Crypto-currency crackdown spreads from Dubai to London

A computer screen displays a site featuring cryptocurrency token sales in Berlin on Nov. 26, 2017. Bypassing oversight of any kind, Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) have sprung from nowhere to become a hugely popular way for start-ups to raise funds online, offering self-created digital ‘tokens’ or coins to any willing buyer. (AFP)
Updated 28 November 2017
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Crypto-currency crackdown spreads from Dubai to London

NEW YORK: When US entrepreneur Bharath Rao looked around for the best place to raise money for his crypto-currency derivatives trading business, the US did not make his list. Instead he chose the East African island nation of the Seychelles to sell the trading platform’s tokens.
Rao, a San Diego-based technology veteran who has worked for major Wall Street banks, is not alone.
Confronted with national regulators’ intensifying scrutiny of digital currency fund-raising, known as initial coin offerings, many entrepreneurs are moving businesses to locations more welcoming to crypto-currencies and known for low taxes.
Dozens of start-ups have flocked to Singapore, Switzerland, Eastern Europe and the Caribbean this year, according to interviews with entrepreneurs and company registration data made available to Reuters.
Like bitcoin, the best-known crypto-currency created in 2009, the coins use encryption and a blockchain transaction database enabling fast and anonymous transfer of funds without centralized payment systems.
The numbers compiled by crypto-currency research firm Smith + Crown show how national regulators’ attempts to curb coin sales may just shift business elsewhere.
The US leads with 34 digital currency start-up registrations so far this year, but that reflects Silicon Valley’s role as a technology hub and the depth of US financial markets rather than a welcoming regulatory climate.
Singapore registered 21 entities, up from one in 2016, followed by 19 in Switzerland, up from three last year, according to Smith + Crown. Central Europe saw 14 companies registered this year, compared with one in 2016, and the Caribbean hosted 10, up from two last year.
“The data affirms our sense that Switzerland and Singapore remain go-to locations, but the US could remain for companies raising large amounts of money,” said Matt Chwierut, Smith + Crown’s research director.
Switzerland does not have specific rules on digital coin sales, but some parts of an offer may fall under existing regulations, the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA) said in September.
So far, four of the five largest token sales, raising a total of over $600 million, were carried out by firms registered in Zug, a low-tax region south of Zurich known as the “crypto-valley” of the world.
In contrast, China and South Korea banned digital coin sales this year and regulators in the US, Malaysia, Dubai, UK and Germany warned investors that current scant oversight exposed them to risks of fraud, hacking or theft.
Soaring registrations in “friendly” jurisdictions show how hard it is for national watchdogs to regulate digital coin sales. It is a challenge regulators are beginning to recognize.
“We are talking to other regulators, and we know that there are a lot of bilateral discussions taking place,” the Dubai Financial Services Authority told Reuters.
The US Securities Exchange Commission declined to comment about the migration of coin issuers to remote jurisdictions.
The UK’s Financial Conduct Authority and Securities Commission Malaysia reiterated their stance that digital coin sales are high-risk, speculative investments and that retail investors should be aware of that.
A spokesman for Germany’s Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin) told Reuters “hopping” within the European Union would be “largely futile” since the EU supervisory authority has adopted the same stance as BaFin on the issue.
The Dubai regulator pointed out that seeking out friendly jurisdictions was not unusual, but regulators still needed to warn about the inherent risks in digital coin sales.
Financial regulators from South Korea and China were not immediately available for comment.
In the US, the SEC’s July 25 ruling that digital coins should be regulated as securities had a short-lived chilling effect on the crypto-currency market. Short-lived, because many US startups thought they could avoid such scrutiny by selling “utility tokens,” which gave buyers access to products or services rather than a stake in the company.
Still, concerns that regulators’ views might evolve have made potential US coin issuers consider sales overseas.
“Our lawyers certainly think regulations on utility tokens could change. So for safety, the ICO should be done outside the US,” said Arran Stewart, co-founder of Job.com, an online employment platform which plans a token offering in the Cayman Islands in February.
In fact, out of 15 start-ups interviewed by Reuters, only one, Airfox, sold digital tokens in the US, raising $15 million last month. Others have either carried out a coin sale overseas or are planning one.
Rao, who started Leverj, a decentralized crypto-currency futures trading platform, said he picked the Seychelles for fund-raising because of its openness to crypto-currencies.
“It has not issued anything negative on crypto,” Rao said.
Digital coin sales soared to about $3.6 billion by mid-November, compared with just over $100 million in the whole of 2016, according to Autonomous NEXT, which tracks technology in the financial services industry. Typically, issuers publish a “white paper” describing their business plan and the news of new coin sales spread via online forums and websites tracking new offers. Investors pay for them with bitcoins or ether — two most widely accepted crypto-currencies — via a company’s website.
The ease with which start-ups can raise millions of dollars with little scrutiny in as little as minutes has alarmed regulators, but without a unified approach they hold little sway over that new funding market.
“It’s very difficult for governments to work together in any organized fashion,” said Lewis Cohen, a partner at Hogan Lovells in New York, which has a team of lawyers specializing in blockchain.
“Different jurisdictions will look at token sales through different lenses and it would be very difficult to get on a completely harmonized place.” Nimble and lightly-regulated crypto-currency companies can straddle borders with ease.
For example, BANKEX, which aims to convert illiquid assets into tokens to be traded on its crypto-currency platform, is registered in Delaware and plans a coin offering in the Cayman Islands this month, said the company’s CEO, Igor Khmel.
Hogan Lovell’s Cohen said that while it would be foolish to shut token sales down, they should be regulated, or self-regulated.
“We may need to have some guard rails,” he said.
“I don’t think it’s really fair for legitimate platforms that are trying to create new and innovative business models to be thrown in with other less scrupulous parties who may see token sales as a way of making a fast buck.”
— REUTERS


Saudi Aramco looks to become China’s biggest crude supplier

Updated 39 sec ago
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Saudi Aramco looks to become China’s biggest crude supplier

  • New supply contracts make it very likely that Saudi Aramco next year will become China’s largest supplier
  • Russia currently accounts for the lion’s share of China’s oil imports, supplying some $23.7 billion worth of crude last year

LONDON: Saudi Aramco is moving closer to becoming China’s largest supplier after striking five new crude supply deals with Beijing.
It will help to take the total volume to 1.67 million barrels per day (bpd).
“The new supply contracts make it very likely that Saudi Aramco next year will become China’s largest supplier, a position it also held from 2006 until 2016,” the Saudi oil company said in a statement.
Russia currently accounts for the lion’s share of China’s oil imports, supplying some $23.7 billion worth of crude last year, or 14.6 percent of its total oil imports.
Top Aramco officials this month attended the first China International Import Expo in Shanghai.
The delegation included Ahmed Al-Khunaini, manager of Saudi Aramco’s Crude Oil Sales and Marketing Department, and Anwar Al-Hejazi, Aramco Asia president.
Aramco earlier agreed a crude oil supply agreement with Zhejiang Petroleum and Chemical Co. (ZPC) on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Petroleum Conference (APPEC) in Singapore.
“Large, integrated crude-to-chemical projects like ZPC and Hengli are the future of China’s downstream industry and I am excited Saudi Aramco will be part of their success story,” said Saudi Aramco Senior Vice President Abdulaziz Al-Judaimi.
The new supply agreements are the result of Aramco’s marketing efforts that focus on customer diversification, strategic relationships, and tapping regional demand previously not supplied by Saudi Aramco, the national oil company said.
They are an important part of diversifying Saudi Aramco’s customer base and capturing a large share of China’s future incremental oil demand, which will increasingly come from private refiners.
Annual economic growth of more than 6 percent is supporting demand for oil imports in China as the country adds more refining and petrochemical capacity.
Beijing is also seeking to reduce its reliance on US crude imports amid a trade war with Washington, analysts say.
“Chinese buyers, anticipating that crude and LNG could go on the list if tensions escalate further, are looking to alternative sources,” Richard Mallinson, co-founder of London consultancy Energy Aspects, told Arab News in August.
OPEC already provides 56 percent of China’s oil imports, according to the International Energy Agency.
China’s crude imports grew year on year during the third quarter of 2018 according to data from Bloomberg NEF, despite a fall in imports coming from Iran.
China imported nearly 10 million barrels of oil per day last month.