Norway Central Bank Considers Developing Digital Currency

Norway’s central bank considers introducing its own cryptocurrency to “ensure confidence in money and the monetary system.”

Norway’s central bank, Norges Bank, is considering developing its own digital currency as a supplement to cash to “ensure confidence in money and the monetary system”, according to a working paper May 18.

The report, prepared by a Norges Bank working group, investigates aspects they believe should be considered when assessing the issuance of a central bank digital currency (CBDC). The authors emphasize at least three possible CDBC applications: the introduction of a reliable alternative to deposits in private banks, a suitable legal tender as a supplement to cash, and an independent backup solution for electronic payment systems. Norges Bank Governor Øystein Olsen wrote:

“A decline in cash usage has prompted us to think about whether at some future date a number of new attributes that are important for ensuring an efficient and robust payment system and confidence in the monetary system will be needed.”

The report states that a CBDC could provide customers with an alternative means to store assets. According to Norges bank, the foundation of a CBDC must also not interfere with the ability of the bank and other financial institutions to provide credit. Norges Bank will reportedly continue to issue cash as long as there is demand for it. The working group has only completed the initial phase of studying a potential CBDC, stating:

“It is too early to conclude whether Norges Bank should take the initiative in introducing a CBDC. The impacts of a CBDC – and the socio-economic cost-benefit analysis – will depend on the specific design. The design, in turn, will depend on the purpose of introducing a CBDC.”

Other countries in Europe have also begun to consider issuing a digital currency through their central bank. Similar to Norway, Sweden’s Riksbank is considering an e-krona as a result of declining cash circulation.

Yesterday, Cointelegraph reported that the Swiss Federal Council has requested a study on a state-backed digital currency examining the risks and opportunities of its introduction. Now, the lower house of the Swiss parliament has to decide whether to support the Federal Council’s request for research. Should the proposal be approved, the Swiss Finance Ministry will conduct the study.

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Iran and Russia Discuss Transacting in Crypto to Avoid International Sanctions

Both Iran and Russia are reportedly looking into using cryptocurrency as a way around Western sanctions

Iran and Russia could start using cryptocurrencies to avoid Western sanctions, Russian news portal RBC reported yesterday, May 17.

Mohammad Reza Pourebrahimi, the head of the Iranian Parliamentary Commission for Economic Affairs, referred to cryptocurrencies as a promising way for both countries to avoid US dollar transactions, as well as a possible replacement of the SWIFT interbank payment system.

At a meeting with Dmitry Mezentsev, the Chair of the Federation Council Committee on Economic Policy, Pourebrahimi said that they have “engaged the Central Bank of Iran to start developing proposals for the use of cryptocurrency.”

Pourebrahimi added that he discussed this topic in the State Duma’s Committee on Economic Policy the day before and that Iran had established cooperation with Russia on this issue:

“They [Russia] share our opinion. We said that if we manage to move this work forward, then we will be the first countries that use cryptocurrency in the exchange of goods.”

In turn, Mezentsev noted that “interbank relations between our countries should be of great importance” against the backdrop of international sanctions currently in place against both Russia and Iran. The meeting of the interbank working group on financial and interbank cooperation will be held in Tehran on July 5 of this year, RBC reports.

Last week, Pourebrahimi had reported that without access to the international banking system, Iranian citizens have so far succeeded in siphoning a staggering $2.5 bln out of the country in crypto.

Venezuela, another country facing international sanctions, recently released its own oil-backed cryptocurrency, the Petro, in a move that some critics saw as an illegal way to enter the international financial markets. After the Petro’s launch, both Turkey and Iran had expressed interest in releasing their own state-backed cryptocurrencies as well, with Russia’s own CryptoRuble reportedly set to launch in mid-2019.

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New Steps of Adoption: Dutch National Blockchain Research Agenda

The Dutch government’s foray into blockchain enterprise could represent a third prong to mainstream adoption following banks and major corporations.

On May 8, 2018 it was reported that the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy had created a unit tasked with researching the further development of blockchain across technology.

This could represent a major step forward for the adoption and application of blockchain technology as governments are not only taking the new technology seriously with their regulatory work on the cryptocurrency side of things, but now they are actively looking into the benefits of the technology.

Blockchain technology is now on the cusp of a new wave of adoption that is running concurrently, but separately from cryptocurrencies.

The banks are looking as to how blockchain can aid their advancement, racing to be the first-to-market in blockchain and cryptocurrency. Major corporations ar also following suit with their own blockchain products as their own race rages with the likes of Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, and Oracle all trying to outdo one another.

The Dutch blockchain research agenda

The Dutch government’s move into blockchain and viewing its potential was delivered by Rob van Gijzel, ambassador of the Dutch Blockchain Coalition, who presented the national research agenda which was commissioned by the Dutch ministry.

The research agenda will look at three key areas in order to address whether blockchain can be adapted nationwide for the benefit of the country with its potential.

Firstly, they are looking to determine if the trust-less nature of blockchain can be trusted. They want to know if blockchain technology can truly replace legal and social institutions which require trust in individuals and organizations.

Secondly, the government is looking for sustainability. They will be analyzing energy consumption costs, scalability, and resilience against power concentration or hostile takeovers.

Finally, it needs to be determined how the blockchain will be managed and governed.

Because blockchain technology has potentially far reaching implications in its application, governments could use it to streamline and cut costs in varying aspects of society’s needs.

However, like all sectors currently delving into blockchain’s potential, there needs to be a level of experimentation to see if it is indeed suitable and successful enough to do what it says it can.

It follows that if governments can find a path towards using blockchain successfully, they could well be a large sector that could speed up adoption of the revolutionary technology.

Following banks and businesses

While there are less corporate pressures and capitalist competition at the government level, there is still an obligation and a focus to conduct government business efficiently as part of their mandate towards their citizens. That is why it is understandable that the Dutch government, among others, are looking into new competitive technologies as blockchain.

However, their drive to expand the possibilities of the technology could be considered the latest push in adoption, making it the third prong, following from banks and businesses who are in an ‘arms race’ to be first-to-market with blockchain products.

Looking at the private sector, Banks are not only rushing to try and get crypto trading desks out to their customers, they are also looking at what blockchain technology can do internally for their own processes. Strong banking rivals Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs are building and experimenting with blockchain to get a working product out to market first – a long way from when the likes of Jamie Dimon and others were calling it a fraud.

Even Microsoft, Amazon, and other major corporations – who are traditionally centralized powerhouses – are looking to branch out into the decentralized world and offer products that go strongly against the corporate mandate of capitalization and monopoly. There is building evidence from the banking sector and corporations that blockchain can be the next wave of technology so it is important to be ahead of the curve, hence the competition between these other sectors.

Government interest

When governments begin looking at new ways in which to conduct business, they do not have the same corporate competition as these organizations in the private sector, but the push and drive from those sectors must be noticed. Governments, such as the Dutch, with their research agenda, show that even these leaders of countries are also looking at the potential blockchain can bring with its promises of transparency, efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

The Dutch, however, are not the only ones that have started looking into what the blockchain can do at this level. There are a lot of driving forces in different nations wanting their governments to take note of the future.

For example, the UK government has heard British MPs raising the question of the role nation states have in setting frameworks for decentralized, cross-border systems that blockchains enable. Furthermore, and more directed at the cryptocurrency side of things, the UK also set up a cryptocurrency task force in order to determine the best route for regulation.

Even China, with its hard-line approach to Bitcoin, is still noticing that blockchain technology can have an important role to play in the future. On May 10, the Chinese government released ‘blockchain standards’ in order to advance nationwide development of the blockchain industry by the end of 2019.

South Africa has set up a ‘sandbox’ through its central bank in which certain companies and businesses can operate with less stringent regulations in order to grow the blockchain environment in the African country with the government keeping a close eye on what emerges from it.

Another avenue of adoption

Considering that Bitcoin, cryptocurrencies, and even blockchain technology were being scoffed at no more than a year ago as ‘rat poison’, and ‘pixie-dust’, the way in which it is being viewed a few months down the line is a staggering turnaround.

Banks, once seen as Bitcoin’s biggest enemy, are now hiring blockchain experts by the dozens; corporations that have always traditionally been at the top of their game are now looking to breakdown and decentralize because they know that is where the next wave of industry will be.

Now it is governments who are legitimizing the power of blockchain as their best and brightest explore this latest technology, and implement its uses to make society more efficient, streamlined, and advanced.

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Colombia: Newly Formed Blockchain Association Aims for Dialogue With Government

Crypto businesses in Colombia launched a local Blockchain Association this week, aiming to support the industry and inform the government on the technology.

Six public and private Colombian companies have joined forces to launch the Colombia Blockchain Association, Spanish news agency EFE reported May 17. The Association describes itself as aiming to support the country’s crypto and blockchain ecosystems and to advise the national government on matters concerning regulation of the crypto sphere.

The companies involved are Buda Colombia, Bitcoin Colombia, Cajero.co, IntiColombia, Panda Group and RSK. Representatives from each, as well as Mauricio Tovar – co-director of  inTIColombia, a research group of the National University of Colombia – reportedly attended an event this Wednesday in Bogota to discuss the agenda of the new organization.

As Diario Bitcoin reports, Tovar spoke out at the event against an “abusive” traditional financial sector that encumbers Colombians with unnecessary costs. Citizens “distrust” the current system, he suggested. He said the new association should act as an interlocutor to the state in order to encourage the “informed” adoption of new financial technologies, without compromising the decentralized principles of blockchain, as well as to prevent stifling overregulation.

Buda CEO Alejandro Beltrán contributed his perspective on the potential future of crypto across Latin America, noting that there are estimated to be over 200 mln unbanked citizens in the continent who could be served by a crypto economy. He also noted how complicated it currently is for migrants to send remittances back to their countries of origin using fiat money.

Beyond financial applications, event participants reportedly discussed the use of blockchain in other fields, including information security, intellectual property, the energy sector, electoral systems and real estate registers.

Last year, the UN’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) released a report stating that blockchain technology could help address problems facing the ailing banking sector across the continent. Countries in the region with underbanked populations, such as Venezuela, have been encouraging their citizens to educate themselves about crypto. Under pressure from international sanctions, Venezuela launched an oil-backed national cryptocurrency, the Petro, earlier this year.

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Chinese Gov’t Study Detects 421 Fake Cryptos, Outlines Key Features of Fraud

China’s Ministry of Industry and IT says it has detected 421 fake cryptos, identifying key signs of fraudulent tokens in its recent report.

A government-led study in China has detected 421 fake cryptocurrencies, according to a report published today, May 18.

IFCERT, a national committee of internet financial security experts initiated by China’s Ministry of Industry and IT, has warned of the dangers of fraud in the crypto space. The committee’s report notes that as of April, over 60% of the 421 detected fake cryptos are run from overseas servers, making them “difficult to find and to track.”

IFCERT’s ongoing monitoring identified three key features of fraudulent digital currency profiles.

Firstly, their reliance on a so-called ‘pyramid scheme’ operational model, in which investors are first compelled to make a payment, and then promised returns on the basis that they enroll others in the scheme.

The second feature of a fraud crypto, according to IFCERT, is the absence of open-source code of the fake digital asset, allowing its creators to dupe investors into an illusion of skyrocketing growth by artificially splitting the tokens to create an impression of proliferating rewards. The fraudsters claim that the more tokens are generated, the more wealth increases, “only rising without falling.”

Lastly, according to IFCERT, given that bogus coins cannot be traded on legitimate crypto exchanges, they are largely traded through over-the-counter deals, or even on transient phony platforms. With no transparency, scammers can manipulate apparent price surges, while at the same time preventing investors from withdrawing funds in order to benefit from such ‘spikes.’

The report concludes that such virtual currency scams are cases of “illegal fundraising,” with a high risk that their creators will disappear and wreak huge losses for investors, left unable to defend their rights.

The features of a fraud cryptocurrency identified by the IFCERT in their recent study are  strikingly similar to those identified by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC). In a recent campaign aimed to educate investors, the U.S. SEC created a website for a fake Initial Coin Offering (ICO) that went live just two days ago. The SEC’s mock HoweyCoins.com lures investors with a “too good to be true investment opportunity” – using the very “red flags” the organization claims to have identified in the majority of fraudulent ICOs – and redirects those who attempt to purchase the ersatz tokens to an educationally-oriented page on the SEC’s own site.

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Kazakhstan’s President Calls for International Cooperation in Crypto Regulation

The president of Kazakhstan calls on countries to work together to adapt crypto to the current financial system.

Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev has called for global cooperation for cryptocurrency regulation, local news outlet Azernews reported May 17.

Speaking at the plenary session of the Global Challenges Summit 2018, Nazarbayev stated that “most countries are actively exploring the possibility of adapting cryptocurrency to the current configuration of financial systems.” He then continued with a comment on the fragmented nature of crypto regulation globally:

“At the same time, we see completely separate actions of states in this issue. And these disparate actions will lead to inefficiency. It is necessary to start developing common rules.”

Kazakhstan has already proven its interest in the cryptocurrency sector. A study released by search engine Yandex in March shows that Kazakhstanis have been more frequently searching for cryptocurrency-related terms this year, as compared to 2018.

Last fall, Kazakhstan’s government-supported Astana International Finance Center (AIFC) announced they had signed a deal of cooperation with Maltese firm Exante, with the goal of developing the Kazakh digital asset market. Also in the fall,  the Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Association in Kazakhstan had applied for state licensing to become a legal entity and begin official activities.

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Swiss Government Requests Study on State-Backed Digital Currency

The Swiss Federal Council has called for a study to examine the associated risks and opportunities of a government-issued cryptocurrency, the e-franc.

The Federal Council of the Government of Switzerland has requested a report on the risks and opportunities of introducing its own state-backed digital currency, or so called “e-franc”, Reuters reported May 17.

The Federal Council moved to investigate the subject at the prompt of Swiss lawmaker and vice-president of the Social Democratic Party, Cedric Wermuth. Now, the lower house of the Swiss parliament has to decide whether to support the Federal Council’s request for research. Should the proposal be approved, the Swiss Finance Ministry will conduct a study on the subject. No time frame has been published regarding the process. The Council stated:

“The Federal Council is aware of the major challenges, both legal and monetary, which would be accompanied by the use of an e-franc… It asks that the proposal be adopted to examine the risks and opportunities of an e-franc and to clarify the legal, economic and financial aspects of the e-franc.”

The idea to develop a national cryptocurrency was put forward in February by Romeo Lacher, chairman of the Swiss stock exchange SIX. He said, “An e-franc under the control of the central bank would create a lot of synergies – so it would be good for the economy.”

Other traditional financial institutions in the country have remained wary of the introduction of cryptocurrencies. Board Member of the Swiss National Bank Andréa Maechler said last month, that private-sector digital currencies are better and less risky than nationally-issued versions, as a government-issued cryptocurrency could increase the risk of so-called “bank runs.”

Earlier this month, Switzerland’s largest bank UBS declined to offer trading in Bitcoin and other digital currencies. The bank’s chairman Axel Weber called for stricter controls on cryptocurrencies, stating “[cryptocurrencies] are often not transparent and, therefore, open to being abused.”

Other countries have also begun considering the possibility of a national digital currency. Sweden’s Riksbank is investigating whether they should issue an e-krona, as the use of physical banknotes in the country continue to decline.

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Bitfinex Requires Customer Tax Info which it ‘May Exchange’ with Gov’t, Tax Authorities

Bitfinex has required tax information from its users, which it “may then exchange” with the government and tax authorities of the customer’s country of residence.

Cryptocurrency trading platform Bitfinex has recently distributed a letter to certain users,  saying that they are required to disclose their tax information, which the exchange may share with the government, according to a statement from the exchange on Twitter May 17.

The exchange, which is registered in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), noted that under BVI law it is obliged to report specific information to the BVI government. According to the letter, Bitfinex “may then exchange” the information with tax authorities in concordance with the US Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development Common Reporting Standard (CRS).

With the deadline to submit the information set for May 24, customers, according to the notice, must complete self-certification forms depending on whether they’re individuals or entities, and whether they’re residents or citizens of the US:

“If you are a US person (i.e. a US resident, a US citizen, or an entity organized in the United States), or an entity with at least one 25%+ owner who is a US person, please complete the appropriate FATCA form. Otherwise complete the appropriate CRS form.”

The message was confirmed by the Bitfinex Twitter account after the exchange’s new policy was brought to light by cryptocurrency commentator Whalepool:

“We have not sent this message to all users. We have deliberately targeted users that we believe have an obligation to self-disclose. If a user has _not_ received a message from us, she need _not_ self-certify anything to us at this time.”

Bitfinex was founded in 2012 and is headquartered in Hong Kong. At a market capitalization of $686 mln, it is the fourth-largest cryptocurrency exchange globally, trading 77 different digital assets.

Last month, Bitfinex fell under the “Virtual Markets Integrity Initiative”, an “inquiry into the policies and practices” of crypto trading platforms launched by then-New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman. As part of the program, the exchange was sent a letter, asking them to provide information on operations, internal controls, and other key issues in order to protect cryptocurrency investors and users.

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Bermuda Signs MOU with Blockchain Project Shyft for $10 Mln in Economic Development

Bermuda signs memorandum of understanding with Shyft blockchain network that provides compliance and identity checks.

The Government of Bermuda has recently signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Shyft network which provides blockchain-based ID solutions for Know-Your-Customer (KYC) and anti-money laundering (AML) compliant data transfers, Shyft reported in a blog post May 15.

According to the MOU, Shyft network will spend up to $10 mln on blockchain technology education and economic development. Premier and Minister of Finance of Bermuda David Burt signed the MOU, commenting that the partnership with Shyft will promote high standards of technology and regulations. Burt said that Bermuda “is able to accelerate economic growth, create jobs and attract global interest.” He stated:

“The Government of Bermuda has decided to lead the way and build interoperability into the government legislation, in essence, approach regulatory frameworks with exportability in mind… We’re leading the world in digital assets regulation, there’s no other country that provides comparable certainty and [a] progressive regulatory environment.”

The terms of the MOU state that the Toronto-based blockchain network will collaborate with the government in developing and improving “a robust legal and regulatory framework.” Shyft will also train Bermudians in blockchain technology and development through the country’s Department of Workforce Development.

While MOUs are useful instruments for showing intent and building bilateral relationships between governments and businesses, they are not legally binding. One advantage of MOUs for some governments in that, since they do not carry legally enforceable conditions, they may be issued and adopted without legislative approval.

In April, the Premier of Bermuda signed a MOU with Binance, the world’s second largest cryptocurrency exchange by market capitalization, to receive funding for educational programs related to fintech and blockchain startups. According to the MOU, Binance will provide up to $10 mln for university level training for Bermudians in the blockchain field, as well as invest up to $5 mln to support new blockchain-based firms in the country.

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SEC Launches Mock ICO to Show Investors Warning Signs of Fraud

The SEC Office of Investor Education and Advocacy launched a fake ICO website to illustrate common warning signs of a scam.

Office of Investor Education and Advocacy at the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has launched a fake initial coin offering (ICO) website,  according to a press release May 16. The goal of the site is to increase awareness of the typical warning signs of scam ICOs and to promote investor education.

The mock website HoweyCoins.com represents a classic example of a fraud ICO website that touts an “all too good to be true investment opportunity.” The website includes such details as a misleading and blurry white paper, guaranteed returns claims, celebrity endorsements, and a countdown clock that is “quickly running out on the deal of a lifetime.”

When a user clicks on “Buy Coins Now,” they are lead to the website Investor.gov, which was established by the SEC to help investors avoid fraud. The site warns that if users would have responded to an investment offer like HoweyCoins, they “could have been scammed.”

ICO - HOWEYCOINS

SEC Chairman Jay Clayton emphasized that the agency supports the adoption of new technologies, but it also encourages investors to educate themselves and understand what fraudulent offers look like:

“We embrace new technologies, but we also want investors to see what fraud looks like, so we built this educational site with many of the classic warning signs of fraud. Distributed ledger technology can add efficiency to the capital raising process, but promoters and issuers need to make sure they follow the securities laws. I encourage investors to do their diligence and ask questions.”

Owen Donley, Chief Counsel of the SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy, noted that a fraudulent ICO website can be set up in a very little time, which illustrates how easy and fast it can be to launch another scam offer. “Fraudsters can quickly build an attractive website and load it up with convoluted jargon to lure investors into phony deals,” Donley said.

Earlier this week, Cointelegraph reported that three co-founders of cryptocurrency startup Centra Tech have been formally indicted for running a fraudulent ICO. Centra Tech’s ICO raised $32 mln from investors in 2017. The Florida-based founders misled investors by claiming that they had partnered with Visa and Mastercard to issue virtual currency debit cards.

Late last month, SEC Commissioner Robert Jackson expressed criticism of ICOs in general, claiming that investors “are having a hard time telling the difference between investments and fraud.” He further stated that the ICO market is a prime example of what an unregulated securities market would look like.

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