ANKARA: Turkey’s Central Bank has banned the use of crypto assets in payments as part of the country’s efforts to regulate cryptocurrencies, which have gained huge popularity in recent months.
The government has been closely monitoring cryptocurrencies for some time, alleging that extremists might use them to fund illegal activities or facilitate money laundering.
“Their use in payments may cause irreparable damages for the parties to the transactions, and include elements that may undermine the confidence in methods and instruments used currently in payments,” the bank said.
The new regulation will come into effect by April 30, but the legislation’s announcement lowered the value of Bitcoin by more than 4 percent on Friday.
Besides forbidding crypto payments for buying goods and services, the regulation also bans transferring money to cryptocurrency platforms via fintech systems. But many investors in Turkey view Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as a shelter against inflation, with the lira facing a significant devaluation against foreign currencies due to the country’s financial volatility.
The lira has lost about half of its value since the 2018 currency crisis.
Increasing inflation rates, which reached a six-month high last month of 16 percent, as well as official unemployment rates hitting 13.4 percent are making people turn to cryptocurrency to gain money and compensate their losses with stable assets.
The booming business of cryptocurrencies has replaced Turks’ rush for gold and real estate as a hedge against the struggling lira and rising interest rates. This new digital money is mostly used by the country’s tech savvy younger population, which is seeking to protect its livelihood against Turkey’s recent economic troubles.
The government’s crypto asset ban drew anger from domestic investors. About 100,000 tweets were sent from Turkey-based social media accounts in one day criticizing the legislation.
The country’s main opposition Peoples’ Republican Party (CHP) also criticized the government’s midnight move against cryptocurrency use.
“Rather than issuing a midnight legislation, you should have decided on such sensitive issues after consulting all relevant parties,” CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said.
Regulation in the field of cryptocurrencies was not a new debate for Turkey, where the government expected to achieve some political goals from blockchain technology, according to Dr. Mehmet Bedii Kaya, an expert of IT law at Istanbul Bilgi University.
The government, in line with its 11th Development Plan, was set to implement a digital central bank based on blockchain technologies.
“On the other hand, there is a significant number of Turkish citizens who use cryptocurrencies for short and long-term gains,” Kaya told Arab News. “I think that this latest regulation has been prepared with a quick reflex, without considering the potential financial losses it might generate with the wave of resulting misinformation.”
Kaya said that payment institutions were already under the close supervision of the Central Bank. “These fintech institutions, which are active in the cryptocurrency market, are very innovative and dynamic. Therefore the Turkish state considered this dynamism as a risk and source of complexity. However, these key players shouldn’t have been disqualified.”
After Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced it was now possible to buy Tesla vehicles in the US with Bitcoin, an Istanbul-based luxury car distributor called Royal Motors began accepting payments in cryptocurrencies last week.
Crypto trading volumes hit $27 billion between early February to March 24, according to data analyzed by Reuters, while trading gained momentum especially after the Central Bank governor was dismissed by presidential decree and further weakened the lira.
Last week, the Turkish government asked crypto trading platforms to provide it with user information.