Bundesbank, “Crypto tokens in payment transactions and in securities settlement”, urged that Facebook’s Libra not be stifled by regulatory concerns.
Global Financial Innovation Network
U.S. Regulators, Administrators, and Ambassadors Proactively Address Blockchain Issues- The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) joined the Global Financial Innovation Network, which is the global RegTech sandbox led by the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) created an Innovation Lab that will “use emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and distributed ledger technology… in a ‘sandbox’ testing environment to explore and deploy cutting-edge methods.” The U.S. Embassy in Malta is fostering a partnership between the U.S. and the Republic of Malta, aka “Blockchain Island,” in order to fight money laundering and schemes to finance terrorism. The two countries are deepening their collaboration to counter transnational financial threats and confront economic crime by teaching courses on “Financial Investigative Techniques” that address virtual currency.
IBM Signs 6 Banks to Issue Stablecoins and Use Stellar’s XLM Cryptocurrency- During the Money 20/20 Asia conference, IBM and Stellar unveiled a global payments platform calledIBM Blockchain World Wire. World Wire is built on top of Stellar’s public blockchain and supports 72 countries, 47 currencies, 44 banking endpoints, and more than 1081 unique currency trading pairs. Additionally, 6 international banks from countries such as the Philippines, South Korea, and Brazil have signed letters of intent with IBM to issue their own stablecoins through World Wire.
The owner of the NYSE, Intercontinental Exchange (ICE), released their highly anticipated physically-settled Bitcoin futures contracts for trading through their venture known as Bakkt. This is in contrast to the cash-settled Bitcoin futures contracts offered by their competitor, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME), because instead of just being paid the cash value at the expiration of the contract, the physical settlement means that a trader must either pay out BTC or receive BTC at expiration. However, the CME recently announced that they plan to offer BTC option contracts in 2020, which could provide another avenue for regulated BTC derivative exposure once approved.
International Financial Reporting Interpretations Committee (IFRIC)
Irish Cryptocurrency Exchange Bitsane Vanishes While Exit Scamming 246,000 Users- Bitsane is the latest crypto exchange to commit and exit scam, following the Coinroom exit scam in Poland. In May, Bitsane victims had reported to Forbes that they were having problems withdrawing cryptocurrency from the exchange. In response, Bitsane sent emails to users claiming that their withdrawals had been disabled due to “technical reasons.” On June 17 Bitsane suddenly disappeared, deleting its Twitter and Facebook accounts. Bitsane operators reported that the exchange had 246,000 users, and an average of 25,000 daily transactions, but these are likely exaggerated. Bitsane had grown its user base during the XRP bull run of 2018, and was featured in a CNBC tutorial on how to buy XRP.
Japanese Regulator Eyes Cryptocurrencies as It Toughens Money Laundering Laws- The Japanese Financial Services Authority (FSA) is looking to increase its money laundering countermeasures, including a review of cryptocurrency exchanges. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the inter-governmental body that sets global standards relating to anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism, will go to Japan this fall to assess domestic money laundering laws. It is expected to look at cryptocurrency exchange operators, banks and credit unions, following regulatory guidance issued next month.
Japanese regulator seeks to bolster offline storage rules for cryptocurrency exchanges- Japan’s financial regulator, the Financial Services Agency (FSA), will require exchanges to improve oversight of “cold wallets,” or methods of cryptocurrency storage that are not connected to the internet. The agency will soon release the new set of rules. This move by the FSA bolsters Japan’s national interest in cryptocurrency and fintech. Japan was one of the first countries to regulate cryptocurrency on a national level. The country recognizes Bitcoin as a form of payment, and the FSA implemented AML and KYC principles in April 2017.
E-Commerce Giant Rakuten Wins License for New Crypto Exchange- Japan’s Financial Service Agency awarded coveted operating licenses, which are required for Japanese cryptocurrency businesses, to two applicants, bringing the total number of outstanding licenses to 19. One of the licensees, Rakuten Wallet, is a subsidiary of the multi-billion dollar Japanese e-commerce company Rakuten, who released a statement following the announcement. The other business was a cryptocurrency exchange called Decurrent, which says it will begin offering spot trading services next month
Deutsche Bank Joins JPMorgan-led Blockchain Network- JP Morgan Chase’s Interbank Information Network (IIN), which is a data sharing network of over 300 banks built on top of their Quorum blockchain, was joined by Deutsche Bank. Reportedly, by joining the IIN, certain transactional issues between banks that previously took weeks to settle can be resolved in a matter of hours. Other legacy financial institutions are also debuting new blockchain-based payment projects, such as Mastercard and Wells Fargo. Mastercard announced a partnership with the enterprise blockchain software company R3 to pilot a cross-border payment network and Wells Fargo is developing an internal settlement service called Wells Fargo Digital Cash, which will be built on their own DLT platform.
The Bank of Lithuania announced that in celebration of Lithuanian independence it would be issuing the “world’s first digital collectors coin.” The bank says that it will issue 24,000 of the digital coins in the spring of 2020.
A Guide To LockerGoga, The Ransomware Crippling Industrial Firms- Bitcoin-demanding ransomware has been wreaking havoc around the world this week. A new version called LockerGoga has reportedly caused over $40MM in damages to Norsk Hydro, one of the world’s largest aluminum producers, and targeted two American chemical companies. The headquarters of the UK’s Police Federation, which represents over 119,000 English police officers, was also subject to a ransomware attack but the particular version of ransomware was not disclosed.
Merck Cyberattack’s $1.3 Billion Question: Was It an Act of War?- Bloomberg reports on the ongoing litigation between Merck, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, and their insurance providers following a massive ransomware attack in 2017 that cost the company almost $1 billion in damages. While Merck had purchased insurance policies to cover catastrophic risks such as cyberattacks, there were provisions in many of the policies that excluded coverage for acts of war. The strain of ransomware used to attack Merck was called “NotPetya,” which the U.S. Treasury Department linked to the Russian military intelligence agency GRU (and discussed on the Chainalysis blog). Therefore some insurers are arguing that the attack was a “hostile or warlike” act or act of terrorism on behalf of the Russian government.
An essay was written by a Republic of the Marshall Islands official strongly signaled that the country will soon supplement the U.S. Dollar, which is their current currency, with the Marshallese sovereign (SOV), which will be issued on a blockchain. The SOV will supposedly have a 4% capped inflation rate and will be built with both compliance and personal privacy in mind.
Nike was awarded a patent for “CryptoKicks,” a blockchain-based tracking and identifying method that could authenticate real-world sneakers with corresponding non-fungible tokens. The patent also includes the ability to “breed or mashup” two CryptoKicks in a “Collab,” which will produce a new “CollaboKick” that would share characteristics of its parent’s, similar to CryptoKitty breeding.
Ethereum Foundation Researcher Arrested for Assisting North Korea Evade Sanctions- A U.S. citizen who lived in Singapore and worked for the Ethereum Foundation was arrested at the Los Angeles International Airport for allegedly conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA). The complaint alleges that Virgil Griffith attended a blockchain conference in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and gave a presentation that he later acknowledged amounted to a non-zero technical knowledge transfer from himself to the attendees, thus violating numerous economic sanctions against the DPRK. Griffith reportedly thought that it would be "really cool" if the DPRK mined ether and allegedly tried to assist in the exchange of ether between North and South Korea.
North Korea made claims that they are in the “very early stages” of developing a national cryptoasset that will be “more like Bitcoin” than other projects proposed by countries.
Treasury Sanctions North Korean State-Sponsored Malicious Cyber Groups- The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) has sanctioned three North Korean state-sponsored hacking groups known as “Lazarus Group,” “Bluenoroff,” and “Andariel.” According to the Treasury Department, these groups were involved with massive ransomware attacks and likely stole around $571MM (or as much as $2 billion) from hacked cryptocurrency exchanges. The illicit financial proceeds from these activities are expected to have contributed to North Korea’s WMD and ballistic missile programs. Despite the international condemnation relating to the DPRK’s malicious crypto-activities, the DPRK Committee for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries is planning their next “Blockchain and Cryptocurrency” conference in Pyongyang.
More Details on North Korea’s Cyberattacks Emerge- Following last week's Reuters story about North Korea’s $2 Billion cyberattack proceeds, the Associated Press has published more details from the underlying U.N. Report, which are not available publicly. The report details cryptocurrency “attacks on both exchanges and users” as one of the three main methods of North Korean cybercrime, in addition to SWIFT attacks, and “cryptocurrency mining as a source of funds for the professional branch of the military.” The report found that South Korea was most victimized by North Korean cyberattacks, followed by India, Bangladesh and Chile, with one-off attacks in thirteen other countries. South Korea’s Bithumb exchange was allegedly attacked at least four times, twice in 2017, with each loss of approximately $7 million, and over $50 million in losses from two attacks in 2018 and 2019. Stolen funds from one cryptocurrency attack “were transferred through at least 5,000 separate transactions and further routed to multiple countries before eventual conversion,” the report states. The report also details cases of “cryptojacking,” a technique that uses malware to infect a computer to use its resources to generate cryptocurrency, including a strain of malware that mines Monero and “sends the currency to servers at Kim II Sung University in Pyongyang.”
North Korea Used $2 Billion in Cyberattack Proceeds to Fund Weapons Program- North Korea used over $2 billion of cyberattack proceeds to fund its weapons program, according to a new, confidential United Nations report that Reuters obtained. North Korea “used cyberspace to launch increasingly sophisticated attacks to steal funds from financial institutions and cryptocurrency exchanges to generate income,” and laundered those funds online. The authors of the report are investigating “at least 35 reported instances of DPRK actors attacking financial institutions, cryptocurrency exchanges and mining activity designed to earn foreign currency” across 17 countries, and also allege that these attacks allow North Korea “to generate income in ways that are harder to trace and subject to less government oversight and regulation than the traditional banking sector.” The report was published before last week’s missile launch.
North Korea Stole Cryptocurrency Via Hacking: UN Panel- The Panel of Experts that provides the United Nations Security Council with information regarding the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) recentlyreleased their annual report. The report noted that DPRK nationals were involved in a failed Ethereum-based ICO called “Marine Chain,” which involved tokenizing ownership of sea vessels. It also concluded that over $571 million worth of cryptocurrencies had been stolen by DPRK state-sponsored hackers from cryptocurrency exchanges and targeted ransomware attacks likewise added millions of dollars to the government’s coffers.
Lawyer Convicted for Laundering OneCoin Proceeds and Darknet Cocaine Trafficker Sentenced- A former partner at a prominent international law firm was convicted of conspiracy to commit money laundering and bank fraud for laundering over $400 million in connection with the multi-billion dollar OneCoin fraud. The lawyer created a series of fake private equity funds and disguised incoming payments as investments into the fund. Then, after layering the money through various accounts, he transferred the money back to the principals behind OneCoin as outbound investments from the fund. For his services, the lawyer was paid over $50 million and now could face up to 50 years in prison. Two men in Colorado were sentenced to federal prison for dealing over 50 kilograms of cocaine on darknet markets and related money laundering charges. The defendants laundered their bitcoin proceeds in primarily two ways: “they used a website that allowed them to purchase gift cards that could be used to buy goods and services … [and] they exchanged bitcoin for cash using the services of an international money transfer company.”
PlusToken Scammers Didn’t Just Steal $2+ Billion Worth of Cryptocurrency. They May Also Be Driving Down the Price of Bitcoin- Chainalysis released an early excerpt from the 2020 Crypto Crime Report detailing the blockchain analytics surrounding the Chinese-based multibillion dollar PlusToken scam, which is likely one of the largest ponzi schemes ever. Chainalysis estimates over 25,000 BTC in proceeds of the scam have already been laundered through OTC brokers, with 20,000 more BTC and over 700,000 ETH still ready to be cashed out. Chainalysis data also shows that spikes in on-chain transfers to OTC brokers from the illicit proceeds have a small but statistically significant relation with drops in the global price of Bitcoin.
Plus Token May be Liquidating its $3.5B cache of Stolen Cryptocurrency- Dovey Wan, a San Francisco-based Venture Capitalist and expert on APAC crypto has claimed on Twitter that the allegedly-collapsed China-based Ponzi scheme Plus Token may be liquidating its illicit proceeds on cryptocurrency exchanges, such as Huobi, Bittrex, and Binance. Plus token offered a high-interest wallet service and conducted its exit scam in June. Six Chinese nationals were arrested around that time, alleged to have conducted an “internet scam” but never officially connected to Plus Token. Whale Alert, the Twitter account which tracks large Bitcoin transactions, tweeted that four transactions made on Saturday with a total value of over $240 million were “likely” made by Plus Token.
Switzerland and Portugal Clarify Crypto Tax Rules- The Swiss Federal Tax Administration and Portugese Tax and Customs Authority have both recently clarified their positions on cryptoasset taxation. The Swiss announced tax guidance that provides a taxonomy for tokens (e.g., native, asset-backed, utility) and detailed tax implications for ICO issuers and investors, and explains the applications of various taxes to transactions involving the different types of tokens. The Portugese broadened their favorable cryptoasset tax stance in a decision that pertains to a local crypto mining company. Portugal had already exempted crypto-related capital gains from personal income tax and now the income from exchanges of cryptoassets into fiat currencies is additionally exempted from Value Added Tax (VAT).
New Orleans Latest Apparent Victim of Ryuk Ransomware- The Louisiana city of New Orleans was victimized by a suspected strain of Ryuk ransomware, which has led to the declaration of a state of emergency and the temporary shutdown of the NOLA.gov website. This is the third official state of emergency declaration issued in Louisiana due to ransomware attacks this year. In D.C., bipartisan legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives to help address this issue. The “Strengthening State and Local Cybersecurity Defenses Act” seeks to allocate federal resources to protect against ransomware threats to state and local governments.
Ryuk Ransomware Targets Veterinary Hospitals and Nursing Homes- The California-based animal care company National Veterinary Associates is still recovering from a ransomware attack that affected roughly half of its 700 facilities. According to reports, the veterinary hospitals were infected with Ryuk ransomware and many locations immediately lost access to their “Patient Information Management Systems.” However, a spokesperson emphasized that “throughout this whole thing if there was a sick animal, we saw them. No one closed their doors.” A Wisconsin-based IT company for nursing homes, Virtual Care Provider Inc., was also attacked with Ryuk ransomware and had $14 million in bitcoin demanded from it in order to decrypt data belonging to over 100 nursing homes, which may be too expensive to pay. A company spokesperson said that the attack hindered operations in multiple ways, such as making it more difficult for nurses to acquire the necessary prescription medications for residents.
Decoding Ransomware Attacks: Who is Behind the Attacks and How do We Investigate Them?- Between 2015 and 2019, ransomware attacks have seen a 10x increase in average cryptocurrency payments extracted from victims. Learn more from our latest research about the ransomware attacker profiles, motives, cash-out strategies, and recommendations for how to be prepared.
The Trade Secret: Firms That Promised High-Tech Ransomware Solutions Almost Always Just Pay the Hackers- “You just have 7 days to send us the BitCoin. After 7 days we will remove your private keys and it’s impossible to recover your files.” This was the message delivered by the SamSam ransomware that infected over 200 entities, especially mission-critical public agencies and healthcare systems, causing over 30M USD in damages in 2017 and 2018, until its Iranian perpetrators were indicted by then Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. ProPublica found that at least two U.S. based firms, Proven Data and Monstercloud, who advertised data breach recovery services, funnelled ransom payments to the hackers, and developed unusually close channels of communication, even leading to the attackers recommending one of the firms to victims, and often did not disclose to their clients that the ransom had been paid. Chainalysis traced the payments from Proven Data through 12 wallets until its arrival to OFAC designated wallets, raising concerns that laundered ransom payments fund terrorism and other organized crime. Separately, a recent Verizon report found that ransomware is the most popular cyber attack accounting for 24% of the cybercrime occurrences tracked by Verizon’s team.
DOJ: Romanian Cybercriminals Convicted on All 21 Accounts Related to Malware, Theft, and Money-Laundering Scheme- The Justice Department announced that a federal jury convicted two Romanian cybercriminals of all 21 counts relating to infecting over 400,000 victim computers with malware. The malware harvested emails from contact lists and user accounts, and sent further emails to those lists to acquire more victims. The scheme also redirected infected users to “dummy” sites to obtain more user credentials once the computers were infected. The criminals laundered millions of dollars through “money transfer agents” established at fraudulent companies, Western Unions, and MoneyGram offices in Romania where “money mules” used fake identification to collect the funds.
The newest line of smartphones from Samsung, the world’s most popular smartphone brand, will come equipped with Samsung Blockchain Wallet, according to an initial press release issued by the company. Galaxy S10 models will natively include storage for bitcoin and ether private keys, as well as support dApps and ERC-20 tokens. Promotional materials relating to these features have stirred rumors about which crypto-projects will be partnering with Samsung once the phones are released.
Singaporean Regulators Embrace Blockchain Projects- The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) both recently launched blockchain projects in collaboration with multinational financial institutions. MAS partnered J.P. Morgan and the Singaporean sovereign wealth fund Temasek to develop “a blockchain-based prototype that enables payments to be carried out in different currencies on the same network … [and] has the potential to improve cost efficiencies for businesses.” IMDA collaborated with the largest bank in Southeast Asia, DBS Bank, and one of the world’s largest commodity dealers, Trafigura, to create “an open-source blockchain trade platform to connect trade partners across borders.” Accordingly, the Managing Director of the MAS said in an interview that the country wants to become a hub for virtual banks and “that means anchoring them here at the early stage of their development, and allowing them access to the domestic banking market.”
Singapore Man Indicted in Scheme to Steal Cloud Computing Power for Cryptocurrency Mining- A citizen of Singapore was federally indicted on 14 counts of wire fraud, access device fraud, and aggravated identity theft for using stolen identities and credit card information to purchase cloud computing services from Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Google Cloud Services in order to mine cryptocurrencies. The perpetrator allegedly consumed $5 million worth of unpaid cloud computing services and was briefly one of AWS’s largest consumers of data usage by volume. The DOJ’s press release indicates that the man was taken into custody by the Singapore Police Force and is also being investigated for various offenses under Singapore law.
Singaporean Crypto Exchange Bitrue Hacked- In late June, the Singapore-based cryptocurrency exchange Bitrue announced that it was hacked. In a retrospective posted on Medium, Bitrue summarized that the hacker(s) stole approximately $4.5 million USD worth of cryptocurrency, the majority of which was 9.3 million XRP and 2.5 million ADA. 50% of this sum was moved to private wallets, while the remaining 50% was moved to 5 exchanges, Huobi, Bittrex, ChangeNOW, Exmo.me, and Coinswitch.co, which froze the funds on their exchanges. This frozen amount should be recoverable by Bitrue after working with the authorities and exchanges. After recovering the frozen assets, the net loss to Bitrue will be $3.15 million USD. The funds lost by user accounts were insured and were replaced from Bitrue’s own wallet. About 90 Bitrue user accounts were affected by the hack.
Singapore-Based Crypto Exchange DragonEx Has Been Hacked- DragonEx announced that cryptoassets belonging to users and the platform have been stolen in a recent hack. While the value of the lost assets was not revealed, the exchange has published a list of addresses for 20 different cryptoassets that have received the stolen funds. The rationale for releasing the receiving addresses was to give notice to fellow exchanges that deposits of funds from these addresses should be flagged as illicit and was accompanied by a plea for the industry to investigate future transactions from the addresses.
Monetary Authority of Singapore halted an ongoing ICO which had intended on using an exemption from traditional registration. It was warned not to proceed after the issuer "failed to comply with the advertising restriction when its legal advisors put out a LinkedIn post accessible to the public calling attention to the offer."
SoFi Digital Assets, a subsidiary of the fintech lender Social Finance, Inc., received the 24th virtual currency license and a money transmission license from the New York State Department of Financial Services. The new regulatory approval will allow SoFi to let New York customers buy and sell “Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ether, Ether Classic, LiteCoin, and Stellar Lumens.”
SoftBank to Create $30 Billion Tech Giant via Yahoo Japan, LINE Corp Deal- SoftBank-backed Yahoo Japan (a/k/a Z Holdings Co.) and Japanese messaging platform LINE agreed to a merger that would give the combined companies a $30 billion valuation. Both businesses have considerable cryptocurrency-related corporate assets and once the expected merger is completed in October 2020, synergies would presumably emerge from the deal. Yahoo Japan has a 70% stake in TaoTao, a licensed Japanese cryptocurrency exchange that boasts ownership of registration number “00001” with its regulator. LINE developed its own cryptoasset, Link, and blockchain, Link Chain, while also owning a cryptocurrency exchange called BITMAX.
Tokenized Debt is Taking Off- The Spanish banking giant Banco Santander has issued $20 million worth of bonds on the public Ethereum blockchain in the first “end-to-end blockchain bond” that utilized tokenization to complete the initial investment transaction and the payment of quarterly coupons. The blockchain-enabled alternative investment platform Harbor recently tokenized $100MM worth of real estate debt through a partnership with an investment firm. Russia’s largest bank, Sberbank, purchased approximately $15MM worth of accounts receivable in a pilot program, which were sold by a commodities firm and recorded on the Hyperledger Fabric platform.
Popular U.S. Retailers now Accept Bitcoin- Gemini, the cryptocurrency exchange, this week announced a partnership with Flexa, a payments processor. By downloading the Spedn app, consumers may use Bitcoin, Ether, Bitcoin Cash, and Gemini dollars for purchases at major retailers in the U.S. including Barnes & Noble, Nordstrom, Regal Cinemas, Whole Foods Market, and more. Many of the retailers have declined to comment on their involvement in this program, but Forbes has verified several from receipts. According to Flexa data, 89% of the beta users of Spedn spent cryptocurrency on the first day, with 81% spending more than once, and at more than one location. While still in early days, this is an exciting development for the spending use case for cryptocurrency. In related merchant services news, eBay billboards with messages like “virtual currency: happening on eBay” appeared at the Consensus conference.
State Street and Gemini Launch Digital Asset Pilot, Fidelity Digital Expands to Europe- One of the oldest financial institutions in America, State Street, is launching a digital asset custody pilot with the cryptocurrency exchange Gemini. State Street has $32 trillion in assets under custody and will now allow Gemini to provide custody for Bitcoin and Ether for State Street’s institutional clients with back-office reporting still done by the bank. Additionally, Fidelity Investments has created a new European entity for offering digital asset services to institutional investors in Europe. Fidelity Digital Assets, Ltd., wants to provide European institutions with a full-service platform for securing, trading, and supporting digital assets such as Bitcoin.
Bitcoin Exchange-Traded Products Gain Global Traction- The Swiss cryptoasset exchange-traded product (ETP) issuer Amun received authorization from the Swedish Financial Supervisory Authority to offer its products to retail investors after its base prospectus was approved. Amun’s CEO reportedly said the move, “gives us wide access to sell directly and market directly to basically all retail in Europe.” In the U.S., the registration statement for a new ETP backed by cash-settled bitcoin futures contracts and launched by NYDFS BitLicensee New York Digital Investment Group became effective, but the ETP is only available to accredited investors. In France, a similar cash-settled bitcoin futures contract ETP was launched by Napoleon Group for professional investors that also reside in France.
U.S. and Canadian Regulators Settle Disputes and Put Exchange into Receivership- The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) jointly announced settled charges against a Swiss entity, XBT Corp Sarl (d/b/a First Global Credit), for selling security-based swaps for bitcoin. While XBT Corp conducted KYC on their platform’s traders, they did not ensure their users met the “eligible contract participant” thresholds and did not properly register with the agencies, despite selling their financial products to U.S. investors. Additionally, the SEC settled ongoing litigation against ICO issuer Veritaseum after the company and founder consented to approximately $8.5 million in disgorgement and a $1 million civil penalty. Furthermore, the SEC allowed the first blockchain company to become both a registered transfer agent and a licensed broker-dealer for digital securities. In Canada, a court granted the British Columbia Securities Commission’s application to force the Canada-based cryptoasset exchange Einstein Exchange into receivership with Grant Thorton, which will take control of the exchange’s assets in order to preserve claimants’ property. Users of the exchange complained to the regulator after withdraws stopped being processed and it is estimated that users are collectively owed over $12 million.
FINMA Publishes ‘Stable Coin’ Guidelines- The Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA) published a supplement to their ICO regulatory framework that explicitly addresses stablecoins, including Facebook’s Libra project, which will be headquartered in Switzerland and thus fall under FINMA’s supervision. The publication states that “as it is currently envisioned,” the Libra project would require a payment system license, which would then require the “highest international anti-money laundering standards ... throughout the entire ecosystem of the project … [and] must be immune against elevated money laundering risks.” This announcement comes after both the Federal Reserve Chairman, Jerome Powell, and the Undersecretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, Sigal Mandelker, recently told Swiss central bankers and regulators that stablecoins such as Facebook’s Libra must be stringently regulated.
Switzerland and Portugal Clarify Crypto Tax Rules- The Swiss Federal Tax Administration and Portugese Tax and Customs Authority have both recently clarified their positions on cryptoasset taxation. The Swiss announced tax guidance that provides a taxonomy for tokens (e.g., native, asset-backed, utility) and detailed tax implications for ICO issuers and investors, and explains the applications of various taxes to transactions involving the different types of tokens. The Portugese broadened their favorable cryptoasset tax stance in a decision that pertains to a local crypto mining company. Portugal had already exempted crypto-related capital gains from personal income tax and now the income from exchanges of cryptoassets into fiat currencies is additionally exempted from Value Added Tax (VAT).
Swiss Regulator Promises Scrutiny of Blockchain Companies- The Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA) has issued new anti-money laundering guidance for cryptocurrency businesses under the supervision of the financial regulator. FINMA boasts that since they go beyond the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) recommendations that were released in June, then they have one of the most stringent AML/CFT regulatory frameworks for blockchain payments in the world. The guidance was released alongside an announcement that the regulator had also granted banking and securities dealers’ licenses to two “pure-blockchain” companies, which was a first for FINMA.
Tencent to Build Virtual Bank After Hong Kong Regulator Approves License- Local Chinese media reports that at the World Blockchain Summit in Wuzhen, China, the technology conglomerate Tencent announced that the Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) approved a license for a blockchain-based virtual bank. Similarly, the SFC published comprehensive opt-in rules for cryptocurrency exchanges serving exclusively “professional investors” last week and the first company has already applied for a digital asset exchange license. However, one cryptocurrency exchange said in a blog post, “[g]iven that many of the major crypto exchange operators have a presence in Hong Kong, we believe that there will be a handful of exchanges [that] will take the invitation to opt-in into SFC’s regulation plan, however, we do not expect to see a large number of exchanges rushing into the regulation net.”
Thailand’s SEC to Amend Royal Decree and South Korean Legislation Progresses- Thailand’s Securities and Exchange Commission reportedly plans to amend the royal decree on digital asset businesses next year, according to the Secretary-General of the SEC. She explained that in order to remain competitive in the blockchain industry, the regulator must remain flexible and the laws applied to such emerging technologies “should not be outdated and should serve market needs.” In South Korea, the National Assembly’s National Policy Committee approved a bill that would legally categorize virtual currencies as digital assets, which according to the Financial Services Commission (FSC) would increase transparency and legitimize investment. The bill still needs to be approved by more committees and the main floor of the National Assembly, but if it does pass, all cryptocurrency-related businesses would be required to register with the FSC.
DOJ Announces Arrest in Thailand of Swedish Man for Alleged Multi-Million Fraud- The Department of Justice has announced the arrest of a Swedish citizen charged with securities fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering in an investment scheme totaling over $11 million USD and affecting over 3,500 victims. Since September 2006, Roger Nils-Jonas Karlsson and his company, Eastern Metal Securities (EMS), have allegedly operated a series of websites offering investors shares in fictitious metals instruments. Investors were often asked to make payments in cryptocurrency which were then transferred to Karlsson’s personal accounts. Funds appear to be tied up in Thai real estate. When his investors inquired after their promised payouts, Karlsson would make extreme excuses, including, allegedly, that transferring the funds owed would cause a disruption to the global financial system. The United States is seeking extradition to California for a trial. The DOJ was assisted by the FBI Legal Attaché Office in Thailand, the IRS Criminal Investigation Attaché Office in Hong Kong, and the Royal Thai Police Crime Suppression Division.
Token Taxonomy Initiative
Global Leaders Unite to Unveil Comprehensive Framework for Tokenization- The blockchain-neutral Token Taxonomy Initiative has announced the release of a Token Taxonomy Framework that would standardize definitions, terminology, use cases, and specifications for different cryptographically-secured digital tokens. Members of the initiative include industry leaders such as ConsenSys, Accenture, EY, IBM, J.P. Morgan, Microsoft, R3, and many others. Microsoft has already released a new product known as Azure Blockchain Tokensthat allows users to “easily define and create Token Taxonomy Framework compliant tokens that represent digital or physical assets.” A draft specification library already exists for assets that could be represented by tokens such as bonds, documents, inventory, loyalty points, original art, and reserved tickets.
Bank of England Governor Calls for Digital Currency Replacement to the Dollar- The Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, made a speech this week at the Jackson Hole Economic Symposium in Wyoming concerning the international monetary and financial system. Governor Carney argued that the hegemony of the U.S. dollar in the global economy is a “destabilizing asymmetry,” which negatively impacts interest rates and liquidity. One of the proposed solutions was the creation of a Synthetic Hegemonic Currency, similar to Facebook’s Libra stablecoin, but provided through the public sector and “a network of central bank digital currencies.” However, as Bloomberg reports, some commentators believe that “Bitcoin largely fits the description of what he is looking for—something ‘removed’ from country borders and independent of country-specific interest rate policies.”
UK / FCA:
UK FCA Issues Full Guidance on Crypto-assets- The UK’s Financial Conduct Authority finalized its guidance on crypto-assets, as confirmed this morning, after receiving responses to its consultation paper published earlier this year. Christopher Wollard, executive director of Strategy and Competition at the FCA said, “The majority of respondents supported the proposals outlined in the consultation. The FCA is, therefore, publishing the Final Guidance as consulted on with some amendments to provide greater clarity on what is and isn’t regulated. This includes making the important distinction as to which crypto-assets fall inside the regulatory perimeter clearer.” Exchange tokens will fall outside of the FCA’s regulatory perimeter: “Unregulated crypto-assets (e.g. Bitcoin, Ether, XRP, etc.) are not covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme and consumers do not have recourse to the Financial Ombudsman Service.” However, the paper noted that the “5AMLD” will add certain AML requirements to crypto-assets on January 10, 2020, and that a list of other activities will also be subject to AML scrutiny by the UK government.
UK Government's Economic Crime Plan Takes Action on Crypto-assets- The UK government last Friday announced a new Economic Crime Plan from H.M. Treasury and the Home Office to “tackle fraud, money laundering, bribery and corruption” in the UK and elsewhere. The plan, which emphasizes greater cooperation on matters of economic crime, was agreed between Chancellor Philip Hammond, Home Secretary Sajid Javid, heads of law enforcement, major financial institutions, and legal, accountancy and property firms. “The agencies also intend to take action to ensure cryptocurrencies are not used for money laundering and other illicit activity,” read the announcement. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) will establish a new crypto-assets regime “to create one of the most comprehensive global responses to the use of crypto-assets in illicit activity.” The plan encourages the private sector “to take advantage of pioneering technologies to combat economic crime, as well as reduce their compliance costs,” and will also establish a new Asset Recovery Action Plan designed to recover stolen funds. The plan is backed by £6.5 million from Barclays, HSBC UK, Lloyds Banking Group, Nationwide, RBS, and Santander UK to reform the Suspicious Activity Reporting regime.
UK Regulator Proposes Ban on Crypto-Based Derivatives- UK market regulators are planning a retail investor ban on cryptocurrency derivatives, arguing that trading them is “akin to gambling” and that they are “impossible” to value reliably. A paper by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) released last Wednesday contained an 18-month study of the market, concluding that cryptocurrencies could not be valued as reliably as other volatile assets. The cryptocurrency derivatives “are complex contracts built on top of complex assets,” said Christopher Woolard, the FCA’s executive director of strategy and competition. Concerns highlighted by the FCA include high fees charged by the cryptocurrency industry, “widespread” financial crime and market abuse, and hard forks. The contemplated ban would cover futures, options, and exchange-traded notes, as well as contracts for difference, which were just banned in France. There are likely well over ten thousand retail investors in the UK who are clients of cryptocurrency derivative firms.
British FCA Sees 3x Increase in Crypto, Forex Scams- The British financial watchdog, the FCA, has found a significant increase in cryptocurrency and foreign exchange fraud claims, from 530 to 1,834 2019/2018 YTD (April). More than eighty percent of the scams were cryptocurrency scams. While the volume of reported scams increased, the average individual losses were significantly less, owing to an increase in small online “phishing’ scams. Total losses also fell, from about £38m to £27m. The FCA and the Treasury are looking to crack down on cryptocurrency crime and exploitation, and have collaborated on the government-led Cryptoasset Taskforce. The FCA is also considering a ban on cryptocurrency derivatives, while the Treasury is considering expanding the FCA’s mandate to include a greater part of the cryptocurrency industry.
The U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is seeking public comment on their newest consultation paper titled "Guidance on Cryptoassets," which expresses the FCA’s opinion on the applicable regulations for different categories of cryptoassets such as security tokens and can be read about here.
In the United Kingdom, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is collecting information directly from cryptocurrency exchanges, requesting records of names, dates, and values transferred. The HMRC seeks to collect revenue from the heady days of the cryptocurrency market spanning 2017-2019. “HMRC regularly gathers data from a range of information sources using powers provided by Parliament. Data collected by HMRC is used to improve the integrity of the tax system and to identify those that have failed to declare their gains,” a spokesperson for the agency said.
British Tax Authority Seeks Customer Data from Crypto Exchanges- The British tax authority, HM Revenue & Customs, sent letters to cryptocurrency exchanges that do business in the U.K. to request lists of customers and transaction data. At least three exchanges received letters within the last week. In response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request submitted by Coindesk, HMRC said it was “withholding details about its demands for information since disclosing them could jeopardize the assessment or collection of tax,” but confirmed that such demands are in its scope, citing the similar letters which the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is sending to cryptocurrency holders this summer.
UK / Jurisdiction Task Force
UK Government, Federal Reserve, and Bank of Japan Comment on Cryptoassets- The United Kingdom Jurisdiction Taskforce released a Legal Statement on Cryptoassets and Smart Contracts, which does not have binding legal force, but can provide guidance on the judiciary’s understanding of ambiguous topics. The statement conveyed that cryptoassets will typically be considered property under English common law and smart contracts will be recognized as having contractual force provided that the traditional requirements are also satisfied. In the U.S., the Federal Reserve published its semiannual Financial Stability Report that posits “[a] global stablecoin network, if poorly designed and unregulated, could pose risks to financial stability.” The Bank of Japan’s Deputy Governor similarly told Reuters that “central banks must be vigilant to the impact” of global stablecoins, such as Libra, because “the potential user-base could be enormous.”
UNICEF Launches Cryptocurrency Fund- The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) unveiled the UNICEF Cryptocurrency Fund, which is the first UN program to receive, hold, and disburse donations in cryptocurrency. Donations can be made in Ether or Bitcoin, and “will be held in their cryptocurrency of contribution, and granted out in the same cryptocurrency.” UNICEF previously introduced programs that involved blockchain technology. For example, last year UNICEF Australia released The Hopepage, which is a web page that allows people to donate excess computing power to mine cryptocurrencies by simply having a tab open in their internet browser.
USA / Attorney’s Office
May 2019- New York
New York A.G. James announces court order against Bitfinex and Tether- Last Friday, New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a preliminary injunction against iFinex Inc., the operator of the Bitfinex virtual asset trading platform, and Tether Limited, the issuer of the Tether virtual currency, the eighth most popular cryptocurrency by market capitalization. “Our investigation has determined that the operators of the ‘Bitfinex’ trading platform, who also control the ‘tether’ virtual currency, have engaged in a cover-up to hide the apparent loss of $850 million dollars of commingled client and corporate funds,” said Attorney General James. The alleged loss involves a transfer to Crypto Capital, the Panamanian payments processor employed by Bitfinex. Tether and Bitfinex responded with the following statement: “[The] court filings were written in bad faith and are riddled with false assertions, including as to a purported $850 million ‘loss’ at Crypto Capital. On the contrary, we have been informed that these Crypto Capital amounts are not lost but have been, in fact, seized and safeguarded. We are and have been actively working to exercise our rights and remedies and get those funds released.”
May 2019- Oregon
U.S. Attorney indicts two Nigerian nationals in Bitcoin fraud- The U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams announced that two Nigerian nationals were indicted in Portland, OR on 13 counts; one count each of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering, and 11 counts of wire fraud. The alleged fraudsters operated websites such as www.wealthcurrency.com, which promised Bitcoin returns of 20-50 percent with “zero risk” and “instant withdrawals,” starting in 2017. Through June 2018, the two are alleged to have actively conspired to defraud three victims in Oregon and California, and they created an online persona using an image of a fourth victim. The pair stole 10 Bitcoins worth $59,000, eventually exchanging them for Nigerian currency. The SEC this week issued an investor alert, warning of sites such as those used in this scam.
A case brought by the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of California in conjunction with the Joint Criminal Opioid Darknet Enforcement (J-CODE), a federal grand jury indicted a California nurse who allegedly sold over 20,000 prescription opioid pills on darknet markets. Federal agents found about $1.8 million in Bitcoin and about $234,000 in cash at her residence.
Federal Court Orders Defendants to Pay More than $4.25 Million for Fraud- The CFTC has been awarded a default judgment against a group of related companies and their principals on charges related to the operation of a fraudulent binary options trading platform known as Blue Bit Banc and misappropriating investor funds. According to the complaint, once the scheme began to unravel, dollar-denominated account balances on the options platform were converted into “ATM Coin” or “ATCM” or “Asset Trading Market Coin” balances on a new platform called Bitsblockchain. The complaint indicates, “[t]he website also states that ATCM uses … blockchain technology that is ‘decentralized’ with ‘no government or authority to control it.’ However, ATMC also recently claimed to have become a ‘supranational legal tender currency’ for a purported sovereignty called the ‘Principality of Saint Stephen.’”
CFTC Charges Nevada Company in $11 Million Cryptocurrency Fraud Scheme- The Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) has filed a civil enforcement action in federal court against Gilbert Saffron and his company, Circle Society, for allegedly perpetrating a ponzi scheme that culminated in $11 million of investments. The CFTC claims that Saffron solicited investments from at least 14 people in Bitcoin and dollars, but instead of generating the guaranteed 300% returns, he misappropriated the funds to his personal Bitcoin wallets and bank accounts. The CFTC is seeking full restitution to defrauded investors, disgorgement, and civil penalties. Additionally, the regulator reportedly announced that their FinTech working group, LabCFTC, will become an independent office within the CFTC that reports directly to Chairman Heath Tarbert.
Leaders of CFTC, FinCEN, and SEC Issue Joint Statement on Activities Involving Digital Assets- Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) Chairman Heath Tarbert, Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) Director Kenneth Blanco, and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chairman Jay Clayton have issued a joint statement regarding anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorisim (AML/CFT) obligations pertaining to digital assets. Primarily the statement reiterated that the Bank Secrecy Act imposes AML/CFT obligations on entities that are regulated by the three agencies and those obligations apply regardless of the labels and types of technology used. Also, this week CFTC Chairman Tarbert was interviewed at the Yahoo! Finance All Markets Summit where he stated that, “[i]t is my view as Chairman of the CFTC that ether is a commodity, and therefore it will be regulated under the CEA [Commodity Exchange Act]. And my guess is that you will see, in the near future, ether-related futures contracts and other derivatives potentially traded.”
Principal Of Cryptocurrency Escrow Company Indicted For $7 Million Fraudulent Scheme- A New York grand jury has indicted the person behind the cryptocurrency escrow company Volantis on commodities fraud and wire fraud charges for stealing approximately $7 million from two victim companies. The defendant allegedly used false statements to induce the two companies into sending funds to Volantis for the purchase of bitcoin and then purportedly misappropriated the money without sending the purchasers their bitcoin, despite claiming “there is no risk of default.” A separate civil action was filed by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission against the same person and in relation to the same transactions.
CFTC Charges British Company and Principal with $147 million Bitcoin Fraud- The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) announced the filing of a complaint against a purported a UK-based bitcoin trading and investment company and its principal, Benjamin Reynolds, a British national. The action charges that the defendants allegedly misappropriated at least 22,858.8 bitcoin– worth approximately $147 million at the time of the fraud– from more than 1,000 customers during high public enthusiasm for bitcoin in the first half of 2017. The firm operated websites and social media accounts to convince customers to transfer bitcoin to them, promising daily trading profits on all deposits of up to 1.5% per day. The deposits were sent to pooled wallets through transactions that lacked any valid business purpose. Director of Enforcement James McDonald stated: “Fraud in these markets not only harms customers, but if left unchecked, it could also hinder innovation. We caution potential virtual currency customers, once again, that they should engage in appropriate diligence before purchasing or trading virtual currencies.”
CFTC Approves LedgerX to Settle Futures in Bitcoin- The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) announced that it has approved the application of LedgerX for designation as a contract market. Effectively, this means that LedgerX can offer physically settled futures contracts in bitcoin and offer these products to retail clients, not just to institutional investors. Unlike other cash-settled bitcoin futures, when a contract expires, the buyer receives the underlying commodity, in this case bitcoin. LedgerX has been registered as a swap execution facility and derivatives clearing organization (DCO) since July 17. LedgerX is now registered as a designated contract market (DCM) pursuant to the CFTC regulations, to which it must demonstrate continued compliance. No timeline was given for the LedgerX launch. Intercontinental Exchange’s Bakkt will be testing its physically-settled bitcoin in July.
US CFTC Chair Remarks in Rome: Blockchain Would Have Improved Regulatory Response in 2008-cIn his speech, “The New Futurism: 21st Century Financial Markets, Technology and Regulation,” delivered at the CONSOB conference in Rome, CFTC Chairman J. Christopher Giancarlo said that blockchain technology would have enabled “far faster, better-informed, and more calibrated regulatory intervention” to the 2008 financial crisis, particularly related to the collapse in derivatives markets, than the response that was made at the time. Giancarlo emphasized the significance of distributed ledger technology (DLT) and its applications both inside and outside of the financial system, as part of his speech which used the Italian Futurist art and social movement of the early 20th century as a metaphor.
Commodity Futures Trading Commission seeks to become “21st Century Regulator,” discusses cryptocurrency clearinghouses- In his testimony on the state of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) before the House Committee on Agriculture Subcommittee on Commodity Exchanges, Energy and Credit, CFTC Chairman J. Christopher Giancarlo emphasized the need to have a “rapid response” to technological innovation and “conduct independent market data analysis” while “embracing market-based solutions.” Giancarlo also identified the LabCFTC, founded in 2017, as an internal “FinTech stakeholder” based in New York City that monitors emerging financial technologies, especially in cryptocurrency. Giancarlo added that he expects to see more applications from cryptocurrency firms wishing to register as clearinghouses (financial institutions which validate transactions and to reduce counterparty risk). LedgerX operates as such, and applications from Bakkt and from ErisX await CFTC approval.
U.S. Charges "My Big Coin" Virtual Currency Firm Founder With Fraud- Randall Crater, the founder of My Big Coin, wasindicted in a Massachusetts court and subsequently arrested in Florida on seven counts of wire fraud and unlawful monetary transactions. The charges stem from the misappropriation of $6MM of investor funds, which were raised by falsely claiming that a proprietary virtual currency was transferable to anyone and had $300MM in gold bullion backing its value. The CFTC brought a civil suit against the company in January 2018 for violating federal commodities laws, which is still ongoing. However, in the course of the CFTC lawsuit the court made one of its firstdeterminations that certain virtual currencies can be commodities for regulatory purposes.
Brookings Has Published a Report By Former CFTC Chairman Timothy Massad On Cryptocurrency Regulation- The former Chairman of the CFTC called for expanding the scope of U.S. crypto oversight in a recent report out of the Brookings Institution titled “It’s Time to Strengthen the Regulation of Crypto-Assets.” Citing the Chainalysis Crypto Crime Report, the Brookings report highlights the industry’s unaddressed risks and recommends enlarging the purview of the SEC or CFTC to fully encompass the sector. In order to facilitate these responsibilities, the report argues for increasing the resources of both agencies and emphasizes the importance of self-regulatory initiatives.
USA / Conference of Mayors
US Conference of Mayors: No More Ransoms for Cyber Attacks- The United States Conference of Mayors has passed a resolution that cities should not pay a ransom if hit with a cyber attack. The resolution was sponsored by Baltimore Mayor Jack Young alongside Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn G. Goodman, at the annual meeting of the organization, held in Baltimore. In May, the city suffered a ransomware attack that shut down servers for months, as officials refused to pay its ransom. "Paying ransoms only gives incentive for more people to engage in this type of illegal behavior," said Mayor Young. "I am proud to unify with the U.S. Conference of Mayors to stand up against these types of attacks and show people that they will not take control of our cities." The resolution named 170 attacks since 2013, with 22 occurring in 2019 thus far. “The council has a vested interest in de-incentivizing these attacks to prevent further harm,” the referendum states.
USA / Congress
"Managed Stablecoins are Securities Act of 2019" Introduced in U.S. House- A bipartisan pair of legislators introduced the “Managed Stablecoins are Securities Act of 2019” (H.R. 5197) in order to “protect consumers against certain cryptocurrencies.” In an accompanying announcement, Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia (D-TX) said, “[m]anaged stablecoins, such as Libra, are clearly securities under existing law. This legislation simply clarifies the statute to remove any ambiguity.” The proposed bill would bring “managed stablecoins” within the definition of a security under the Securities Act of 1933 and other pertinent federal securities laws. Both co-sponsors of the bill are freshman members of the Texas Congressional delegation and each sit on the House Financial Services Committee.
COUNTER Act of 2019 Passes U.S. House of Representatives- The “Coordinating Oversight, Upgrading and Innovating Technology, and Examiner Reform Act of 2019,” or “COUNTER Act of 2019,” which makes reforms to the Federal Bank Secrecy Act and anti-money laundering laws, passed the House and was referred to the Senate Committee on Banking. If ultimately signed into law, the bill would allow financial institutions to share compliance resources, modernize whistleblower incentives and protections, streamline requirements for currency transaction reports and suspicious activity reports (SARs), establish an Innovation Lab and Innovation Council within the Department of the Treasury, and order the Director of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) to conduct a study on blockchain technology.
Draft Legislation Attempts to Regulate Stablecoins- Multiple pieces of draft legislation were released to the public that address the lack of legal clarity around the issuance and trading of stablecoins. The “Stablecoins Are Securities Act of 2019” would amend the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 in order to include “managed stablecoins” within the definition of a security for the purposes of federal regulations. Another draft bill makes further amendments to federal securities laws, which would prohibit the listing of securities on national exchanges if the issuer uses stablecoins in certain ways. Further, the “Keep Big Tech Out of Finance Act” would fine “large platform utilities” up to $1 million a day if they “establish, maintain, or operate a digital asset that is intended to be widely used as [a] medium of exchange, unit of account, store of value, or any other similar function.”
The previously celebrated Token Taxonomy Act has been reintroduced in the House after dying in committee at the conclusion of the 115th Congress. The Token Taxonomy Act would implement multiple favorable regulatory shifts for the cryptocurrency industry. Notable changes include excluding “digital tokens” from the statutory definition of a security, granting exchanges between virtual currencies the coveted tax exempt “like-kind exchange” status that real property enjoys, and exempting from gross income up to $600 per transaction of capital gains resulting from the sale of virtual currencies.
The FIND Trafficking Act and Financial Technology Protection Act, which were introduced earlier this month, have both passed the House and now move on to the Senate. The FIND Trafficking Act would require the Comptroller General to conduct a study into the use of virtual currency for illicit sex and drug trafficking, but the Financial Technology Protection Act would go much further by creating an interagency task force and a bounty program aimed at combating virtual currency use in terror financing.
USA / DA
Manhattan D.A. Vance busts $2.8m internet drug ring- Two individuals have pled guilty to running a steroid and controlled substance business which accepted cryptocurrency and Western Union payments. From 2013 to 2018, the pair shipped over 10,000 packages of steroids and other drugs including Valium, Xanax, and Viagra. The drugs were sold via various dark web outlets and the site “NextDayGear,” which the defendants operated. The defendants purchased wholesale drugs from China, mixed, pressed, and packaged the drugs with counterfeit brand names, and shipped them to customers in all fifty states. This is the first conviction involving cryptocurrency by New York State prosecutors. Said D.A. Vance, “Online drug sellers who do business in New York should take note: whether you’re operating in plain sight or in hidden corners of the dark web, my Office has the skills and resources to follow the money, shut down your business, and hold you accountable.” This operation is unrelated to the sting we mentioned in last week’s update.
Manhattan D.A. Vance indicts major dark web drug sellers: “We have a cybercrime crisis that’s not yet fully appreciated.”- The Manhattan District Attorney has concluded a two-year investigation into a major dark web drug seller. The investigation began in 2017 when the office received a tip that large amounts of cash were being withdrawn from city ATMs, one of which converted cryptocurrency to cash. Three New Jersey men were indicted for multiple counts related to money laundering, sale of controlled substances, identity theft, and conspiracy to commit fraud. The sellers converted at least $2.3M in cryptocurrency, which they loaded onto prepaid cards to make local ATM withdrawals, and fulfilled orders for various controlled substances as well as counterfeiting pills like Xanax at a lab they set up in New Jersey. The DA made several purchases of illegal drugs from ads they had listed on the Dream Market, one of the largest darknet marketplaces that recently announced it is shutting down.
USA / DOT
Latest Enforcement Action- Yesterday, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC), which prohibits US persons and entities from dealing with individuals listed on its Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list, has added the names of three individuals in connection to opioids trafficking, and listed 12 cryptocurrency addresses believed to be controlled by these individuals.
Law enforcement announced activity around multiple cryptocurrency-related cases this week, beginning with an NJ man charged with operating an unlicensed Bitcoin exchange last Wednesday. William Green of New Jersey was charged with one count of operating an unlicensed money transmitting business. Green maintained a website called “Destination Bitcoin” where he received over $2 million in cash from customers, which he converted to Bitcoin for a fee. Green failed to register his business with the Treasury. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 5 years and a $250,000 fine.
Treasury Secretary: Bad Actors with Crypto is a National Security Issue- Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin referred to crypto concerns as a “national security issue” in a news briefing on cryptocurrencies this Monday. The Treasury Secretary’s comments were focused on exploitation in the cryptocurrency market for cybercrime, tax evasion, extortion, ransomware, illicit drugs, human trafficking. “We will not allow digital asset service providers to operate in the shadows,” he said, adding that FinCEN “will hold any entity that transacts in Bitcoin, Libra or any other cryptocurrency to its highest standards.” Mnuchin also called for regulatory caution. The conference follows President Donald Trump’s tweets last week that he is “not a fan of” cryptocurrencies, and that they “are not money.”
Deep Dot Web Shut down by FBI and Europol- The FBI, with help from Europol and others, shut down Deep Dot Web, a website for facilitating access to dark web sites and marketplaces, and arrested its administrators. Deep Dot Web is said to have made millions of dollars through their referral business, sending traffic via .onion domains over the Tor Network. The .onion site was seized by the FBI, citing U.S. money laundering laws. Suspects were arrested in Israel by the Tel Aviv police, who first confirmed the arrests in a local statement, with further arrests made in France, Germany, the Netherlands, and, according to one source, Brazil. Visitors to the Deep Dot Web site are greeted by a seizure notice from the FBI and its law enforcement partners.March 2019
FinCEN: Stablecoin Issuers Are Money Transmitters, No Matter What- While at Chainalysis’s Links conference, Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) Director Kenneth Blanco delivered a speech concerning the importance of regulatory compliance in the cryptocurrency industry, calling it “a national security issue.” Director Blanco highlighted that “FinCEN applies the same technology-neutral regulatory framework to any activity that provides the same functionality,” and with regard to stablecoins, “[i]t does not matter if the stablecoin is backed by a currency, a commodity, or even an algorithm—the rules are the same.” He went on to explain that the Bank Secrecy Act’s Travel Rule applies to convertible virtual currency and reminded the crowd that Financial Action Task Force (FATF) Recommendations [Rec.15 and Rec.16] cover money service businesses that transact with virtual assets.
US House Passes Bill for FinCEN to Study Blockchain Use- A new bill known as the Advancing Innovation to Assist Law Enforcement Act (H.R. 2613) has passed the U.S. House of Representatives and now moves to the Senate. The proposed legislation would allow the Director of FinCEN to conduct a study and issue a report concerning blockchain technology, digital identity technology, and AI. The study would focus on the status and internal use of the emerging technology, how it can be leveraged in order to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of data analysis, and research how FinCEN could utilize new technology to assist other law enforcement agencies. The bill was originally introduced back in May by Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH), who is a member of the Financial Services Committee.
On Friday, U.S. Attorney David L. Anderson and FinCEN Director Kenneth A. Blanco announced a civil complaint against BTC-e, also known as the Canton Business Corporation, and one of its chief owners and operators, Alexander Vinnik. BTC-e was a virtual currency exchange incorporated in Cyprus and/or the Seychelles Islands, and operated in Bulgaria, Seychelles, and other jurisdictions including Northern California, where users could buy and sell bitcoin on its website. The civil complaint alleges that Vinnik operated several BTC-e accounts, including some tied to thefts from Mt. Gox and other exchanges. Vinnik is currently incarcerated in Greece. An extradition request has been issued. FinCEN has assessed $12 million in penalties against Vinnick and $88.5 million in penalties against BTC-e for the alleged willful violations of the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). BTC-e failed to register as a Money Services Business (MSB), failed to establish AML programs and procedures, and failed to file suspicious activity reports (SARs).
FinCEN Exchange Forum Announce Business Email Compromise Efforts- The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) on Tuesday announced new efforts to curtail and impede Business Email Compromise (BEC) scammers and their networks. BEC scams generated more than $300 million per month in 2018, according to FinCEN’s Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs), with volume more than doubling from 2016 to 1,100 per month in 2018. The in-depth Financial Trend Analysis of BSA data, published with the announcement, reported that fraudulent vendor invoices were the most common methodology at 39% while impersonating an executive fell from 33% in 2017 to 12% in 2018. A series of meetings on the subject followed the announcement at the ongoing FinCEN Exchange forum for law enforcement and financial institutions. FinCEN also issued today an update to its “Advisory to Financial Institutions on E-mail Compromise Fraud Schemes,” first published in 2016. The advisory offers updated definitions, details the targeting of non-business entities by email compromise, general trends, and advice, and encourages financial institutions to share information on accounts affiliated with BEC schemes. FinCEN also reported that its Rapid Response Program has surpassed $500 Million in recovered funds.
FINCEN Fines Man for Operating Illegal Virtual Currency Exchange- FinCEN has penalized a man for operating a peer-to-peer virtual currency exchange without a license. California-based cryptocurrency trader Eric Powers received a civil money penalty for failing to register as a money services business (MSB) with FinCEN, adopt AML standards, and file suspicious activity reports (SARs) and currency transaction reports (CTRs). “Obligations under the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) apply to money transmitters regardless of their size,” said FinCEN Director Kenneth A. Blanco, who noted that this is the first time that these penalties have been issued under the March 2013 guidance provided by the agency, and they will continue to be enforced by FinCEN. Mr. Powers conducted over 200 transactions each involving more than $10,000 in currency, some with darknet entities, but did not file a single CTR. Eric Powers has been fined $35,000 and is permanently barred from the MSB industry.
Promoters of Deceptive Chain Referral Schemes Involving Cryptocurrencies Agree to Settlement with FTC- The Federal Trade Commission settled cases against four defendants involved in multiple related cryptocurrency-based pyramid schemes, known as Bitcoin Funding Team, My7Network, and Jetcoin. The complaint was filed last February, which included some illustrative examples of the claims made by the group, such as, “We’re going to show you how to turn basically a little over 100 bucks into over $80,000 in monthly residual income.” The four promoters agreed to cumulatively pay almost $1 million in monetary penalties and are permanently prohibited from any involvement with multi-level marketing or pyramid schemes.
IRS Says ‘Dozens’ of New Crypto, Cybercriminals Are Identified- The Joint Chiefs of Global Tax Enforcement (J5), comprised of tax enforcement authorities from Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States, hosted a crypto “challenge” which “brought together investigators, cryptocurrency experts and data scientists in a coordinated push to track down … the most egregious tax offenders in the world.” Experts from each country were put into teams and tasked with generating leads based on new data available to them through the challenge, which led to dozens of identifications. An official statement says that cybercrime and the threat of cryptocurrencies to tax administration is one of the main focus areas of the J5 and they seek to make the best use of internationally available data and technology to confront it.
IRS Cryptocurrency Guidance Answers Some Questions While Raising Messy New Ones- The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) updated its guidance on transactions involving virtual currencies with a new frequently asked questions page and Revenue Ruling 2019-24. The guidance largely expands upon IRS Notice 2014-21, which designated virtual currencies as property for tax purposes. These announcements have clarified the tax consequences of blockchain forks and provided information about calculating the basis. The blockchain policy advocate Coin Center has scrutinized particular aspects of the guidance by arguing that some terminology is conflated and that tax obligation may remain uncertain for taxpayers. Relatedly, the IRS has released a draft version of an updated Form 1040, Schedule 1, which includes the question, “[a]t any time during 2019, did you receive, sell, send, exchange, or otherwise acquire any financial interest in any virtual currency?”
International Tax Enforcement Roundup- The United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS) sent a second round of warning letters to cryptocurrency investors. Approximately 10,000 letters were sent last month warning cryptocurrency owners who “potentially failed to report” their holdings. The new letter states that, by using information from third parties, the IRS has found a discrepancy in the reported income of the individual, which may result in tax adjustments or penalties.
IRS Sending Letters to Virtual Currency Holders- The Internal Revenue Service is sending letters to taxpayers with virtual currency transactions that may have failed to disclose income and pay taxes in accordance with the 2014 guidanceon virtual currency. "Taxpayers should take these letters very seriously by reviewing their tax filings and when appropriate, amend past returns and pay back taxes, interest, and penalties," said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. "The IRS is expanding our efforts involving virtual currency, including increased use of data analytics. We are focused on enforcing the law and helping taxpayers fully understand and meet their obligations." By the end of August, more than 10,000 taxpayers will receive a version of this letter.
IRS to issue first cryptocurrency guidance since 2014 "soon"- The IRS stated it will soon issue cryptocurrency tax guidance, having only done so in a limited way in 2014. Responding to a letter from Rep. Tom Emmert, member of the congressional blockchain office, sent 11 April, Commissioner Charles P. Rettig outlined the ways in which the IRS would address issues related to the handling of cryptocurrency, including 1) cost basis, 2) methods of cost basis assignment and 3) the treatment of forks, adding “I share your belief that taxpayers deserve clarity” and that the updates on these issues would come “soon.” Responded Rep. Emmer, “Taxpayers deserve clarity on several basic questions regarding federal taxation of these emerging exchanges of value. I look forward to seeing their forthcoming proposal, and working together to serve the American taxpayers.”
Tax Day: Bipartisan Members of Congress urge IRS for tax and accounting guidance on crypto assets- In recognition of Monday’s tax deadline, twenty-one Members of Congress sent a letter last week to the IRS urging more “robust guidance” around accounting and tax handling of cryptocurrency.The bipartisan letter focused on three core elements: 1) reasonable standards for calculating the cost basis of crypto assets, 2) methods of determining capital gains, and 3) the tax treatment of forks. The letter asked for a response outlining next steps by May 15th, one month from tax day. The IRS did not respond to a similar letter last year, and they have not updated their cryptocurrency guidance since 2014.
NYDFS Grants BitLicense to Fidelity Digital Asset Services- The New York State Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) granted Fidelity Digital Asset Services, LLC (FDAS), a charter to operate as a limited liability trust company and engage in virtual currency business activities. FDAS is a subsidiary of the financial services company Fidelity, which has approximately $7 trillion in assets under administration and received the 23rd license or charter from the NYDFS to operate within the state. In a statement, the COO of FDAS said the “custody and trade execution services that we provide are essential building blocks for institutional investors’ continued adoption of digital assets.”
NYDFS Approves Two Stablecoins- The New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) approved the first gold-backed ERC-20 stablecoin (PAXG) for issuance by the current “BitLicensee” Paxos. NYDFS additionally approved another dollar-backed stablecoin (BUSD), which will also be issued by Paxos and released pursuant to a partnership with Binance. A Binance press release indicates that Paxos will be the USD custodian and issuer of BUSD tokens, but the tokens will soon be available for trading against various cryptoasset pairs on Binance’s exchange.
Two more companies received the coveted NYDFS BitLicense, which is required for cryptocurrency exchanges to operate in the state of New York. One is the retail brokerage firm Robinhood, which offers services for buying, selling, and storing seven different virtual currencies. The other is LibertyX, which "is the first DFS virtual currency licensee to allow customers to use debit cards to purchase Bitcoin from traditional ATMs."
USA / OFAC
US Treasury Sanctions Russian Bank Over Links to Venezuela’s Petro- The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has sanctioned Evrofinance Mosnarbank, a Russian bank, for supporting a Venezuelan state-owned oil company and financing Venezuela’s “Petro” cryptocurrency project. According to the Treasury’spress release, “early investors in the Petro were invited to buy the cryptocurrency by wiring funds to a Venezuelan government account at Evrofinance.”
SEC Charged Fraudulent ICO Issuer and Pennsylvania Man Indicted for SIM swapping- The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed a complaint against an ICO issuer and its founder for selling over $40 million in tokens in the Shopin ICO before over $500k of the funds were misappropriated for personal expenses. However, the SEC charges come after the New York State Attorney General criminally convicted the Shopin CEO over the same conduct. Separately, two Canadian nationals pleaded guilty to charges related to creating a fake Twitter account that imitated an Asian cryptocurrency exchange representative and then using it to steal login credentials and funds from a user. Finally, a 23-year old Pennsylvania man was indicted for stealing millions of dollars in a SIM-swapping scheme that was then spent on a Ferrari, a Rolex watch, and the royalty rights to twenty songs.
The Financial Stability Oversight Board, comprised of leaders from the U.S. Treasury Department, SEC, Fed, CFTC, and other agencies, published their annual report that discusses the risks of digital assets. For example, the report says “if a stablecoin became widely adopted as a means of payment or store of value, disruptions to the stablecoin system could affect the financial system and the wider economy, warranting greater regulatory scrutiny.”
Fraudster Gets Extradited, SIM Swappers Arrested, ICO Issuer Pleads Guilty- A Swedish citizen located in Thailand was extradited to the U.S. to face criminal charges surrounding an investment scheme that allegedly defrauded more than 3,500 victims out of $11 million in virtual currencies such as bitcoin. Two Massachusetts men, ages 20 and 21, have been arrested and charged with stealing or attempting to steal over $550,000 in cryptocurrencies from executives and those with high value or “OG” (“Original Gangster”) social media accounts by SIM swapping the victims. Maksim Zaslavskiy pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit securities fraud in connection with two initial coin offerings, with the tokens allegedly backed by real estate and diamonds. The “worthless certificates” that were sold by Zaslavskiy were not “backed by blockchain technology” or the promised real estate holdings or diamonds. The criminal case against Zaslavsky gained attention while it was being litigated due to it being one of the first instances of a U.S. court recognizing that U.S. securities laws apply to ICOs. Additionally, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has won a final judgment against the issuer of VERI tokens and an Alabama man pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography following the takedown of Welcome to Video.
SEC Grants No-Action Letter, Crypto-Miner Files to Go Public, and Kik Litigates “Vagueness”- The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued a No-Action Letter to the Paxos Trust Company explaining that the SEC would not recommend enforcement actions with regard to the Paxos Settlement Service, which is a blockchain-based securities settlement platform. Following this No-Action relief, Paxos will begin settlement soon for their initial participants, Credit Suisse and Société Générale. The second-largest cryptocurrency miner manufacturer, China-based Canaan Creative, has filed a registration statement for approval with the SEC, in efforts to become publicly traded on a U.S. exchange. While the filing shows that the company seeks to raise $400 million in the offering, it also highlights certain risk factors in potentially owning the stock, such as the risk that “customers comply with sanctions imposed by the Office of Foreign Asset Control,” or that the “policies and procedures for the detection and prevention of money laundering … may not completely eliminate instances in which we or our products may be used by other parties to engage in money laundering.” The messaging platform Kik is also litigating the applicability of the “void for vagueness” defense after the SEC brought an enforcement action against the company for their 2017 ICO of “KIN” tokens.
SEC Denies BitWise ETF and Halts Telegram’s $1.7 Billion ICO- The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) disapproved a proposed rule change that would have allowed a national securities exchange, NYSE Arca, to list and trade shares of the BitWise Bitcoin ETF Trust. Similar to other crypto-ETF denials, the SEC’s Order emphasized that NYSE Arca did not adequately demonstrate that the proposed rules related to the ETF were “designed to prevent fraudulent and manipulative acts and practices.” Separately, the SEC has halted Telegram’s $1.7 billion ICO of the “Gram,” the native asset of the anticipated Telegram Open Network (TON) blockchain, by obtaining a temporary restraining order and filing a complaint in federal court. The timing of the enforcement action coincides with the impending release of Gram tokens, which was scheduled for October 31, but reportedly may now be pushed back. Commentators on the case have noted that legal uncertainty around Telegram’s use of certain regulatory exemptions and initially selling “Gram Purchase Agreements” to accredited U.S. investors may have raised a “chicken-and-egg problem." The logic is arguably circular because regulatory trends indicate that the public cannot be sold cryptoassets until they are fully-functional, but many cryptoassets are not functional unless they are sufficiently decentralized and thus already owned by the public.
Defendants Charged in Fraudulent ICO to Pay Nearly $7 Million- The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) settled claims against the two principals behind the PlexCoin ICO, which raised millions of dollars in 2017 from the sale of their allegedly fraudulent Ethereum-based token. Without admitting or denying the allegations contained in the SEC’s complaint, which was filed in 2017, the defendants agreed to pay almost $7 million in disgorgement and civil penalties. Notably, the public court dockets reflect that one of the principals violated the asset freeze order that was issued at the outset of the litigation by dissipating thousands of dollars worth of BTC in order to lease a new Mercedes SUV and pay off credit card bills. The dockets also show that the SEC used Chainalysis’s Reactor software to make that determination and successfully substantiated their claims by providing the court with numerous Reactor graphs to buttress their arguments for expanding the scope of the asset freeze.
SEC Settles Multiple Cases With ICO Issuers- The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced settled charges against two separate companies that each issued securities to fund the development of blockchain networks. Block.one settled charges relating to the unregistered sale of 900 million ERC-20 tokens that over the course of a year raised “several billion dollars” for the development and promotion of EOS. The settlement was silent on the regulatory status of EOS and the company was given a civil penalty of $24 million. Nebulous, Inc., the company building the decentralized data storage network Sia, settled claims with the Commission for raising $120k with the sale of “Sianotes” in 2014 and converting the “Sianotes” into “Siafunds” in 2015. According to a Sia press release, “[a]s reflected in the settled order, the SEC did not take any enforcement action with respect to the Siacoin token or any current activity on the Sia network.”
SEC Charges ICO Incubator and Founder for Unregistered Offering and Unregistered Broker Activity- The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission brought an enforcement action against ICOBox and its founder, Nikolay Evdokimov, for selling about $14.6 million worth of “ICOS” tokens to more than 2,000 investors. The complaint alleges that along with selling their own unregistered securities, ICOBox served as an unregistered broker for dozens of other ICOs, which cumulatively raised over $650 million. One project that used the defendant’s company as a broker for fundraising, Paragon Coin, already faced scrutiny by the SEC for selling $12 million worth of tokens in 2017. In a settlement, Paragon ultimately admitted that their tokens were securities. The SEC is seeking disgorgement, civil penalties, and a judgment that would permanently enjoin the defendants from further federal securities law violations. Relatedly, the SEC settled a separate ICO case whereby a fraudulent adult entertainment business lied about the existence of a management team and raised approximately $63k from 100 investors.
Securities Regulation: Tokenized IPOs, Bitcoin ETFs, and NASDAQ’s DeFi Index- The first initial public offering of tokenized equity on a national securities exchange is underway in the Republic of Seychelles. The MERJ Exchange is the only licensed securities exchange in Seychelles and the company is listing its own company equity on its trading platform, which will be represented by an Ethereum token. Meanwhile, in the U.S., the Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Jay Clayton, discussed the possibility of a bitcoin ETF in a CNBC interview where he stated “progress is being made” and cited “not trivial questions” such as custody and market manipulation that needed to be addressed before approval. Furthermore, NASDAQ revealed a new index that tracks decentralized finance (DeFi) projects, such as Augur (REP) and 0x (ZRX) tokens, which will be available under the ticker symbol: DEFX.
SEC Charges Dallas Company and its Founders With Defrauding Investors in Unregistered Offering and Operating Unregistered Digital Asset Exchange- The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced and settled charges against Bitqyck Inc., along with its two founders, for selling more than $13 million worth of unregistered securities to more than 13,000 investors. The promoters falsely claimed that ERC-20 “bitqy” tokens represented shares of stock that were issued pursuant to a nonexistent “smart contract” and the stock’s value stemmed from the company’s ownership of a fictitious cryptocurrency mining facility. The company went so far as creating their own exchange platform in order to sell the tokens, which added additional charges. The company must disgorge the money and pay a civil penalty of about $8.3 million, while the founders must pay disgorgement and civil penalties of over $850,000 apiece.
SEC Freezes $8 Million in Fraudulent Token Offering Scheme- The Securities and Exchange Commission announced fraud charges against a Brooklyn individual and two entities under his control. Reginald Middleton, a “financial guru” and his entities (collectively, “Veritaseum”), allegedly sold securities called “VERI” tokens online. The defendants allegedly misled investors by claiming to have a product that generates revenue, making inflated claims about the demand for their tokens, and fictionalizing prior business ventures to add legitimacy to their venture. The complaint further alleges that Middleton manipulated the price of the VERI tokens trading on an unregistered digital asset platform. The complaint also states that Middleton recently moved a significant portion of the investor assets to his personal account. The SEC’s complaint charges the accused with violating antifraud provisions of U.S. securities laws, as well as manipulative trading, and seeks an Officer and Director bar for Middleton.
Crypto Mom Addresses SEC Regulation- Securities and Exchange Commissioner and “Crypto Mom” Hester Pierce commented on the SEC’s handling of cryptocurrency at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference. “As you can see with the way our guidance is trickling out, it takes us a really long time to make decisions. Regulators tend not to be that nimble,” she said, addressing a question on whether the U.S. is “forfeiting innovation” to countries with a more progressive regulatory regime. Pierce commented that last week’s staff statement “gave us an idea of some of the things that are troubling us in this space,” but lacked “clarity” and “a road forward” for regulating security tokens. Addressing fraud, Pierce said, “People who want to steal money from other people craft their fraud around what’s popular today, and crypto happens to be pretty popular.”
SEC, FINRA Issue Explanation of Cryptocurrency Custodian Approval Delay- Last Monday, the SEC and FINRA issued a joint statement addressing pending applications by cryptocurrency firms wishing to register as broker-dealers. The statement, authored by the SEC’s division of trading and markets and FINRA’s office of the general counsel, enumerated the key scenarios, questions, and concerns that the committee must address before approving applications, including:
The Customer Protection Rule: The Customer Protection Rule requires broker-dealers to safeguard customer assets and to keep them separate from the firm’s assets, to increase the likelihood that customers’ securities and cash can be returned to them in the event of the broker-dealer’s failure.
Book- and record-keeping rules: The nature of distributed ledger technology and digital asset securities may make it difficult for a broker-dealer to evidence the existence of digital asset securities for regulatory books, records, and financial statements, including supporting schedules.
Securities Investor Protection Act of 1970: Uncertainty regarding when and whether a broker-dealer holds a digital asset security creates greater risk for customers that their securities will not be able to be returned in the event of a broker-dealer failure.
SEC Sues Alleged Cryptocurrency Pyramid Scheme Operator- The SEC filed a civil injunctive action against a California man accused of running a pyramid scheme from January 2017 through March 2018. During that time, Mr. Pacheco, a resident of San Clemente California, raised $26m USD from investors to sell instructional packages that included e-commerce training through his iPro brand. Investors who contributed additional funds could earn cash commissions and additional convertible “points,” which could be converted into a nonexistent “PRO” cryptocurrency by recruiting new investors. The collapse was hastened by the fraudulent use of funds by Pacheco, who purchased a $2.5m house in cash and a Rolls Royce. The SEC alleges that Pacheco operated a pyramid scheme and failed to register with the SEC as a seller of securities in his offer of financial products to investors.
SEC delays awaited decision on VanEck Bitcoin ETF- The SEC has delayed its decision on Bitcoin ETFs, in this case asking for more comments on a plan by Cboe to list an ETF from VanEck Associates and SolidX Partners. To date, no Bitcoin ETFs have been approved. The delay does not “indicate that the Commission has reached any conclusions with respect to any of the issues involved,” the regulator said. The SEC previously postponed making a decision on the fund and rejected a request last year from an exchange seeking to list a Bitcoin ETF. Public comments from SEC Commissioner Hester Peirce last week were seen to indicate positive developments for these kinds of regulated products.
Blockstack Files With SEC to Raise $50 Million in Reg-A+ Crypto Token Sale- Blockstack, the company founded in 2017 to create the infrastructure for a decentralized internet, announced its intent to use the Regulation A+ exemption to raise $50m USD in a token sale. This is the first time a prospective token issuer has opted for this particular exemption from registration, which would allow tokens to be sold to the public. If approved, Blockstack would not be required to only seek funds exclusively from accredited investors, which is the case in other types of exemptions such as private placements. Additionally, Blockstack’s regulatory filing named Harvard University’s Endowment as an early investor.
SEC Chairman Clayton Just Confirmed Commission Staff Analysis That Found Ethereum (And Cryptos Like It) Are Not Securities- The Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission has responded to a bipartisan letter sent by U.S. Representative Ted Budd (R-NC) last September that concerned the applicability of federal security laws to ICOs. The Chairman’s response elaborated upon contemporary guidance on the subject, such as the SEC’s fake ICO promotional webpage www.howeycoins.com, the DAO Report, and recent speeches made by Commissioners. Most notably the Chairman’s letter confirmed the remarks made by SEC Director Hinman that ETH no longer meets the Howey test and thus does not constitute a security.
The SEC recently announced that an ICO issuer, Gladius Network, settled charges of running an unregistered securities offering after receiving a cease-and-desist order to halt further violations and return investor funds. This was the first instance of an ICO issuer receiving an enforcement action of this type that did not result in a civil penalty because Gladius self-reported to the SEC, expressed an interest in taking prompt remedial steps, and cooperated with the investigation. This also exemplifies the SEC’s public stance that "there is a path to compliance with the federal securities laws going forward, even where issuers have conducted an illegal unregistered offering of digital asset securities."
In California, a man has pled guilty to the first felony charges filed in relation to the operation of an unlicensed money remittance business that utilized a Bitcoin ATM kiosk. The case involved laundering over $25 million for darknet drug dealers and, due to additional narcotics charges, the man could face up to life in prison.
In Colorado, an Australian national was sentenced to over 1 year in prison for his role in a money laundering operation that used Bitcoin.
City of Baltimore Hit by Ransomware Attack, NSA Developed Exploit- For nearly a month, Baltimore has been under a cyber attack that has disrupted many of the municipal functions of the city. This week The New York Times reported that a major part of the malware used in the attack had been developed by the National Security Agency (NSA). The NSA tool, known as EternalBlue, was created for intelligence-gathering and counterterrorism missions. But in May 2017, a malicious unidentified group known as the Shadow Brokers dumped the code online and it has since fallen into the hands of foreign intelligence agencies and rogue actors. Microsoft was alerted to the breach one month before the dump by the NSA and issued a patch. However, older municipal networks like Baltimore’s remain vulnerable to exploitation by bad actors. The incident has brought more attention to the proliferation of cyberweapons, weaknesses in critical municipal systems, and the debate on the ethics of state developed cyber-weapons.
New York Regulator Details Changes to Contentious BitLicense- The New York State Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) is seeking comments from stakeholders and the general public on proposed guidance for entities already holding a BitLicense. The suggested rules would cover the types of virtual currencies the entities would be allowed to offer New Yorkers. NYDFS offers two suggested approaches, a website that has a running list of the types of assets that are allowed to be traded or a model framework for each licensee to assess listing assets for themselves. The proposed model framework would examine criteria for assets such as governance, risk, and monitoring.
In Oregon, two Canadian nationals were indicted for defrauding cryptocurrency users on Twitter through the use of misleading usernames, such as @HitBTCAssist, which led victims to believe they were talking to customer support representatives from HitBTC, a crypto asset exchange in Hong Kong. One of the accused Canadians remains at large and is believed to be in Canada.
Texas Regulator Stops Two Cryptocurrency Offerings As Second Regulatory Sweep Concludes- The Texas State Securities Board issued two Emergency Cease and Desist Orders at the conclusion of their second regulatory sweep of fraudulent cryptocurrency-related offerings. PK Crypto solicited cryptocurrency investment plans on social media platforms by claiming to be regulated financial advisors that manage $50 million in assets and $150 million in investments. The company also claimed that shares currently listed on a securities exchange were issued by them, when in reality the ticker symbol belonged to an unrelated third-party. CP Miner sought investments by claiming to be an “expert Bitcoin miner” that could yield investment returns as high as “50 percent per day for a term of 30 days.”
Bitcoin Crackdown in Texas- Texas Securities Commissioner Travis J. Iles has announced an Emergency Cease and Desist Order against a Forex and bitcoin trader who advertises on Craigslist that he can achieve a 900% return in 14 days. The trader is claiming to be a licensed broker but is not registered with the Securities Commissioner as a dealer or agent. Additionally, the trader states that it has an insurance policy and a balance sheet with sufficient net capital to guarantee returns. The Texas State Securities Board was the first state regulator to enter an enforcement order against a cryptocurrency firm, and to date, the Commissioner has entered 24 administrative orders involving 62 individuals and entities.
Crypto Exchange Upbit Confirms Theft of $49M in Ether- The South Korean cryptocurrency exchange Upbit announced that 342,000 ether, worth nearly $50 million, were stolen from the exchange, but the losses will reportedly be covered by the exchange’s assets. Upbit is the seventh cryptocurrency exchange to face a major theft this year. Additionally, another Asia-based exchange, IDAX, suspended deposits and withdraws after the exchange’s CEO went missing, leaving many stakeholders to speculate that the executive may have absconded with users’ funds.
Venezuela’s Maduro Says He Will Airdrop Half a Petro Each to Public Employees, Retirees- The disputed President of Venezuela, Nicholas Maduro, announced that public employees, retirees, and military veterans will receive a “Christmas bonus” of 0.5 Petro, a cryptocurrency issued by the government of Venezuela supposedly backed the country's oil and mineral reserves. To receive the funds, they must register for an account on the state-sponsored cryptoasset exchange and payment platform called PetroApp. The government-published exchange rate for the oil-backed Petro tokens indicates this would roughly equal $30 and the Petro tokens can reportedly be traded for other cryptocurrencies on the app. Petros were explicitly placed under U.S. economic sanctions last year and earlier this year a Russian bank was under scrutiny for dealing in Petros.
The Economic Impact of Ether Whales on the Market- Chainalysis’s latest economic research examines large Ethereum holders and their impact on price and volatility. As covered in Bloomberg both Ethereum and Bitcoin are characterized by ownership concentration; 20% of Bitcoin is held by 488 whales, and 30% of Ethereum held by 376 whales. However, these whales aren’t making big splashes: trading volume is weak compared to the size of these positions, indicating that their price effects are minimal, to date. Generally, whales are in fact long-term holders of the cryptocurrencies, with 60% of whales often not engaging with exchanges at all. When they do transact with exchanges, some knock-on effects on volatility may be felt for a day or two.
WisdomTree, an exchange traded product (ETP) sponsor and asset manager with over $60 billion under management, launched their physically-backed Bitcoin ETP for professional investors on the Swiss SIX stock exchange. A WisdomTree executive told reporters that Swissquote Bank would custody the underlying bitcoin in cold storage.
World Federation of Exchanges
Global Exchanges Urge Britain Not to Ban Crypto-Linked Derivatives- The World Federation of Exchanges (WFE) responded to a Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) consultation paper titled “Prohibiting the sale to retail clients of investment products that reference cryptoassets” that was released in July. The proposed rules from the UK’s financial regulator would prohibit non-accredited investors from trading cryptoasset derivatives due to their extreme volatility and inherent complexity, which according to the FCA has already cost retail British traders between £75m and £234.3m in investment losses. The WFE pushed back with arguments relating to the fact that retail traders should be allowed to trade innovative products through regulated intermediaries. The Economist also covered this story and relied in part on Chainalysis data for their analysis of the cryptocurrency derivatives markets.
BA in Economics. BS in Finance. Hostess of the Crypt Keepers’ Club. Passionate about research and data. I don’t fold sheets, I spread them.
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