Facebook’s Libra currency under fire

Libra has raised eyebrows among the world’s financial regulators, including the Bank of England, the European Central Bank and the US Federal Reserve. (File/AFP)
Updated 14 July 2019

Facebook’s Libra currency under fire

  • Libra will be co-managed by 100 partner firms, including Facebook’s newly-minted financial services division Calibra
  • Libra, which is widely regarded as a challenger to dominant global player Bitcoin, is expected to launch in the first half of 2020

LONDON: Facebook’s planned virtual unit Libra, already under heavy attack from US President Donald Trump and global regulators, faces skepticism among the wider cryptocurrency community as well.
One theme — besides Brexit — dominated discussion among the movers and shakers from London’s financial technology or FinTech industry as gathered for their annual get-together: the future of virtual currencies.
“Can I just ask you to raise your hand if you would not be willing to use Libra?” asked the moderator at an event at London’s recent ‘FinTech Week’.
In the room, filled with about 100 experts and media who closely track the sector, about two-thirds of participants raised their hand to express distrust at the upstart currency.
Helen Disney, founder and boss of Unblocked Events, which promotes the blockchain technology that powers many cryptocurrencies, acknowledged growing doubts over who exactly would oversee and regulate Libra’s operation.
People are “concerned about how the governance... would work,” Disney told AFP.
“The cryptocurrency community is very libertarian in thinking,” its “about giving power to the people, democratization of finance, keeping away from big banks and companies who control (the) economy,” she said
Last week’s gathering came one month after Facebook announced to the world its plans for the virtual currency.
Libra, which is widely regarded as a challenger to dominant global player Bitcoin, is expected to launch in the first half of 2020.
Whereas Bitcoin is decentralized, Libra will be co-managed by 100 partner firms, including Facebook’s newly-minted financial services division Calibra.
The companies behind Libra — which will be backed with a basket of real-world currencies — include payment giants Visa, MasterCard and PayPal, as well as taxi-hailing services Lyft and Uber.
To access Libra on smartphones, users will go through a virtual wallet that will also be named Calibra.
While Facebook boasts an enormous customer base dotted across the globe that should facilitate Libra’s uptake, it firm also been plagued by privacy concerns that could make users hesitate.
“Can’t wait for a cryptocurrency with the ethics of Uber, the censorship resistance of Paypal, and the centralization of Visa, all tied together under the proven privacy of Facebook,” said Sarah Jamie Lewis, head of non-profit research organization Open Privacy.
Libra has meanwhile raised eyebrows among the world’s financial regulators, including the Bank of England, the European Central Bank and the US Federal Reserve.
But Disney believes that Libra will finally force regulators to present clear regulation guidelines, as demanded by the cryptocurrency community itself.
“We have been waiting for a long time for a clearer signal (regarding) the regulation of cryptocurrencies and digital assets,” she said.
But James Bennett, head of cryptocurrency research firm Bitassist, argues that Libra should not be seen in the same light as Bitcoin.
“In the long run, people may realize that Libra is not a cryptocurrency,” Bennett said at the FinTech Week event.
“A true cryptocurrency should be resistant to attacks by all parties, from sovereign states to global corporations,” he said, adding that “cryptocurrency is a type of money used to transfer value over the Internet that cannot be stopped, confiscated or destroyed by any single entity.”
Trump has meanwhile unleashed a vicious attack on virtual currencies, slamming them for their alleged shadowy nature and arguing that Libra had no standing nor dependability — unlike the dollar.
“I am not a fan of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, which are not money, and whose value is highly volatile and based on thin air,” Trump tweeted Thursday.


New emissions blow for VW as German court backs damages claims

Updated 26 May 2020

New emissions blow for VW as German court backs damages claims

  • Scandal has already cost firm more than €30 billion; ruling serves as template for about 60,000 cases

KARLSRUHE, Germany: Volkswagen must pay compensation to owners of vehicles with rigged diesel engines in Germany, a court ruled on Monday, dealing a fresh blow to the automaker almost 5 years after its emissions scandal erupted.

The ruling by Germany’s highest court for civil disputes, which will allow owners to return vehicles for a partial refund of the purchase price, serves as a template for about 60,000 lawsuits that are still pending with lower German courts.

Volkswagen admitted in September 2015 to cheating in emissions tests on diesel engines, a scandal which has already cost it more than €30 billion ($33 billion) in regulatory fines and vehicle refits, mostly in the US.

US authorities banned the affected cars after the cheat software was discovered, triggering claims for compensation.

But in Europe vehicles remained on the roads, leading Volkswagen to argue compensation claims there were without merit. European authorities instead forced the company to update its engine control software and fined it for fraud and administrative lapses.

Volkswagen said on Monday it would work urgently with motorists on an agreement that would see them hold on to the vehicles for a one-off compensation payment.

It did not give an estimate of how much the ruling by the German federal court, the Bundesgerichtshof (BGH), might cost it.

Volkswagen shares were 0.5 percent lower. The BGH’s presiding judge had signaled earlier this month he saw grounds for compensation.

Costs mount

“The verdict by the BGH draws a final line. It creates clarity on the BGH’s views on the underlying questions in the diesel proceedings for most of the 60,000 cases still pending,” Volkswagen said.

A lower court in the city of Koblenz had previously ruled the owner of a VW Sharan minivan had suffered pre-meditated damage, entitling him to reimbursement minus a discount for the mileage the motorist had already
benefited from.

The court at the time said he should be awarded €25,600 for the used-car purchase he made for €31,500 in 2014.

“We have in principle confirmed the verdict from the Koblenz upper regional court,” said BGH presiding federal judge Stephan Seiters.

Volkswagen had petitioned for the ruling to be quashed altogether by the higher court, while the plaintiff had appealed to have the deduction removed.

A Volkswagen spokesman said that outside Germany, more than 100,000 claims for damages were still pending, of which 90,000 cases were in Britain.

The carmaker also said it had paid out a total of €750 million to more than 200,000 separate claimants in Germany who had opted against individual claims and instead joined a class action lawsuit brought by a German consumer group.

The carmaker said last month it would set aside a total of 830 million for that deal.

In a separate court, Volkswagen agreed last week to pay €9 million to end proceedings against its chairman and chief executive, who were accused of withholding market-moving information before the emissions scandal came to light.