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Trump’s Shutdown Puts Sec on Hold, ETF Delays Expected

Trump's Shutdown Puts SEC On Hold, ETF Delays Expected

President Trump’s shutdown of government services has affected the Securities and Exchange Commission, giving rise to concerns about the completion of current ETF filings in progress.

Since the commencement of the government shutdown, due to the inability of Congress to overcome irreconcilable differences for the funding of a southern border wall with Mexico, the SEC has revealed it had just 285 members out of 4,436 employees working, some who are responsible for investor protection and market integrity.

Those submitting ETFs have expressed concerns that their submissions may be delayed as a result of the staff shortages. A statement from the SEC has done little to allay these fears which confirmed that:

“The SEC has experienced a lapse in appropriations. Absent an appropriation, the staff of the Commission is prohibited from performing the ongoing, regular functions of government except in very limited circumstances.”

The statement went on to confirm that regular duties involving the Securities Act of 1933, Securities Exchange Act of 1934, Investment Advisers Act of 1940 and Investment Company Act of 1940 would also be affected by the shutdown.

Jake Chervinsky, a lawyer with Kobre & Kim disagrees that if the SEC misses its deadlines the ETFs should be automatically approved, so the risk of delays is unlikely, suggesting “In reality, that won’t happen. The SEC will handle it one way or another: a one-page denial, a request for withdrawal, or something else.”

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Bitcoin ETF Approval Would Give EU Legislators More Confidence Over Crypto

In a change of stance on cryptocurrency adoption by EU legislators, who until now have been mainly fence-sitting on the subject, are indicating that ETF acceptances may create more positive interest towards easing regulation.

European legislators have recently stated that a Bitcoin ETF green light by the SEC could ease the current pressure felt by cryptocurrencies across Europe.

A recent report by the EU’s financial advisory group suggested that there was a continued threat to investors trading in cryptocurrencies arguing that, “These issues are not unique to crypto assets trading platforms; they may be exacerbated in the case of crypto-assets because of their high price volatility and often low liquidity.”

In an attempt to regulate cryptocurrencies and provide more safeguards, EU legislators are increasingly looking to organizations such as Gemini who have taken to ETF, despite their own problems in getting them recognized by the SEC, due to the body’s continual reluctance to endorse cryptocurrencies. Gemini’s joint CEO Cameron Winklevoss commented about their own problems with regulation:

“We understand the commission’s concerns. We’ve heard them loud and clear and they are basically calling for more market surveillance and protections in the marketplace to avoid, prevent against manipulative behaviour and stuff like that. So, Gemini has built a market surveillance team.”

CSO of CoinShares, Meltem Demirors, has a more negative approach to the prospect of Bitcoin ETFs being accepted by the SEC due to the current political stalemate in Washington, arguing:

“….in this current sort of stalemate where you have the Democratic House, and the Republican Senate, you see some clashing, there are very different views on financial innovation and what should happen, but I think right now there is no upside to approving an ETF.”

The Winklevoss Brothers have called for the introduction of a Virtual Commodity Association, a self-regulatory organization for the cryptocurrency industry in the United States, similar to the Japanese Virtual Currency Exchange Association (JVCEA).

The JVCEA was founded on April 2018 when 16 crypto exchanges joined hands with the ultimate aim of providing self-regulatory standards for the industry-wide investors. Later in October, it was officially given self-regulatory status by Japan’s financial regulator to supervise the crypto sector.

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US Congressman Re-Introduces Bill to Exempt Non-Custodial Crypto Services

US Congressman Re-Introduces Bill to Exempt Non-Custodial Crypto Services

A US congressman Tom Emmer, a co-chair of the Congressional Blockchain Caucus, has introduced a bill dubbed the Blockchain Regulatory Certainty Act aimed at exempting cryptocurrency-related ventures that are non-custodial from money transmission laws.  The bill is co-sponsored by Congressman Darren Soto.

Information regarding this was published on the Congress official website on 14 January. Part of the bill reads: “To provide a safe harbor from licensing and registration for certain non-controlling blockchain developers and providers of blockchain services”. If passed, this will invariably help foster the development of the industry.

Emmer, who also sits as a member of the US House Financial Services Committee, the house where the bill has been introduced to, is a proponent for the industry. He has said that: “The United States should prioritize accelerating the development of blockchain technology and create an environment that enables the American private sector to lead on innovation and further growth. These technologies hold untold promise for our economy and for all Americans.”

He proposed a similar bill last year, which was a trio of blockchain-focused bills, although some within the Congress are of the opinion that the latter stands a better chance. According to Coindesk, “the bill now has bipartisan support”, citing an unnamed spokesperson for the Congressman.

A number of bills regarding cryptocurrency and the blockchain industry have been introduced into different congressional settings globally, gaining prominence among many lawmakers. It seems only a matter of time before comprehensive pro-blockchain legislation is passed.

While it is not of a unanimously shared sentiment yet, Emmer once said: “Legislators should be embracing emerging technologies and providing a clear regulatory system that allows them to flourish in the United States.”

However, the race is on to offer the most robust legal infrastructure to govern the industry while maintaining innovative processes within the ecosystem.

 

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Belarus Platform Claims First to Offer Tokenized Shares

Belarus Platform Claims First to Offer Tokenized Shares

A website based in Belarus has launched a website which is claiming to be the first trading exchange to trade digital currency for assets such as gold and other traditional financial assets. An Estonian exchange, DX Exchange, had actually claimed the same earlier this month.

The site allowing the purchase of tokens, which represent real assets, was the brainchild of investment companies VP Capital and Larnabel Ventures. The website also facilitates the tracking of asset shares purchased both within Belarus and internationally.

Reports indicate a flurry of activity once the site was launched, with over 2,000 applications received. The advantage of being able to purchase assets such as gold and oil globally from the site without recourse to fiat currency clearly had early interest, however, Viktor Prokopenya, VP Capital’s owner, is warning applicants that the platform has strict money laundering checks enforced before users are finally approved.

150 different tokenized securities have been provided, with the intention of expanding this to more than 10, 000 over time. The company ensures new users that its standards are in line with internationally-accepted standards.

Belarus is one of a group of central European nations which is looking to promote itself as a cryptocurrency hub with the country’s Minister of Communications Sergey Popkov promoting emerging technologies such as blockchain and cryptocurrency as a governmental priority moving forward.

A recent document published by Belarus High-Technologies Park highlighted the country’s push to establish a set of governing rules for operating the cryptocurrency market. The document was termed as “the second stage of cryptocurrency regulation”, which contained details of the approved regulations for activities with digital tokens. It specified requirements for different businesses looking to venture into the world of cryptocurrencies or initial coin offerings (ICOs) in the country.

 

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Malaysia: Government Still Undecided About Cryptocurrency

Malaysia: Government Still Undecided About Cryptocurrency

The Federal Territory Minister in Malaysia Khalid Abdul Samad has said that the current status of cryptocurrency in the country is undecided. He made the comment during a charity event organized by Pertubuhan Kebajikan Insaniah Srikandi Malaysia.

In the comment, he said: “At the moment, the answer is neither legal nor illegal as the situation is unclear.” This was in response to a question about the legal status of cryptocurrency.

Samad was involved in the development and launch of the controversial Harapan Coin – a project dubbed the ‘world’s first crypto-politic ICO’ – said to be a platform that will revolutionize Malaysian politics. He disclosed that he was not appointed as finance minister, but the federal territory minister, which made crypto regulations hardly a subject particular to his jurisdiction. “As the matter is not under my jurisdiction, I cannot push too much,” he said.

However, Samad reportedly proposed the adoption of Harapan Coin to Malaysia’s Central Bank, the Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) and Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad. However, questions have been raised about the functional and clarity of purpose of the Harapan Coin by a select few, including former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

In November last year, the finance minister of Malaysia Lim Guan Eng confirmed that a digital asset regulatory framework is scheduled to be released in the first quarter of 2019. This regulatory framework, which has been in motion for over a year now was intended to help the cryptocurrency industry without compromising on their financial system.

The report in November further suggested that the regulatory framework will most certainly include standards for both cryptocurrency exchanges and initial coin offering (ICO).

For now, any project that intends to issue cryptocurrency in Malaysia would have to go through the country’s central bank, Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM). More so, cryptocurrency exchanges have been reporting their data to the bank in order to forge a system to watch for money laundering activities. However, the Bank has stated explicitly that this in no way provides a certification of services by the exchange.

So far, the development of the industry has leaned more to the blockchain scope and while the regulatory stance of the financial watchdog is still underway, blockchain use cases are still spreading, this includes the recently developed remittance system and the proposed blockchain-based degree verification system.

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South Korea Supports Blockchain Development With Tax Incentive

South Korea Supports Blockchain Development With Tax Incentive

The government of South Korea has taken an initiative to boost the development of blockchain industry in the country by adding the sector to the fields of research and development eligible for tax credit, as reported earlier this week by the Ministry of Strategy and Finance.

The Ministry of Strategy and Finance had announced the proposed amendments to the enforcement decree of the 2018 tax law and that it will be in effect this February.

Accordingly, the R&D tax incentive will allow blockchain companies to benefit from a tax deductions subsidy of 30-40% and 20-30% of research and development expenses for both small enterprises, and large and medium-sized enterprises respectively. This is subject to the research and development tax relief program adopted by the country through a tax hybrid R&D credit and volume-based investment credit.

The current tax deduction rates for large corporations stands at 0-2% while that of medium scale enterprise stands at 8-15% and for small scale enterprises 25%.

South Korea continues to show a favorable inclination towards building the blockchain space and encouraging a robust and foolproof cryptocurrency business in the nation.

Recently, the government released the results of an assessment on 35 cryptocurrency exchanges based on an 85-point checklist to ensure that these exchanges have what it takes to serve the investors and traders of the Asian community. 7 out of them were given the ‘green tick’ on all 85 pointers, while those with shortcomings were asked to update their systems to the standards acceptable by the regulator.

Last September, the Korean government made efforts to support blockchain development by engaging with startups. “The meeting was part of the government’s efforts to engage with businesses in the 10 key ICT sectors of the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” reports Business Korea.

As for cryptocurrency and ICO tax laws, reports have it that the country is still in the processing of formulating one that promotes growth of the whole industry.

 

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Bitcoin in the Americas: The Changing Face of Money in Latin America

bitcoin, america, latin america, cryptocurrency

Cryptocurrencies are on the march in South America despite the continent’s relatively small slice in the global ownership breakdown.

The number of users of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Dash continues to swell in many Latin American countries, and historically it is not hard to see why.

The last World Bank study revealed that as few as 49 percent of adults in the region had access to traditional banking, mainly due to the costs inflicted on potential new customers, and the bureaucracy involved in setting up a bank account. However, the deep penetration of smartphones continues to give autonomy to many without banking facilities by enabling them to conduct simple financial transactions using Bitcoin. South Americans love cash, it has always been the mainstay of a market economy, with credit cards still little used by much of the community for similar reasons as those for circumventing the traditional banking system.

Venezuela

Countries suffering inflation are currently the key drivers of Bitcoin and alternative currencies in South America and the mother of all these currently in Venezuela. For this reason, the movers and shakers of the crypto space in South America are rarely out of the press. Venezuela and Columbia are now almost joined at the hip, with President Maduro’s economic crisis causing refugees to flee across Venezuela’s nearest border.

With the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicting that Venezuelans may face consumer prices that will “increase by 10 million percent over the course of 2019,” many nationals have been forced to flee, or remain but shun the traditional economy by using bitcoin as a tool.

In terms of tracking the rise of Bitcoin in the Americas, the numbers speak for themselves. The latest statistics show Venezuela’s weekly Bitcoin Volume increasing from 11 BTC in the first week of January 2017 to a staggering 190 BTC in the first week of January 2019. Volume-wise, the figures are equally impressive with trade volume in Venezuela up to 252 BTC in the last week of 2018. President Maduro’s saving grace, the Petro, backed by huge oil reserves has been a failure, and the country has turned to more traditional cryptocurrencies in order to bypass the worthless national currency, the Bolivar.

Bitcoin is now recognized as the only way of getting around the country’s currency controls, and bitcoin mining offers Venezuelans a chance to pay for good imported from overseas. Although the process is not sanctioned for individuals other than going through ‘official’ methods, residents are able to sidestep the government’s control to buy foodstuffs from Florida and Miami by trading Bitcoin for bolivars.

Brazil

Brazil is the economic giant of South America, and a recent change in government has analysts waiting to observe how this might change the direction of the current legislation regarding cryptocurrency. Bitcoin use is certainly not undercover in the country, it is out there and being used as Satoshi intended. Supermarkets, construction, e-commerce, hospitality, and transportation have all become highly visible evidence that cryptocurrencies are becoming increasingly mainstream.

BTC, BCH or LTC are commonly used and now, a supermarket chain ‘Oasis Supermercados’ allows customers to use any of these to pay for groceries. Transportation companies, such as ‘Viação Garcia’ are also open to payment in any of these three currencies. Some businesses and retailers have been taking Bitcoin since 2013. Other businesses including Nobile Plaza Hotel, e-commerce website Fasttech.com, robotic and electronic parts retailer Webtronico, and Imperius Food are also accepting crypto.

Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro, has cryptocurrency advocates worried, however. His views are hard right and his opinions regarding women, race, immigration, and homosexuality, among other topics, have caused concerns amongst many. Both the use of cryptocurrency and questions around the treatment of Brazil’s minorities have come in to play, and these areas have already felt the effect of a change of government following his election.

The new administration has already canceled a contract which would have benefited indigenous communities living in the Amazon basin. The project with an elongated title Study and diagnosis of socioeconomic viability of the creation of an indigenous cryptocurrency; development of the cryptocurrency platform; and implementation of that platform,” included the launch of a cryptocurrency affectionally referred to as the “Bitcoin of the Indian.”

As part of the project, the new cryptocurrency would have been distributed amongst Brazil’s indigenous communities, with organizers establishing a database of indigenous territories through working with local universities. Bolsonaro has not minced his words in the past regarding Brazil’s indigenous population arguing:

“There is no indigenous territory where there aren’t minerals. Gold, tin, and magnesium are in these lands, especially in the Amazon, the richest area in the world. I’m not getting into this nonsense of defending land for Indians.”

Columbia

The number of Bitcoin ATMs in the country, the most in South America, speaks volumes when analyzing the degree to which the Bitcoin imprint is becoming more visible. There are now 17 ATMs around cities across the country. The city of Medellín, the second largest in Colombia, has recently installed the third Bitcoin ATM in one month.

The largest users of these ATMs are Venezuelans fleeing in greater numbers across the border into neighboring Columbia. Mostly uncovered by mainstream news in the past year, a staggering 1.9 million have fled poverty, hunger, crime and hyperinflation in Venezuela since 2015.

Dash has achieved great popularity in Columbia in some areas, often more so than the flagship cryptocurrency, with adoption on the increase, illustrated by an increase in merchant use of the Dash wallet in 2018. Bitcoin use is huge though, and in a comparison of the weekly volume of January 2017 to that of January 2019, it can be seen that the weekly Bitcoin volume in Columbia has increased from a 135 BTC to 364 BTC. The BTC weekly trade volume reached a maximum of 759 BTC in the last week of 2018.

Peru

Peru is not a big South American player but cryptocurrency use is on the rise. Bitcoin’s biggest hurdle is overcoming bad press caused by misuse. Peru’s Enrique Cardoza, Project Manager at Bitinka Exchange explains the situation and some of the complexities surrounding cryptocurrency business in the country:

We can say that this is being divided into two camps: There are people who are very much in favor of promoting information and spreading the word so that people can learn. [And also] There are many people who know about this and take advantage of people’s ignorance.”

Cardoza claims that much of the problem has been caused by those who have deliberately cheated, damaging the fledgling ecosystem. It has affected the businesses as potential new clients now lack confidence in companies offering cryptocurrency services as they consider them to be risky. He claims that Ripple (XRP), and Ethereum (ETH) are the greatest cryptocurrencies in demand.

Elsewhere

In other South American countries such as Bolivia and Chile, governments have restricted access to online payment systems like PayPal, who do not accept local documentation as a means of verifying the identity of the account holder. Bitcoin is being used more regularly in these countries because of limited financial services operating in these jurisdictions.

Chile, Bolivia, and Equador

Cryptocurrencies have never been legal in Bolivia and the government has been known to enforce its anti-Bitcoin stance with a firm hand. Mining and use of Bitcoin are still under strict regulation in the country. Chile is somewhat more forward thinking, and just recently, attempts to close cryptocurrency exchanges’ bank accounts has been thwarted by the Chilean anti-monopoly court granting these exchanges protection. In Equador, there are several ways to purchase Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies and although still illegal, Bitcoin is often used by a small number of the population.

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SEC Cites Cryptocurrency as Top Priority for 2019

SEC Cite Cryptocurrencies Top Priority for 2019

The US Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (OCIE) has suggested that 2019 will be a year of great activity on the cryptocurrency front for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

The latest report released by the OCIE says that the SEC will prioritize what it sees as risky crypto products and services, and monitor digital currency markets with more vigilance. Any product classified by the SEC as security will be prone to the usual regulatory compliance. The OCIE further stated that:

“For firms actively engaged in the digital asset market, OCIE will conduct examinations focused on, among other things, portfolio management of digital assets, trading, the safety of client funds and assets, pricing of client portfolios, compliance, and internal controls.”

The SEC has cited the protection of customer rights and the integrity of US capital markets as the main aims of the additional scrutiny being applied to cryptocurrency dealings.

Any tightening of control in the cryptocurrency space by the US regulators will not be favorably greeted by investors who are already unhappy with what most regard as SEC crypto overregulation. The regulator’s anti crypto chairman Jay Clayton has confirmed the aims of the OCIE report, suggesting that digital assets, ICOs, and distributed ledger technologies are an “area where the Commission and staff have spent a significant amount of time” and that this would continue into 2019.

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Thai Crypto Regulation Makes Progress as 4 Crypto Businesses Get Licenses

Thai Crypto Regulation Makes Progress as 4 Crypto Businesses Get Licenses

The SEC in Thailand announced that the Ministry of Finance has granted licenses to four crypto businesses out of seven applications under review to operate in the country under the Emergency Degree on Digital Asset Businesses B.E. 2561 (2018).

Prior to this development, the seven crypto-related businesses were granted provisional rights to operate under the Emergency Decree on Digital Asset Businesses B.E. 2561 (2018), while their license applications were being reviewed.

Per the announcement, three of the crypto ventures that were granted the license were exchanges while the fourth is a digital asset broker. The four are Bitcoin Exchange Co Ltd, Bitkub Online Co Ltd, Satang Corporation and Coins TH Co Ltd.

Two exchange license requests from Cash2coin Co Ltd and Southeast Asia Digital Exchange Co Ltd were rejected on the grounds of failing to meet the approval criteria with respect to important work systems. These included “systems for custody of client assets and Know Your Customer (KYC) were inconsistent with the SEC’s acceptable standards, while the sufficiency of their IT security and cybersecurity systems could not be verified”.

As a result of the rejection, the financial regulator is granting Cash2coin and SEADEX a deadline of 14 January 2019 to cease all business operations which was previously accorded under temporal arrangements according to the transitional provisions of the Emergency Decree. The SEC, however, mentioned that the rejected applicants can still apply in the future provided they meet the criteria for the application.

One more application from Coin Asset Co Ltd is still under review by the board due to organizational changes in its executive board. However, the SEC noted that the business may proceed with its normal business operation.

Asia as a whole has a rather unequivocal voice when it comes to the stance on crypto. While some are making efforts to accommodate the emerging technology and seeking for a compromise, others are clamping down hard on the industry.

Thailand’s crypto industry frequented the news in 2018; highlights included stern regulations which came down hard on operators and promoters in the country. Recently, it has been found to incline towards the advancement of the industry with a more considerate regulatory framework.

Last year, Thai finance minister Apisak Tantivorawong said the new law was “necessary to comprehensively regulate cryptocurrencies and digital tokens to prevent money laundering, tax avoidance and crime”.

Moreover, over 50 ICO projects and 20 cryptocurrency exchanges had filed for a license to operate their businesses in the region in August 2018, which in turn was indicative of the high interest in digital assets. The Thai SEC secretary general said that “digital assets and cryptocurrency trading in the Thai market are quite active”.

The country has also indicated an interest in applying blockchain technology to its economy. The Director General of Thailand’s Revenue Department Ekniti Nitithanprapas has said that blockchain and machine learning will be utilized in tax avoidance probes.

 

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Malta Still on Course for “Bitcoin Island”

Malta Still on Course for _Bitcoin Island_

The Maltese government has refuted criticism by the country’s opposition Nationalist Party (PN) leader’s comments that the government has been silenced by the fall in cryptocurrency markets over the past year.

PN leader Adrian Delia recently spoke out against the government suggesting that the current market had caused both silence and inaction following prime minister Muscat’s calls to create a blockchain island and make Malta a beacon for global cryptocurrency.

The Parliamentary Secretariat for Financial Services, Digital Economy and Innovation has hit back suggesting that numerous measures had been taken in the cryptocurrency sector and hinted at even more protection for cryptocurrencies moving forward.

The government also maintained that over the past weeks, a Cyber Security Steering Committee had been launched to make the public aware of fraudulent activity while continuing to promote new technologies such as new industries such as that of AI, e-sports, video-gaming and politics on space.

The Parliamentary Secretariat, the body responsible for the cryptocurrency sector, has maintained the focus is on creating an enabling environment for all stakeholders in the market to thrive.

Both Binance and OKEx signed agreements with the Maltese Stock Exchange (MSX) to create regulated security token exchange platforms in 2018, illustrating the popularity of Malta as a European blockchain and crypto hub. At the end of 2018, Malta’s Parliamentary Secretary Silvio Schembri announced at Delta Summit 2018 that Malta wants to be leading the cryptocurrency race, not the last one in.

With three highly significant bills at their second reading in the Maltese Parliament, Malta is pushing towards being the first country to bring into law every regulation necessary to fully support the cryptocurrency industry. The current proposed legislation, the Malta Digital Innovation Bill, the Virtual Financial Assets Bill, and the Innovation Technological Arrangements Services Bill are major steps along that route.

 

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