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No Saudi Crypto Ban After All, UAE Partnership Reveals

No Saudi Crypto Ban After All, UAE Partnership Reveals

Media outlet GulfNews reported today on United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) recent blockchain undertaking involving central bank collaboration with Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (Sama) to develop a cross-border cryptocurrency.

In a recent meeting on global banking standards and regulatory and supervisory priorities, Governor of the UAE’s Central Bank Mubarak Rashed Al Mansouri said: “This is probably the first time ever that witnesses the cooperation of monetary authorities from different countries on this topic.” And being the first of its kind in the region, he hopes that it will lead to similar regional collaborations.

Al Mansouri hinted on the current inclination, as being a “study between UAE and Saudi [Arabia]”, and the essential framework, though not yet structured, will be between banks and not consumers.

This comes off as a huge step from previous positions – the UAE Central Bank previously did not endorse digital currencies such as Bitcoin because of its speculative nature and risks involved. Further, in August, Saudi Arabia banned cryptocurrencies because of the high risk since the government doesn’t control Bitcoin.

However, recent developments such as ripple’s partnership with Saudi Arabia’s biggest bank National Commercial Bank of Saudi Arabia (NCB) gives hope to the development of the fintech venture in the region.

According to the GulfNews, Al Mansouri recognizes the recent development in fintech as both a challenge and an opportunity and that the best position would be to understand the risks and work on ways to mitigate them.

The Central Bank of UAE has already taken initiative into developing fintech regulations regarding cryptocurrencies. Al Mansouri said: “We started developing regulations in this regard in 2016 in order to safeguard the financial system and protect consumers. The project is at a final stage.”

It would seem there’s a future for blockchain and maybe cryptocurrencies as well in the Middle East as recent steps towards incorporating blockchain into the fintech and non-fintech spheres has proven to be promising. Last week, Bitcoin News reported on Abu Dhabi’s financial institutions’ success on phase 1 of their blockchain e-KYC solution.

 

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Abu Dhabi Oil Joins IBM to Explore Blockchain for Supply Chain

Abu Dhabi Oil Joins IBM to Explore Blockchain for Supply Chain

The Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) has announced its collaboration with IBM to develop a blockchain-based supply chain system for its daily output of 3 billion barrels of oil and 10.5 cubic feet of natural gas.

The announcement was made at the recent World Energy Capital Assembly event in London, where ADNOC Digital Unit Manager Abdul Nasser Al Mughairbi said, “We believe this could be the first application of blockchain in oil and gas production accounting anywhere in the world.”

The pilot project as reported in the release will involve the development of an automated system to integrate financial accountability of oil and gas production throughout the “full value chain”. This implies that the corporation will be able to track transactions and volumes of oil produced within its system.

The objective of the collaboration is to enable ADNOC to explore blockchain potentials in improving cost and time efficiency between operating companies. According to the state-owned oil company, the new technology will shave off valuable time for ADNOC operating companies when executing transactions.

ADNOC’s adoption of blockchain will improve cost tracking activities of oil and gas products, as well as by-products such as condensates, natural gas liquid and sulphur, which are “exchanged between ADNOC’s operating companies and also exported to customers overseas”.

IBM’s Chemicals and Petroleum Solutions VP Zahid Habib said, “With this pilot, ADNOC takes a massive leap forward in asset provenance and asset financials… reinvent [its] hydrocarbon value chain… accelerating ADNOC towards their 2030 vision”, which includes cost efficiency.

ADNOC is one of the world’s leading diversified energy and petrochemicals groups and according to Oil & Gas Journal, it holds a major portion of the seventh-largest oil reserves of the world located in the UAE.

ADNOC CEO HE Dr Sultan Al Jaber, at the Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition and Conference (ADIPEC), said, “… the world is on the verge of an era of unprecedented prosperity. This will be driven, he said, by rapid advances in technology and a global middle class, which will grow to five billion people by 2030.”

Despite the cryptocurrency market downturn this year, blockchain development with the UAE industries continues in a steadfast manner.

Last week, Abu Dhabi financial institutions completed Phase 1 of blockchain e-KYC aimed at testing the operational and technological values of a blockchain-based KYC system while adapting its infrastructure to current businesses with sustainable models.

Not too far back, the UAE Bank performed its first Sharia-compliant bonds transaction on the blockchain, paving the way for innovative digitized Islamic Sukuk.

 

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Abu Dhabi Financial Institutions Complete Phase 1 of Blockchain e-KYC

Abu Dhabi Financial Institutions Complete Phase 1 of Blockchain e-KYC

The Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) has declared that the first phase of its blockchain-based electronic-Know-Your-Customer (e-KYC) utility project has been completed successfully.

The e-KYC project was launched in March of this year by a consortium consisting of Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank, Al Ansari Exchange, Al Fardan Exchange, First Abu Dhabi Bank, and UAE Exchange, with the Financial Services Regulatory Authority (FSRA) of ADGM taking the lead.

The goal was to test the operational and technological values of a blockchain-based KYC system, and have a framework that adapts to any form of business with a sustainable model.

CEO of the FSRA of ADGM Richard Teng said, “By harnessing the power of technologies such as blockchain, the e-KYC project has demonstrated tangible benefits that may be offered by an e-KYC utility for financial institutions in the UAE. In addition to enhancing KYC checks across the industry, the utility can achieve significant cost efficiencies and financial inclusion driven by unified KYC standards.”

After four months of trial, the review committee, along with auditing firm KPMG published a report detailing a “successful” first phase test of the e-KYC project.

As part of the development process, FSRA in consultation with the consortium also developed a “governance framework and business model on which the e-KYC utility can operate on an inclusive and sustainable basis”.

Four key insights were provided, one of which included the use of blockchain environment as an important facilitator of the e-KYC platform in determining the validity of KYC documentation: “Consortium members can successfully share and validate simulated KYC documentation and data updates about the client on the prototype in a secure environment, supported by blockchain technology.”

Another aspect of the report described the product as being compliant with up-to-date data protection requirements, stating that “individual clients can be empowered to decide how their personal data can be shared in the utility, enabling conformance with data protection (GDPR) requirements”.

After a satisfactory completion of the first phase, the second phase is to begin by facilitating SME access to banking services.

For Abu Dhabi, this is an important milestone for blockchain development, especially with regards to mainstream application in the traditional financial markets. On the cryptocurrency side of things, efforts towards standardizing the industry are also being considered, with Abu Dhabi’s head financial regulator calling for internationally-standardized regulations for cryptocurrencies to prevent both criminal activities and their negative impacts on the image of virtual currencies.

 

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Africa and the Middle East: Crypto and Blockchain News Roundup, 23rd to 29th November 2018

Africa

Africa and the Middle East

Welcome to our weekly roundup of all important blockchain and cryptocurrency news from around the world. Follow the latest developments in the cryptocurrency space continent by continent, country by country.

South Africa

New draft tax law could have crypto implication: A South African law firm’s analysis of the recent draft law published by the national treasury regulator could have negative implications for the cryptocurrency sector. 

According to Cox Yeats Attorneys based in Durban, the recent Taxation Laws Amendment Bill will be bad for the digital currency industry. The bill is the first attempt by the government to regulate the cryptocurrency industry which has largely remained unregulated till now. The proposed changes include revisions to the Income Tax Act and Value Added Tax Act.

Nigeria

Union Bank warns against crypto usage: The Union Bank of Nigeria has cautioned the public against using cryptocurrencies and their transactions according to a letter sent to its users on 26 November.

The letter was published at popular Nigerian online community portal Nairaland which has over 55 million users. The community saw a letter being circulated citing the Central Bank of Nigeria saying that cryptocurrencies are not legal tender and cautioning against transacting in them.

According to the bank: “In order to guarantee the security of our customers’ funds, Union Bank will monitor accounts being used for cryptocurrency transactions and may impose restrictions including closure of such accounts.”

While the Union Bank of Nigeria is a commercially run bank with assets worth USD 4.1 billion, it suggests that even the private banking sector is not keen on adopting cryptocurrencies.

Kenya

Central bank digital currency under discussion: A Kenyan author has recently analyzed the case for a Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) in the country. While the Nigerian currency itself is quite prone to inflation, it pales next to the recent price tank of cryptocurrencies in the market so the topic can be a challenging one for the government.

The analysis points out that even though the creation of CBDCs is usually aimed at fixing the issues with the current system, the idea is invariably tied to the whole concept of cryptocurrencies and how they can ideologically not be manipulated by governments. It observes that a CBDC will probably be open for government manipulation and thus it will lose its original purpose. The Nigerian government is advised to think long and hard before embarking on any attempt to launch one.

Uganda

Government looking to regulate crypto as fake schemes proliferate: The Ugandan government is looking to regulate cryptocurrencies in the country after witnessing a recent increase in crypto-related scams.

Minister of State for Finance Planning David Bahati revealed this week that the government was finalizing a bill on national digital payments that has a focus on cryptocurrencies as well. This bill will be given to the parliament for approval in December.

Specifics regarding the new law are not available at the moment but it is expected that cryptocurrency scams are being singled out in the country.

Israel

Businessman charged with ICO embezzlement: A “cryptopreneur” has reportedly been arrested in Israel on embezzlement charges in connection with his role with two Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) and their missing funds.

According to Israeli media outlets, the court case was initiated by 17 affectees of the ICOs and their defunct binary company AnyOption against Moshe Hogeg, a cryptocurrency entrepreneur. According to reports, issues between the coin holders and Hogeg arose after he failed to meet deadlines. Eventually, he was accused of being involved in the funds going missing.

 

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Bahrain Kicks Off Country’s First Blockchain Academy

The Bahrain Institute of Banking and Finance (BIBF) has released a statement in which it has announced the tiny Arab nation’s first-ever “Blockchain Academy”.

Under the umbrella of the Specific Council for Vocational Training, BIBF is a non-profit and semi-government setup dedicated to training people in the financial sector. Setting up the academy would allow the institute to train and create experts in the decentralized field. The institute has also partnered with Dubai’s MyLearning Key to offer a world-class Certified Blockchain Professional (C|BP) qualification.

The certification is a three-pronged approach to blockchain technology, designed for rapid and thorough implementation of key steps in making the technology available to the industry: development, execution and strategization. According to Dr Ahmed Al Shaikh, the director at BIBF, the C|BP qualification is designed to “support the growing demand for skilled blockchain professionals”.

Bahrain is fast tracking itself to adopt and adapt the decentralized technology. Only a couple of months ago, the government acknowledged the importance of technology for the economy of the Arab nation. Even the Minister of Electricity and Water Affairs, Abdulhussain Mirza, supported the use of the technology, saying, “Technologies such as blockchain take us a huge step forward in finding a secure way to facilitate transactions.”

Bahrain is not the only country that is offering blockchain technology related qualifications. Plekhanov Russian University of Economics, in partnership with blockchain firm Bitfury, has created a blockchain accelerator program that includes educational modules. It hopes to train”specialists who are able to create innovative projects using digital technologies in a short time”.

University of Tokyo is also launching a blockchain-based course that will focus on decentralized solutions and implementation.

 

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UAE Bank Performs First Sharia-Compliant Bonds Transaction on Blockchain

According to a Reuters report today, UAE- based Al Hilal Bank has successfully executed “the world’s first sukuk transaction” using blockchain technology.

Sukuk is a form of a financial instrument used primarily in the Islamic world. This Sharia-compliant bond gives the opportunity to investors to profit with variable returns. Fixed interest is prohibited in Islam and thus, regular instruments are not viable for practicing Muslims.

According to the details of the Reuters report, Al Hilal used blockchain “to sell and settle in the secondary market a small portion of its USD 500 million five-year sukuk and through this effort, “Al Hilal Bank is aiming to transform the sukuk market through embracing blockchain and integrating it into their infrastructure, paving the way for innovative digitized Islamic sukuk.”

The deal, as informed by a spokeswoman of Al Hilal Bank, was valued at USD 1 million and was done with the help of Jibrel Network, a Switzerland-based fintech company.

The current year has seen the rise of many Sharia-compliant platforms as the industry gives a serious consideration for the largely unexplored Muslim market. With the followers of Islam making up a quarter of the world’s population, Sharia compliance opens up a whole new market is a major boost in businesses.

The start of November has already seen X8 AG, a Swiss startup receiving a Sharia-compliant certification by the Shariyah Review Bureau in connection with their Ethereum-based stablecoin.

The Bureau has also released a set of proposal to Stellar on how to deploy their transactional platform in financial institutions that work under the Sharia code. As such, the decentralized platform for distributed payments is the first DLT protocol that has been certified by the bureau.

 

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Africa and the Middle East: Crypto and Blockchain News Roundup 16-22 November 2018

Africa and the Middle East

Welcome to another weekly blockchain news roundup from around the world. Here we present to you all the latest Bitcoin news continent by continent and country by country.

African Union

Rhino Coin Maybe the Answer to Africa’s Rhinoceros Poaching Problem: A new startup in South Africa is using blockchain technology to record and verify rhino horns harvested from private farms in the country. The new solution could open new doors for preserving wild rhinoceros in the continent where much of the rhino horn trade has been banned yet not close to being stopped.

The new project called Rhino coin aims to create a new coin for every gram of horn via blockchain technology to create an incorruptible database for verifying legal rhino horns. Rhino coins can be purchased through local fiat Rand and can be traded on exchanges.

But, it is yet to be seen how Rhino coin can be adopted in the vast continent where illegal poaching is widespread.

Nigeria

Opposition Leader Pledges Cryptocurrency Policy if Elected: Ahead of the new elections, the country’s main opposition leader and candidate for president Atiku Abubakar has pledged a new pro-crypto policy in the country if he manages to win the election next year.

According to Abubakar, the policy will focus on blockchain education starting from the primary level up till university. He also promised to reform the digital currencies.

More than 50 candidates are taking part in the elections in the biggest African country with Abubakar as one of the leading contenders in the race.

Israel

Investment Firm Launches three New Cryptocurrency Investment Funds: An Israeli investment firm has announced the creation of two new cryptocurrency funds in the sector.

Silver Castle, the investment group has been described as one of the first pro-crypto investment firms in the country for accredited investors. CEO Ali Mizroch said that the first two funds have been launched in the Cayman Islands.

He continued:

“The first fund is algo-based, momentum-driven, long [and] short on bitcoin and top five [crypto]currencies. The second is smart beta, fully-invested in the top 10 coins. We aim to launch our third fund, a VC fund, that will participate in token offerings, in Q1 2019.”

The two funds will reportedly have up to $50 million in investments by the end of the year.

Saudi Arabia

Government Pondering Over Launching a National Cryptocurrency in Partnership with UAE: Saudi Arabia is opening up to the idea of a national cryptocurrency with the government of UAE reportedly onboard.

According to Mohsen Al Zahrani, the Head of Innovation at the Saudi Monetary Authority (SAMA), the country is looking to partner with UAE on the idea of a new cryptocurrency coin that will be released as early as 2019. The financial regulator will reveal more details in the near future regarding the feasibility of the project.

Bahrain

Government Signs Memorandum of Understanding with China Regarding Cryptocurrency Projects:  The government of Bahrain has signed a series of MoUs with Chinese Economic Development Board including a few for exploring the viability of the cryptocurrency projects in the country.

The tiny oil-rich nation is looking to diversify its income and has reportedly signed up Chinese fintech company IAPPAY to develop a mobile payment gateway as well as exploring the viability of cryptocurrency projects.

Fintech was also the focus of other MoUs signed between China and Bahrain. The country is also looking to establish a new AI institute at its university that will help spur innovation in the sector.

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Saudi Arabia, UAE Crypto Primed for 2019 Launch

Saudi Arabia has announced that its state-managed cryptocurrency will be launched in association with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) next year as a solution for international payments.

Mohsen Al Zahrani, Head of Innovation at the Saudi Arabia Monetary Authority (SAMA), shared details of the cryptocurrency release with the Saudi Press Agency earlier this week where he disclosed the UAE’s contributions to development.

The country’s central bank, SAMA, will govern the management of the cryptocurrency, which will for now be limited for use by a small number of banks making cross-border payments.

Local news outlet Agraam reports that Al Zahrani disclosed at the Blockchain Future Applications conference Tuesday that SAMA is studying the feasibility of rolling out the use of the cryptocurrency for all national banks.

Design phase

The Governor of the Central Bank of the UAE, Mubarak Al-Mansouri, told Agraam that the digital currency has progressed to the design stage, with the exact date of its launch dependent on the speed at which research and development can be completed.

With its use restricted to bank-to-bank payments, Al-Mansouri says that the cryptocurrency will not be a replacement of cash and will not be used to purchase goods but rather is a ”new payment tool used by banks and not individuals”.

It will be interesting to see then how exactly it will fit with the definition of a cryptocurrency rather than just a blockchain payment system, particularly if its value is pegged to the Saudi dinar.

State-issued crypto

Saudi Arabia’s announcement comes after International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Christine Lagarde’s comments last week where she encouraged states to consider issuing central bank-issued cryptocurrencies.

Lagarde noted during her speech at Singapore Fintech Festival that she believed cryptocurrencies are paving their way in an ever-growing cashless world as the industry fights for legitimacy for digital currencies not only as a store of value but as cheaper, faster payment solutions.

 

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Israeli Investment House Silver Castle Defies Market to Attract Institutional Investors

An Israel-based investment house has announced plans to cement its hold as a DLT driver in the country by launching the first dedicated digital coin investment platform for institutional and accredited investors.

Silver Castle Ltd has ignored the current bear market with this decision, with its CEO Eli Mizroch confirming that the company had spent the best part of a year creating a strong foundation for managing institutional grade-level investments.

It was only last week that KMPG called for “more participation from the broader financial services ecosystem to help drive trust and scale for the tokenized economy and help the crypto market grow and mature”. Silver Castle’s move is clearly aimed at capturing this market.

Mizroch described the launching of two funds as “awesome for everybody”; it has a target of USD 50 million by the end of this year. The first fund is described as being driven by both long and short momentum, based on an algorithmic trading device which will pick the five biggest coins by market cap. Mizroch claims that the system has been utilized in house for the past year, yielding “high double-digit” returns.

The second of the two funds offers a basket of the top 10 coins, again the result of a weighted algorithm, with further plans to launch a token-based fund for ICO investment purposes, also scheduled for the end of the year.

The company includes Zvi Ziv, a former chief executive officer of Bank Hapoalim Ltd, Israel’s largest bank by assets; and Gabriella Ravid, founder and former CEO of Psagot Ofek Investment House, the country’s largest investment fund. Ziv is insistent on the company following the blockchain trial, arguing that:

“There is a lot of potential in using blockchain and everything is going to try and move there… I believe herein lies the biggest potential in the financial world.”

Silver Castle’s CEO agrees, suggesting that blockchain is the future of investment infrastructure, with Israeli Blockchain Association’s (IBA) founding partner, Gadi Isaev, hailing the launch as a landmark event for the whole Israeli cryptocurrency market. Roma Gold, another founding partner of the IBA, commented that ICOs are becoming less popular, but institutional investment in blockchain is very much on the rise:

The Israeli blockchain ecosystem is presently experiencing both a boost and a transformation… Today, fewer startup founders are coming out of morally questionable markets, such as binary options, and gambling. Instead, more institutional players are starting to enter the market. In essence, the market is going through self-purification.”

 

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Islamic Business Group Calls for a Cryptocurrency for All Muslim Nations

With Iran’s cryptocurrency waiting for approval from the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) the International Business Forum (IBF) has called for a single cryptocurrency for all Muslim nations.

The concept has been kickstarted by Iran’s current move to alleviate its sanctions dilemma, attempting to combat what it sees as the dominance of the US dollar in world trade by launching its own national cryptocurrency.

The IBF, a Muslim-focused business lobby group, claims that the dollar is being used more of a sanctioning tool rather than a purposeful financial device. The Group’s chairman Erol Yarar is calling for changes to the status quo in international trade, commenting:

“In IBF this year we will discuss the term ‘monetary pluralism’ to create a fairer and healthier trade environment…We will make a cryptocurrency system, that will be used for international trade among Islamic countries, a current issue.”

This call for an Islamic cryptocurrency is only possible now that that recent discussions in the Muslim world have satisfied Islamic countries around the world that digital currency use in no way conflicts with Sharia Law. Matthew J. Martin of Blossom Finance, a fintech startup based in Indonesia clarifies the position:

“As a payment network, Bitcoin is halal. In fact, Bitcoin goes beyond what more conventional closed banking networks offer. Unlike conventional bank networks which use private ledgers where there’s no guarantee that the originator actually owns the underlying assets, Bitcoin guarantees with mathematical certainty that the originator of the transfer owns the underlying assets. Conventional banks operate using the principle of fractional reserve, which is prohibited in Islam.”

Yarar argues that an internationally recognized Islamic cryptocurrency for all Muslim countries around the globe is essential in order for the nations adopting it to “undermine and challenge America’s established hegemony in the global financial system”.

Iran has suggested that its new, as yet unnamed national cryptocurrency will bring “enlightenment” to their economy. When the currency is finally issued to banking institutions, plans for testing payments and internal and interbank transactions will be the first task for Iran’s banking sector before it goes live.

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