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Dysfunctional States And State Crypto

Dysfunctional States And State Crypto (1)

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire has said that cryptocurrency will never replace a government’s sovereign currency.

Le Maire’s comments were made in the light of growing concerns by regulators over Facebook’s intended launch of its own cryptocurrency in 2020. Mark Carney, Governor, Bank of England also said that the new digital currency will be under scrutiny to ensure it is not used for illegal purposes. Le Maire argued that financial sovereignty must come from government, commenting, “The aspect of sovereignty must stay in the hands of states and not private companies which respond to private interests.”

Looking at the three rogue states which have considered doing just that, he may well have a point. Venezuela remains the most prominent example of a misguided attempt by those in power to support the economy using a government-initiated cryptocurrency or state crypto. Russia and Iran have also dabbled in state crypto in attempts to overcome sanctions.

Both Venezuela’s Petro and Petro Gold, based on the South American country’s oil and gold reserves, have done little to stem the tide of hyperinflation which currently is running at a staggering 99,900% although down from 224,900% at the end of last year. Launched in February 2018, the Petro was supposed to be backed by the country’s oil and mineral reserves and was intended to supplement Venezuela’s plummeting bolívar fuerte currency (VEF), as a means of circumventing US sanctions and accessing international financing.

To illustrate the level of the country’s economic woes, Venezuela’s highest denomination, VEF 500, when initially issued in August 2018, was equal in value to USD 8.30. Today it is worth no more than seven cents. This week new 50,000 bolivar Soberano (VES) banknotes have been released (equal to USD 8.09 at time of writing) along with two other notes, in an attempt to stem the tide for at least the next few months.

The latest plan is to use the Petro, currently equal in value to VES 80,000, to prop up the currency. Venezuelan President Madura claims that linked to the Petro the new notes will hold their value, but among the population, such claims fall on deaf ears, with the average monthly income for most Venezuelan households now VES 40,000 (USD 6.55). To date, the Petro has been largely invisible.

It remains a disappointment to genuine cryptocurrency enthusiasts that rogue states use cryptocurrency as a go-to solution to tackle economic mismanagement or punitive sanctions. Both Russia and Iran are currently movers and shakers on the world stage for all the wrong reasons, both accused of government-sponsored acts of terrorism in the last 12 months. Both countries have strict laws prohibiting the use of cryptocurrencies but flirt with the technology at the state level.

Russia’s latest flirt with crypto is current research being undertaken by the Central Bank of Russia (CBR) to develop a gold backed cryptocurrency, an idea clearly finding its origins in Iran’s own proposed gold-backed cryptocurrency known as ‘PayMon’. Reports claim that four Iranian banks including Bank Melli, Parsian Bank, Bank Mellat and Bank Pasargad have joined hands with blockchain startup Kuknos for PayMon. Previously, in July 2018, reports came out claiming that Iran was looking to launch its own national cryptocurrency.

Iran sees cryptocurrencies as a mean to bypass new economic sanctions imposed on it by the US government. The new cryptocurrency is expected to back and tokenize Iran’s national fiat currency, the rial. Thereby, cross-border and domestic transactions will be facilitated.

Vladimir Gutenev, a member of the Russian State Duma, submitted plans for its own gold-backed cryptocurrency in August 2018; a plan which was subsequently shelved. Russia’s former Minister of Economics and Trade, Herman Gref, also spoke out last year in favor of cryptocurrencies and their transformational nature as a future threat to the financial sector’s status quo. It now appears Gutenev’s plan is back on the table. The Central Bank of Russia (CBR) is now looking at the proposal for a gold-backed stablecoin but makes it clear that it has no plans in the future to replace the rouble with an alternative state-run cryptocurrency.

To date, without any proven successes in state-run cryptocurrency, Le Maire’s suggestion that cryptocurrency will never replace government sovereign currencies seems to ring true, at least in the near future. The current example of Venezuela’s Petro adventure is not one to encourage finance ministers around the globe to anticipate any changes to the status quo, nor is the track record on the international stage of those that propose to do so. At least not yet, for now. It remains to be seen how well cryptocurrency fares in the hands of private companies who maintain that they are responding to private interests, and to that end, all eyes are on Facebook.

 

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Dubai to Develop Blockchain-Backed Mortgage Platform

Dubai to Develop Blockchain-Backed Mortgage Platform

A blockchain-backed mortgage platform will be developed by the Dubai Land Department (DLD) in partnership with Mashreq Bank (based in UAE), noted The National in a report published on 28 May 2019. The DLD is the real estate arm of the Executive Council of the Arab emirate.

As per the report, the blockchain platform will make sure that the mortgages comply with registration policies and other parts of the law that are vulnerable to being ignored or bypassed in the process. On the other hand, it will also serve as a repository for mortgage records. In addition, ongoing updates such as recording payment defaults, liquidation or changes to the mortgages happening after a property sale will be accommodated by the blockchain-based platform.

The said platform has been regarded as a part of DLD’s initiative to streamline its services. According to Sultan Butti Bin Mejren, Director General DLD, this new initiative should be regarded as a part of its ongoing efforts to reduced paper transitions and the number of visits by enhancing automation in applications and systems.

Last year, another platform named as the Real Estate Self Transaction system was also launched by DLD, aiming at digitizing documents for paper transactions and improving the brokerage process.

Previously, it was reported that a blockchain platform supporting cloud-based private blockchain hosting, compatible with Hyperledger Fabric and Ethereum, was publically endorsed by Smart Dubai (technology arm of Dubai’s government). The platform named as BPaas was developed by telecom company Du.

With these moves, Dubai is gearing up to become one of the world’s most progressive countries when it comes to blockchain adoption by the government and private sector alike.

 

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Africa and the Middle East: Crypto and Blockchain News Roundup 13 May to 19th May, 2019

Africa

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.

Kenya

Kenya’s biometric ID scheme, blockchain for refugees, universal health and moonlighting officials: The government of Kenya has hired the Minneapolis-based company BanQu to help create blockchain-based digital platform and record “economic identities” of the refugees. The platform would allow the users to add their data and a photo that would be stored in a customized blockchain database and would have to be verified by others.

The economic profile would also include transactions, work experiences, and relationships to create a holistic identity, even for people with zero official documents. According to BanQu’s website, the scheme has already added data about “several hundred refugees and individuals in extreme poverty zones, to create a long-term, secure economic profile they could leverage for access to financial and government services.”

South Africa

Reserve Bank wants to test a digital currency backed by the Rand: The South African Reserve Bank is considering launching an officially-backed digital currency and is currently conducting a feasibility analysis, according to a tender notice published on 14 May. The SARB called for ‘prospective solution providers in anticipation of a feasibility project on a digital currency’, and the bank defined the project as an attempt to investigate the feasibility and market demand of an official digital currency used as electronic legal tender, which will compliment cash.

Nigeria

Bitcoin’s Sudden Price Increase Lures Nigerians, Ghanaians into Crypto, Extracted Data Reveals: African countries are booming in terms of cryptocurrency searches, with the 20 million strong country of Nigeria leading the charge.

This surge has come particularly after the recent Bitcoin valuation boom, as shown by the data gathered through Google Trend, with the stats revealing South Africa and Nigeria as among the top 5 countries around the world in searching Bitcoin through Google search. This trend is not something temporary though, as the previous 12-month data on Google Trend also shows Nigerians, South Africans, and Ghanaians having an ever increasing interest in Bitcoin, blockchain, and its applications.

UAE

BitOasis Secures Preliminary Approval With UAE Financial Regulator: BitOasis, the UAE based-based cryptocurrency exchange, has been preliminarily approved by the financial regulators. The exchange was founded in 2015 and claims to be the Middle East’s first digital currency wallet employing multi-signature technology.

The company has been pushing for the license by the financial centre Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) for a very long time, and the current approval is a significant step towards the goal. To get the full license, the exchange will need to attain specific technical and operational requirements, after which it will become one of the first regulated exchanges to be licenced.

Israel

New details emerge about Israeli darknet and crypto suspects indicted in the US: Israeli cryptomarket has been recently in the news for all the wrong reasons, with multiple Israelis involved in high-profile crypto related fraud cases. Hailing from Tel Aviv, Michael Phan and Yonatan Fingel were arrested after being charged with money laundering conspiracy.

Similarly, in the most recent incident, Israeli police arrested two men allegedly running an affiliate marketing scheme for unauthorized purchases on the dark web. In another raid, the police apprehended money laundering suspect, Tal Prihar, who sold khat and cannabis to Israelis. Also, one more Israeli named Ravid Yosef was arrested for alleged bank fraud by offering fake dating advice to Angelenos. In a separate case, an Israeli woman known as Ravid Yosef was indicted in absentia in New York for alleged bank fraud through illicit cryptocurrency payment processing company.

Turkey

Turkey on Its Own Bitcoin Bull Run With Europe’s Highest per Capita Holder Rate: Despite the downfall of Turkish Lira, recent data has shown steady growth for cryptocurrency in Turkish crypto markets, with as many as 18% of Turkish respondents claiming to own some form of cryptocurrency.

Another indicator of the booming crypto landscape is how global crypto exchanges like OKEx have now extended their services to Turkey and have reported a massive influx of Turkish registrations, as large as 30,000+, just within the first week. The surge in crypto adoption might be an indication of people’s mistrust in the Turkish Lira, as Turkey now also accounts for the highest per capita percentage of Bitcoin holders within Europe.

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Dubai Bitcoin Towers Aston Plaza Project Delayed

Bitcoin is being used increasingly in the real estate market but it looks as though the Aston Plaza project in Dubai is one project which may be facing a delay.

The luxury residential project targeting the crypto rich launched in 2017 by high-profile U.K. entrepreneurs Baroness Michelle Mone and Doug Barrowman costing USD 323 million to build, is still only 25% complete.

Construction of the two-tower complex with 1,133 luxury apartments over 2.4 million square feet, with each flat costing between $133,000 and $379,000 in Bitcoin, has stalled and has been put “on hold” after a government inspection at the site.

The adventurous real estate project specifically aimed at the blockchain and crypto community was seen at conception as a great opportunity for bitcoin investors to convert their holdings into “real brick-and-mortar” assets, according to the founder of private equity firm Aston Ventures, Doug Barrowman.

Co-partner in the investment,  lingerie designer and peer of the UK’s House of Lords, Baroness Mone was once described as senior Scottish Conservatives as “a public relations creation, a personal brand rather than a serious businesswoman”.

Dubai has become a forward-thinking player in the blockchain environment but its enthusiasm for new technology is not simply limited to banking. Just recently, The Dubai Department of Tourism and Marketing (DTCM) launched Tourism 2.0, a blockchain enabled marketplace connecting buyers to hotels and tour operators.

Last year, the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM), launched Tourism 2.0, a blockchain-backed marketplace that connects businesses in the tourism sector with each other across Dubai. As part of the Dubai 10X initiative, DTCM aims to place the city 10 years ahead of others across the globe.

 

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Hamas Adopts New Detection Avoidance Tactics In Bitcoin Fundraiser

In a story being followed by Bitcoin News, further developments in Hamas attempts to raise fund via Bitcoin have resulted in the mechanism for receiving payments being changed.

Hamas have now switched to a system which requires a new digital wallet generated for each donation rather than donors sending Bitcoin to a single digital address, or wallet, in an attempt to cover their tracks.

Hamas, the de-facto ruling authority of the Gaza Strip in Palestine, is regarded by several countries, including the US and the EU, as a terrorist organization. Russia, Turkey, and China are among those major world powers who do not subscribe to the definition.

The original Hamas request for Bitcoin funds in February was made as a result of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to freeze millions of dollars in Qatari aid – including USD 15 million a month to pay the salaries of Hamas civil servants.

Since then, Hamas has been put on the back foot by both the US Government and Israeli intelligence since they broadcast their requests for Bitcoins. Although Hamas has made no comments about how they now access donors, Elliptic research claims that between 26 March and 16 April, BTC 0.6 — worth around USD 3,300 — was sent to the website-created wallets. Elliptic uses a database of information linking digital coin addresses to exchanges, darkweb marketplaces, and proscribed groups to track cryptocurrencies.

Clearly, Hamas has no concerns regarding their proscribed designation and until now have been suggesting to donors that they “use a public device so that the wallet is not linked to your IP address”, using step-by-step instructions in Arabic on how supporters can avoid fiat based systems and donate in Bitcoin.

 

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Israel Tech Institute Accuses Professor of IP Rights Violation

Israel

A civil suit has been filed by the Technion Israel Institute of Technology against one of its faculty members, accusing him of establishing a zero knowledge proof technology company for which he used institute’s resources, reported Calcalist (local media outlet) on 22 April 2019.

Prof Eli Ben-Sasson was accused of violating the institute’s intellectual property rules. The suit has been filed with the Haifa District Court. According to the lawsuit, a company called Starkware was founded by Ben-Sasson in collaboration with a doctoral student, studying at the Technion. Ben-Sasson allegedly used intellectual property which was developed using “grants received at Technion”.

Starkware is aiming at improving the scalability of blockchains by utilizing zero knowledge proof technology. The Technion has claimed that Ben-Sasson created the zero-knowledge protocol STARK using millions of shekels granted to him by the institute.

Moreover, Ben-Sasson tried to commercialize the knowledge by establishing Starkware in order to dispossess the institute of its intellectual property rights, maintained the lawsuit. Therefore, the Technion has requested the court to transfer half of the Ben Sasson’s shares in Starkware to the institute.

According to the reports, Starkware has defended itself by stating that the company has no intention to use an invention belonging to the institution. Moreover, Starkware Industries utilized its own funds to hire workers and developed the required software and intellectual property. Hence, the Technion has no right to the company’s or Prof. Sasson’s shares.

In October 2018, USD 30 million was raised by Starkware in a financing round. Reportedly, it secured funds from companies such as Sequoia, Semantic Ventures, Intel Capital, Atomico and Multicoin Capital. Moreover, a seed funding round of USD 6 million was completed in May in which NEO’s Da Hongfei, Ethereum’s Vitalik Buterin and Bitmain reportedly participated.

 

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Afghans Look to Sovereign Crypto Bond to Raise $5.8 Billion for Economy

Afghanistan is planning to jumpstart its ailing economy with a blockchain-based sovereign crypto bond. The announcement to attempt a cryptocurrency solution to three decades of economic turmoil came at a meeting of the Boards of Governors of the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Washington recently.

According to the Central Bank of Afghanistan’s governor Khalil Sediq, the target figure is USD 5.8 billion in order to support the country’s critical mining, energy, and agriculture sectors, and with 25% of the country’s population currently unemployed and living under the poverty, critical measures are being assessed.

Afghanistan, as the of the world’s largest suppliers of lithium, could utilize Bitcoin with metals futures in bond form, according to the Afghan delegation, although IMF president Christine Lagarde believes such a bond will need thorough testing before it can be sold on markets.

Bitcoin has gained popularity in Afghanistan and its thought that cryptocurrency could find real leverage in the county if local money-sellers, called sarafis, were to start trading in digital currency. Afghans are generally untrusting of financial institutions and turn to sarafis, who deal with numerous fiat currencies across Afghanistan.

It appears that Afghanistan is not the only nation, considering some kind of a sovereign Bitcoin bond, as both Tunisia and Uzbekistan, both also represented by delegates at the Spring IMF and World bank forum, have also expressed interest in similar solutions.

Uzbek Ambassador to the United States Javlon Vakhabov sees an Uzbek bitcoin bond being linked to the country’s cotton futures market, much along the lines of Afghanistan’s plan for lithium futures. Uzbekistan has recently legalized crypto trading in the country and has announced some initial regulations for both trading and mining. The new decree, “On measures to organize the activities of crypto-exchanges in Uzbekistan”, states any company providing for the purchasing of or sale of crypto assets on a platform will be recognized as a legal exchange.

 

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Chinese Miners Struggle for Easy Ride in Iran

Things aren’t turning out to be smooth for Chinese Bitcoin miners heading into Iran to profit from cheaper electricity rates.

Long before China hinted it may consider halting Bitcoin mining projects, the exodus began and Iran recently became a hotspot for miners along with parts of South East Asia such as Vietnam and Cambodia. China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) is now looking to siphon off a number of industries which include cryptocurrency mining as part of a state cleanup.

The Iranian venture for many of those Chinese miners deciding to make the move has gone sour, and reports coming back from Iran highlight some of the issues which have made the Middle East less attractive than was at first perceived.

One issue has been getting the equipment across the Iranian border. One miner Liu Feng reported that the chance of losing equipment at the border has become common, with Iranian customs confiscating at least 40,000 crypto mining rigs to date. Some rigs can be sneaked through if presented as non-mining processors for those lucky enough to be able to strike up a deal with customs officials. Feng explains the reason for the confiscations:

“Because of [Iran’s] huge electricity subsidy, the government has added this energy-hungry device (bitcoin miner) to the list of 2,000 banned shipments to come in.”

The same mining enthusiast, Lui Feng also had problems pricing his electricity supply with a local supplier after his supply tariff was doubled just two months into operation. A subsequent set up resulted in angry locals complaining about the noise emitted from his rigs, resulting in miners being confiscated.

Despite these hurdles, Chinese Bitcoin miners are still optimistic that it can get better for them in Iran. With the Iranian government now accepting crypto mining as a legal activity, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani is behind a new cloud computing industrial park. Also, there are rumors that Tehran may get behind the import of Bitcoin mining hardware.

Currently, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps are still detaining or confiscating machines at border points with tough import rules still in place.

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Hamas Bid for Bitcoin Donations Struggles to Get Off Ground

Hamas Bid for Bitcoin Donations Struggles to Get Off Ground

The fundamentalist Palestinian organization Hamas is to continue its call for cryptocurrency donations which has only resulted in a meager few thousand dollars since its call for funding two months ago.

Hamas, the de-facto ruling authority of the Gaza Strip in Palestine, is regarded by several countries, including the US and the EU, as a terrorist organization. Russia, Turkey, and China are among those major world powers who do not subscribe to the definition.

The original Hamas request for Bitcoin funds in February was made as a result of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to freeze millions of dollars in Qatari aid – including USD 15 million a month to pay the salaries of Hamas civil servants. Gazan journalist and lecturer Hussam Al-Dajany has reiterated the need for support in another call for funding this week but this time claiming this “just Palestinian cause… can indirectly participate in the liberation of the Al Aqsa Mosque”.

Former CIA analyst Yaya Fanusie has suggested that Hamas has made some progress in setting up its donations project despite having struggled to raise the funds it needs and says that the Hamas website is currently “generating unique (bitcoin) addresses for each site visitor”. He adds:

“This method will make it harder for authorities to identify and track donations, and shows that Hamas is more careful about cryptocurrency operational security.”

Despite these moves, Hamas has numerous hurdles to overcome in raising cryptocurrency funding. Coinbase and other major exchanges have been put on alert to ensure that known Hamas addresses are not used for transactions, although this in itself won’t be simple as fresh addresses are likely to be created by Hamas to confuse the exchanges.

Bitcoin does have traceability issues though, which is certain to make the Hamas call for funds challenging. The creation of a unique address on the Hamas website will shield the recipient, but won’t anonymize the sender. This is sure to make potential donors wary, as it appears to have done so far.

 

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Africa and the Middle East: Crypto and Blockchain News Roundup 24th to 30th March, 2019

Africa

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

Crypto in Africa: Adoption in Medical, Education, Trading Industries: Africa has been making considerable strides in adopting crypto technology and implementing innovations in the financial markets. Prime examples of the intent would be Zimbabwe’s crypto school that will be launched by SUNFund, a local incubator.

In that same vein of thought, IBM announced that it is working in its lab in Haifa to utilise blockchain system and stem the flow of counterfeit medicines. South Africa is also not going to be left behind, as a SA based crypto exchange’s Hybrid Stock Exchange (HYBSE) platform went live last week. The platform is part of the Data Interchange Module (DIM) and will offer an online marketplace for global issuers and users to provide tradable tokenised equity.

Community-Led Pan-African Blockchain Standards Org Publishes Draft ICO Guidelines: The African Digital Asset Framework (ADAF) has just published its first version of guidance for initial coin offerings (ICO) on 25 March.  

ADAF is a project that looks to establish compliance-focused, cross-border blockchain standards for Africa, and it just has revealed its first guideline in an official blog post titled “Consumer Protection Guidelines on Token Generation Events, version 0.1.” The document was created by an open source community comprising of 17 companies and aims to generate set of standards for consumers, business owners, and policymakers to regulate evaluation or participation in token generation events for utility-token based ecosystems.

Israel

Malware Affects an Israeli Cryptocurrency Company: The cybersecurity firm Palo Alto Network’s research division, Unit 42, has recently published a report stating how it has detected a serious malware that has been targeting two Israeli cryptocurrency trading companies. Known as “Cardinal RAT malware” or Remote Access Trojan, it was first discovered in 2017 which allows full remote control of the device, collects the target data and then wipes itself from the device.

Palo Alto also revealed that this Trojan had repeatedly targeted Israel’s fintech and cryptocurrency trading firms since 2017 which includes at least two large scale attacks. The report also adds that the attacker can access the victim’s personal data, clean cookies capture screenshots, execute commands, retrieve passwords, and even update settings.

Turkey

Turkey Is Leading Europe in Cryptocurrency Possession: Although the Turkish Lira seems to be going downhill, the economy is apparently not entirely bust as the country appears to transition and focus on building crypto assets instead.  In a survey conducted by ING Bank, Turkey had the highest percentage of individuals who own cryptocurrencies, with a total of 18%.

The second country on the list was Romania with 12%, and then came Poland with 11% and Spain with 10% respectively. Apart from the impressive numbers by Turkey, the European continent also showed significant improvement as it recorded a 9% increase in total demand.

UAE

Crypto in the UAE Booms, Generates Over USD 210 Million in Investments in January and February ICOs: According to a recent report, the United Arab Emirates stands tall as the number one country in terms of total capital generated by Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs). Only in the first two months of 2019, UAE successfully raised a baffling sum of USD 210 million. The next in the list are the United Kingdom and Singapore, but they stand nowhere even close to UAE.  

In January 2019, UAE successfully raised USD 142 million, a whopping 41% of all funds raised worldwide for the month. Interestingly, UAE’S figure was raised by only one ICO, the Genesis Crypto Blockchain Investment Bank, that aims to establish a fully regulated bank that is also accommodative of cryptocurrencies. Other countries on the top 10 list include Canada, Netherlands, Latvia, Belize, Cayman Islands, and Australia.

Iran

Iran Turns to Crypto to Enable Easier Spending by Tourists: Amidst the latest wave of sanctions by the US, the Iranian rial has plummeted to a record low in several decades, losing about 60% of its total value. But while the Iranian economy grapples with the challenges, the government has been looking to alleviate the crisis with the help of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technologies and has launched many high profile projects.

For instance, the Iranian tourism sector led by the Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization (CHTO) has been encouraging tourists to use cryptocurrency when possible. Similarly, the Iranian Electronic Tourism Association has announced they are even discussing a proposal to create a state-run digital currency for the tourism sector.

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