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Kraken Crackdown: US SEC Targets Crypto ‘Staking’ as Crypto Firm Agrees to Shutter Unregistered Program

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Kraken said its agreement with the US SEC to end its on-chain staking services would affect only US clients.
By Reuters | Updated: 10 February 2023

Crypto exchange Kraken agreed to shut down its cryptocurrency staking service and pay $30 million in penalties to settle U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charges that it failed to register the program, the agency said on Thursday, in a move that could cause headaches for platforms with similar offerings.

The settlement marks the SEC’s first crackdown on staking, a common service offered at both centralised and decentralised crypto exchanges, including most of the major exchanges in the US such as Coinbase and Binance US.

In a video message posted to Twitter on Thursday, SEC chair Gary Gensler said that most staking providers fail to provide customers proper disclosures such as how a company is protecting a user’s staked assets. Those providers should register their staking services with the SEC, Gensler added.

“When a company or platform offers you these kinds of returns, whether they call their services ‘lending,’ ‘earn,’ ‘rewards,’ ‘APY,’ or ‘staking’ – that relationship should come with the protections of the federal securities laws,” Gensler said.

Owners of crypto assets that use a “proof-of-stake” blockchain can stake some of their assets to potentially take part in the process of validating transactions. In exchange for their work, validators are often rewarded with newly created crypto assets.

Kraken offers its customers the ability to “stake” certain crypto tokens in order to earn rewards. Its website advertises that users can earn up to 20 percent in annual yield if they pledge to lock up their assets for a certain period of time.

The San Francisco-based platform did not admit or deny the allegations in the SEC’s complaint.

In a statement, Kraken said its agreement to end its on-chain staking services would affect only US clients, and that most assets enrolled in its program by US users would be automatically “unstaked” starting on Thursday.

In a series of tweets on Wednesday, Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong said a ban on staking for US retail customers would be “a terrible path for the US”. Coinbase also offers a staking service to its US customers.

“We need to make sure that new technologies are encouraged to grow in the US, and not stifled by lack of clear rules,” Armstrong said.

Shares of Coinbase were down more than 14 percent on Thursday.

Kraken in November agreed to pay $362,000 (roughly Rs. 3 crore) to the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control to settle civil liability related to apparent violations of sanctions on Iran, and to invest an additional $100,000 (roughly Rs. 82,55,000) in certain sanctions compliance controls.

The company’s incoming CEO told Reuters in September that the exchange had no plans to register with the SEC as a market intermediary, or to delist crypto tokens that the regulator has labelled as securities.

The settlement comes a year after a subsidiary of crypto company BlockFi Inc agreed to pay $100 million (roughly Rs. 825 crore) to the SEC and 32 states to settle charges in connection with a retail crypto lending product the company offered to nearly 600,000 investors.

As part of the settlement, BlockFi had planned to offer an alternative product expected to be the first crypto interest-bearing security registered with the SEC, but the New Jersey company filed for bankruptcy in November without launching the product.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Binance Crypto Exchange to Sell Its Russia Business to CommEX for Undisclosed Amount

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Binance said it will have no ongoing revenue split from the sale, nor will it maintain an option to buy back shares in the business.
By Reuters | Updated: 28 September 2023

Cryptocurrency exchange Binance said on Wednesday it will sell its Russia business to newly-launched exchange CommEX, becoming the latest company to pull out of Moscow since the country began its war against Ukraine.

Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, did not disclose financial details of the deal. The company said it will have no ongoing revenue split from the sale, nor will it maintain an option to buy back shares in the business.

“As we look toward the future, we recognise that operating in Russia is not compatible with Binance’s compliance strategy,” Chief Compliance Officer Noah Perlman said, without referring to the war in Ukraine, which Russia calls a “special military operation.”

Binance also said that all the assets of its existing Russian users were safe and that there will be an orderly process for the migration of users. The divestment process will take up to one year, it added.

CommEX is a centralized cryptocurrency exchange backed by crypto venture capitalists, according to its website. The company only launched its exchange on Tuesday. It did not respond to a request for comment on the Binance deal.

Many Western companies, including the likes of Renault, Shell, McDonald’s and others, have agreed to sell their Russian assets or hand them over to local managers to take action to comply with sanctions over the war in Ukraine and deal with threats from the Kremlin that foreign-owned assets may be seized.

Last month, Mastercard announced that the company and Binance exchange would end their four crypto card programmes in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Bahrain as of September 22. The Binance cards allow users to make payments in traditional currencies, funded by their cryptocurrency holdings on the exchange.

Binance is also facing legal and regulatory challenges. US regulators sued the crypto exchange and its CEO Changpeng Zhao in June for allegedly operating a “web of deception.” Binance has said it would defend itself “vigorously.”

© Thomson Reuters 2023

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JPMorgan’s UK Bank Chase to Ban Crypto Transactions After Increase in Scams

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JPMorgan has attracted more than 1.6 million customers to its Chase retail bank since launching the mobile app-based service in Britain two years ago.
By Reuters | Updated: 27 September 2023

JPMorgan’s British retail bank Chase will ban crypto transactions made by customers from October 16 due to an increase in fraud and scams, the company said on Tuesday.

“We’ve seen an increase in the number of crypto scams targeting UK consumers, so we have taken the decision to prevent the purchase of crypto assets on a Chase debit card or by transferring money to a crypto site from a Chase account,” a spokesperson for the bank said.

Chase has become the latest lender in the UK to restrict customers’ access to crypto amid long-running concerns over its use in online scams run by criminals.

JPMorgan has attracted more than 1.6 million customers to its Chase retail bank since launching the mobile app-based service in Britain two years ago, and plans to roll out the consumer bank in other international markets over time.

Chase informed customers of its planned policy change by email on Tuesday morning, the bank confirmed. Crypto media outlet Coindesk reported the move earlier on Tuesday.

In March, NatWest (NWG.L) imposed new limits on the daily and monthly amount customers can send to crypto exchanges, seeking to protect consumers from “crypto-criminals.”

Spain’s Santander said last year it would block UK customers from sending real-time payments to crypto exchanges as part of measures to protect customers from scams.

Last month, payments giant PayPal announced that it would stop allowing UK customers to buy cryptocurrencies through its platform from October as it worked to comply with new rules on crypto promotions.

Britain’s financial regulator is due to bring in tougher rules to limit how crypto is advertised to British consumers, including requiring crypto firms to carry warnings about the risk and scrapping “refer a friend” bonuses.

© Thomson Reuters 2023

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Crypto Reporting Framework Discussed During G20, Decision Taken on Swift Implementation

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The leaders of 20 nations have reaffirmed the commitment to continue cooperation towards sustainable and modern international tax system.
By Press Trust of India | Updated: 9 September 2023

The G-20 leaders on Saturday decided on swift implementation of the reporting framework for crypto assets, saying a significant number of member nations want information exchange on such non-financial assets to start by 2027.

The Crypto Asset Reporting Framework (CARF) or template is being developed to make sure that such non-financial assets are not used by tax evaders to conceal their unaccounted wealth.

“We call for the swift implementation of the CryptoAsset Reporting Framework (“CARF”) and amendments to the CRS. We ask the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes to identify an appropriate and coordinated timeline to commence exchanges by relevant jurisdictions,” said the G20 Leaders’ declaration, which was adopted by consensus.

The leaders of 20 developing and developed nations have reaffirmed the commitment to continue cooperation towards a globally fair, sustainable and modern international tax system appropriate to the needs of the 21st century.

“We remain committed to the swift implementation of the two-pillar international tax package. Significant progress has been made on Pillar One including the delivery of a text of a Multilateral Convention (MLC), and work on Amount B (framework for simplified and streamlined application of the arm’s length principle to in-country baseline marketing and distribution activities) as well as the completion of the work on the development of the Subject to Tax Rule (STTR) under Pillar Two,” the declaration said.

Briefing reporters after the summit, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the G20 countries have made substantial progress on the two-pillar solution.

“Work has happened on exchange of information on immovable property transactions between countries. There is a launch of the pilot programme of the South Asia academy for tax and financial crime investigation in collaboration with the OECD,” Sitharaman said.

Under the global tax deal, about 140 countries, including India, have agreed to an overhaul of global tax norms to ensure that multinationals pay taxes wherever they operate and at a minimum of 15 percent rate. However, some vexed issues still need to be ironed out before its implementation.

The G20 countries called on the OECD to develop an inclusive framework to swiftly resolve the few pending issues relating to the MLC (multilateral convention) with a view to preparing the MLC for signature in the second half of 2023 and completing the work on Amount B by the end of 2023.

“We welcome the steps taken by various countries to implement the Global Anti-Base Erosion (GloBE) Rules as a common approach. We recognise the need for coordinated efforts towards capacity building to implement the two-pillar international tax package effectively and, in particular, welcome a plan for additional support and technical assistance for developing countries,” the declaration said.

The G20 countries also took note of the OECD report on ‘Enhancing International Tax Transparency on Real Estate’ and the ‘Global Forum Report on Facilitating the Use of Tax-Treaty-Exchanged Information for Non-Tax Purposes’.

The OECD has suggested automatic exchange with regard to information on real estate assets among countries and the setting up of digitalised ownership registers accessible to designated relevant government agencies on a real-time basis amid concerns over investments in foreign real estate being used to “shelter undeclared assets”.

The report noted that there has been a significant increase in foreign-owned real estate assets over the past decade, and a lot of funds have been shifted from financial assets to buying foreign real assets.

The Global Forum report also called for countries to adopt a ‘whole-of-government’ approach to address the challenge of illicit financial flows through the sharing of information from tax authorities to non-tax agencies, like financial intelligence units, anti-corruption agencies, customs authorities and public prosecutors.

India had been pressing for expanding the scope of common reporting standard (CRS) at the G20 to include non-financial assets like real estate properties, under the automatic exchange of information (AEOI) among OECD countries.

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IMF-FSB, Regulators Set Out Roadmap to Coordinate Global Cooperation on Crypto Asset Regulation

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The IMF states that benefits of crypto assets like cheaper and faster cross-border payments, and increased financial inclusion are yet to materialise.
By Reuters | Updated: 8 September 2023

Global financial regulators and the International Monetary Fund on Thursday set out a roadmap to coordinate measures that stop crypto assets from undermining macroeconomic and financial stability. Such risks are exacerbated by noncompliance with existing laws in some instances, the G20’s risk watchdog, the Financial Stability Board, and the IMF said in a paper.

Many of the claimed benefits from crypto assets, such as cheaper and faster cross-border payments, and increased financial inclusion, have yet to materialise, it added.

“Widespread adoption of crypto-assets could undermine the effectiveness of monetary policy, circumvent capital flow management measures, exacerbate fiscal risks, divert resources available for financing the real economy, and threaten global financial stability,” the paper said.

The paper sets out timelines for members of the IMF and G20 to implement recent recommendations to regulate crypto from the Financial Stability Board and IOSCO, a global group of securities regulators.

It marks a further evolution in regulatory thinking after several years of seeing little threat from the sector, with attitudes hardening after the collapse of the crypto exchange FTX last November, which rattled markets and left investors nursing losses.

“A comprehensive policy and regulatory response for crypto-assets is necessary to address the risks of crypto-assets to macroeconomic and financial stability,” said the paper, which will be presented to G20 leaders at a summit this month in New Delhi.

The European Union has approved the world’s first comprehensive set of rules for crypto assets, but there is a patchier approach elsewhere to a borderless sector where fraud and manipulation are “prevalent”.

Other elements include governments avoiding large deficits which can lead to inflation that dents fiat currencies and encourages substitutes such as cryptoassets, the paper said.

The tax treatment of crypto assets should also be spelled out, along with how existing laws apply to the sector.

© Thomson Reuters 2023

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Cathie Wood’s Ark Invest and 21Shares File for First Spot-Ether ETF in the US: Details

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Ark Invest could be the first to list a fund in the US to directly invest in Ethereum.
By Reuters | Updated: 7 September 2023

Cathie Wood’s Ark Invest and crypto investment firm 21Shares are seeking regulatory approval to set up an exchange-traded fund (ETF) that would directly hold ether, according to a filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on Wednesday.

It is the first attempt to list a fund in the US that would directly invest in ether, the second-largest cryptocurrency by market capitalization.

In a boost to the crypto sector, the US District of Columbia Court of Appeals last month passed a landmark ruling that the SEC was wrong to reject an application from crypto asset manager Grayscale Investments to list an ETF that tracks the price of bitcoin.

The case has been closely watched by the cryptocurrency and asset management industries, which have been trying for years to convince the SEC to approve a spot bitcoin ETF.

Cboe Global Markets earlier this year filed a proposal with the US SEC to list and trade shares of a spot bitcoin ETF by Ark Invest and 21Shares on the Cboe BZX exchange. The SEC, however, delayed a decision on whether to approve it.

The regulator has in recent years rejected dozens of applications for spot bitcoin ETFs, citing inadequate levels of trading surveillance that could leave the underlying spot market subject to fraud and manipulation.

© Thomson Reuters 2023

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Talks Underway for Global Framework on Crypto Rules, Says FM Nirmala Sitharaman

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India's G20 presidency has put on the table key issues related to regulation of crypto assets, the minister said.
By Reuters | Updated: 6 September 2023

Discussions are underway on a global framework to regulate crypto assets, India’s finance minister said on Tuesday, adding that cryptocurrencies could not be regulated efficiently without the cooperation of all countries.

“India’s (G20) presidency has put on the table key issues related to regulating or understanding that there should be a framework for handling issues related to crypto assets,” Nirmala Sitharaman said at an event in the financial capital of Mumbai.

“Active discussions are happening.”

Back in March, the Indian government said that its money laundering laws would apply to trade in cryptocurrencies.

The exchange between virtual digital assets and fiat currencies, the exchange between one or more forms of virtual digital assets, and the transfer of digital assets will be covered under money laundering laws, the notification released at the time said.

India is yet to finalise legislation and regulations surrounding cryptocurrencies even as the country’s central bank has cautioned against their use multiple times. The Reserve Bank of India has said that cryptocurrencies should be banned as they are akin to a Ponzi scheme.

G20 president India’s push to regulate cryptocurrencies gained support from both the International Monetary Fund and the United States in February.

India had said it wanted a collective global effort to deal with problems posed by cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, and the finance ministry had said it had held a seminar for G20 member states to discuss how to come up with a common framework.

In February, Sitharaman and US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen had discussed strengthening multilateral development banks, global debt vulnerabilities, and crypto assets on the sidelines of the G20 finance chiefs meeting.

© Thomson Reuters 2023

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