Bitcoin drops after report Binance under US probe, Tesla move

Cryptocurrency fans have counted Tesla boss Elon Musk as among their champions, but this week he rocked their world by criticizing carbon emissions from bitcoin, causing bitcoin's price to drop. (AFP)
Cryptocurrency fans have counted Tesla boss Elon Musk as among their champions, but this week he rocked their world by criticizing carbon emissions from bitcoin, causing bitcoin's price to drop. (AFP)
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Updated 14 May 2021

Bitcoin drops after report Binance under US probe, Tesla move

Bitcoin drops after report Binance under US probe, Tesla move
  • Bitcoin dropped to $45,700, the lowest since March 1, then steadied at $49,312 in Asia morning trade on Friday
  • The world’s largest cryptocurrency fell 17 percent on Wednesday following Elon Musk’s remarks

NEW YORK/LONDON/TOKYO: Bitcoin slid to a 2-1/2-month low on Thursday after a regulatory probe into crypto exchange Binance added to pressure from Tesla Inc. chief Elon Musk’s reversing his stance on accepting the digital currency.
Bloomberg reported on Thursday that as part of the Binance inquiry, the US Justice Department and the Internal Revenue Service have sought information from individuals with insight into its business.
Bitcoin dropped to $45,700, the lowest since March 1, then steadied at $49,312 in Asia morning trade on Friday.
The world’s largest cryptocurrency fell 17 percent on Wednesday following Musk’s remarks that Tesla would stop accepting the digital token as payment for its electric cars for environmental reasons.
“Environmental matters are an incredibly sensitive subject right now, and Tesla’s move might serve as a wake-up call to businesses and consumers using bitcoin, who hadn’t hitherto considered its carbon footprint,” Laith Khalaf, an analyst at AJ Bell, said.
Bitcoin remains about 70 percent higher for the year and is more than 1,000 percent higher than its 2020 low of $3,850.
Binance did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A Binance spokeswoman told Bloomberg that the company doesn’t comment on specific inquiries but takes its legal obligations seriously and engages with regulators in a collaborative fashion.
Ethereum, the second-largest cryptocurrency, dropped to a session low of $3,543.62 and last changed hands at $3,656, down about 4 percent. On Wednesday, ethereum hit a record high of $4,380.64.
Tesla’s announcement on Feb. 8 that it had bought $1.5 billion of bitcoin and would accept it as payment for its electric vehicles has been one factor behind the digital currency’s surge this year.
Musk has faced pressure over bitcoin’s environmental impact. The cryptocurrency relies on computers competing to solve elaborate math problems, which use huge amounts of electricity.
“We are concerned about rapidly increasing use of fossil fuels for Bitcoin mining and transactions, especially coal, which has the worst emissions of any fuel,” Musk tweeted.
Musk’s comments roiled markets even though he said Tesla would not sell any bitcoin and would resume accepting it as soon as “mining” for it transitioned to more sustainable energy.
In a second tweet on Thursday, Musk denounced the “insane” amount of energy used to produce bitcoin, which pushed bitcoin lower.
Jeffrey Wang, Vancouver-based head of Americas at Amber Group, a cryptocurrency service provider, said broader selling of risk assets in traditional markets was another factor behind Wednesday’s bitcoin plunge.
“I don’t think everything is selling off just because of this news. This was kind of the straw that broke the camel’s back in terms of adding to the risk sell-off,” Wang said.
Bitcoin has struggled since hitting a record $64,895.22 in mid-April, dropping to the cusp of $47,000 just 11 days later before hovering around $58,000 since the start of May.

Environmental concerns
At current rates, bitcoin mining devours about the same amount of energy annually as the Netherlands did in 2019, data from the University of Cambridge and the International Energy Agency showed.
Tesla shares were down 2.4 percent, while the biggest US cryptocurrency exchange, Coinbase, tumbled nearly 9 percent. Smaller cryptocurrencies were less affected by the news.
“The reason given in the tweet is fossil fuel use for the mining of BTC, but most cryptocurrencies have already found more efficient ways to do that and therefore outperformed.”
Cryptocurrency dogecoin lost more than a third of its price on Sunday after Musk, whose tweets had stoked demand for the token earlier this year, called it a “hustle” on the “Saturday Night Live” comedy show.
By Tuesday, however, he was asking his followers on Twitter if they wanted Tesla to accept dogecoin and it jumped on Friday in Asia after Musk tweeted about it again and said he was working on improvements to its transaction systems.
Dogecoin rose 20 percent to 52 cents on Friday according to Binance and last traded at $0.4825.


Abu Dhabi to invest nearly $100m in projects in Turkmenistan

Abu Dhabi to invest nearly $100m in projects in Turkmenistan
Updated 53 min 11 sec ago

Abu Dhabi to invest nearly $100m in projects in Turkmenistan

Abu Dhabi to invest nearly $100m in projects in Turkmenistan
  • The deal allocates 275 million dirhams ($74.9 million) for the construction of an airport in Jebel in the Balkan region
  • About 92 million dirhams will be used to build a 10-megawatts hybrid power plant

DUBAI: The Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD) has signed deals worth $99.91 million to build an airport and a power plant in Turkmenistan.
The deal allocates 275 million dirhams ($74.9 million) for the construction of an airport in Jebel in the Balkan region of the country.
It aims to improve airport infrastructure in the area and enhance air connectivity in central Asia.
The project includes building Jebel airport terminal with a capacity of 100 passengers per hour.
About 92 million dirhams will be used to build a 10-megawatts hybrid power plant that will provide clean energy for the people in Altyn Asyr.
Earlier this year, the ADFD signed agreements with the government of Turkmenistan for projects including including an investment company.


G7 to counter China’s clout with big infrastructure project: senior US official

G7 to counter China’s clout with big infrastructure project: senior US official
Updated 12 June 2021

G7 to counter China’s clout with big infrastructure project: senior US official

G7 to counter China’s clout with big infrastructure project: senior US official
  • China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure scheme that Xi launched in 2013
  • More than 100 countries have signed agreements with China to cooperate in BRI projects like railways, ports, highways and other infrastructure

CARBIS BAY: The Group of Seven will seek to rival China’s multi-trillion-dollar Belt and Road initiative on Saturday by announcing a global infrastructure plan to help developing nations, a senior official in US President Joe Biden’s administration said.
The G7 is trying to find a coherent response to the growing assertiveness of President Xi Jinping after China’s spectacular economic and military rise over the past 40 years.
The US official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity, said the United States would also push the other G7 leaders for “concrete action on forced labor” in China, and to include criticism of Beijing in their final communique from a three-day summit in southwest England.
“This is not just about confronting or taking on China,” the official said. “But until now we haven’t offered a positive alternative that reflects our values, our standards and our way of doing business.”
China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure scheme that Xi launched in 2013, involving development and investment initiatives that would stretch from Asia to Europe and beyond.
More than 100 countries have signed agreements with China to cooperate in BRI projects like railways, ports, highways and other infrastructure.
Critics say Xi’s plan to create a modern version of the ancient Silk Road trade route to link China with Asia, Europe and beyond is a vehicle for the expansion of Communist China. Beijing says such doubts betray the “imperial hangover” of many Western powers that humiliated China for centuries.

China’s rise
The re-emergence of China as a leading global power is considered to be one of the most significant geopolitical events of recent times, alongside the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union that ended the Cold War.
China in 1979 had an economy that was smaller than Italy’s, but after opening to foreign investment and introducing market reforms, it has become the world’s second-largest economy and is a global leader in a range of new technologies.
Leaders of the G7 — the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany, Italy, France and Japan — want to use their gathering in the seaside resort of Carbis Bay to show the world that the richest democracies can offer an alternative to China’s growing clout.
The US official said until now, the West had failed to offer a positive alternative to the “lack of transparency, poor environmental and labor standards, and coercive approach” of the Chinese government that had left many countries worse off.
“So tomorrow we’ll be announcing ‘build back better for the world,’ an ambitious new global infrastructure initiative with our G7 partners that won’t just be an alternative to the BRI,” the official said.
According to a Refinitiv database, as of mid-last year, more than 2,600 projects at a cost of $3.7 trillion were linked to the Belt and Road Initiative, although the Chinese foreign ministry said last June that about 20 percent of projects had been seriously affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In March, Biden said he had suggested to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, hosting the G7 summit, that democratic countries should develop their own rival scheme.

Forced labor
In talks, Biden will also press the other leaders to make clear that they believe forced labor practices are an affront to human dignity and “an egregious example of China’s unfair economic competition.”
“We’re pushing on being specific on areas like Xinjiang where forced labor is taking place and where we have to express our values as a G7,” the official said of the final communique to be issued at the end of the summit on Sunday.
China denies all accusations of abuse in the Xinjiang region.
There were no specifics on how the global infrastructure scheme would be funded. The plan would involve raising hundreds of billions in public and private money to help close a $40 trillion infrastructure gap in needy countries by 2035, the official said.
The aim was to work with the US Congress to supplement existing development financing “with the hope that, together with G7 partners, the private sector and other stakeholders, we soon be collectively catalyzing hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure investment for low and middle income countries that need it.” (Reporting by Steve Holland and Michael Holden Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Frances Kerry)


Germany buys Dubai data to track possible tax evasion

Germany buys Dubai data to track possible tax evasion
Updated 12 June 2021

Germany buys Dubai data to track possible tax evasion

Germany buys Dubai data to track possible tax evasion
  • Der Spiegel Magazine first reported the purchase of a CD containing details of assets in Dubai

BERLIN: Germany has bought a trove of data that could help treasury officials track down possible tax evasion by wealthy German citizens, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said on Friday.
“The data will now be evaluated by the regional tax authorities,” Scholz said in Berlin. “Tax evasion is not a minor offense it is a crime.”
Der Spiegel Magazine first reported the purchase of a CD containing details of assets in Dubai such as tracts of land and real estate owned by German nationals.
It said an anonymous informant approached German officials and offered to pass on the data, for which the Federal Tax Office paid about 2 million euros ($2.42 million), Spiegel said.
Scholz did not confirm or deny the details reported by Spiegel about how the CD was purchased or the price.
Tax authorities in Germany’s 16 states had in the past sought information from countries like Switzerland to unearth possible tax evasion by wealthy Germans.
Scholz, who leads the Social Democratic Party (SPD), has made fair taxation a major election pledge before an election in September forecast to deal his center-left party its worst-ever result.


US university completes funding round led by UAE’s Global Ventures

US university completes funding round led by UAE’s Global Ventures
Updated 12 June 2021

US university completes funding round led by UAE’s Global Ventures

US university completes funding round led by UAE’s Global Ventures
  • Nexford is a tech-enabled online university, which focuses on making education accessible
  • The university will use the proceeds for its expansion plans in Asia, and to improve its offerings

DUBAI: Washington DC-based Nexford University has completed a $10.8 million Pre-Series A funding round, led by UAE-based venture capital (VC) firm Global Ventures.
Nexford is a tech-enabled online university, which focuses on making education accessible despite the students’ physical location.
Other participating investors included Future Africa’s education fund, as well as angel investors, family offices and other VC firms from the US, UK, France, Dubai, Switzerland, Qatar, Nigeria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.
The university will use the proceeds for its expansion plans in Asia, and to improve its offerings.
“Learners want high-quality, yet affordable education relevant to today’s business environment, whilst retaining the flexibility remote learning provides,” the university CEO Fadl Al-Tarzi said.
He added: “Now, with additional funding, we can invest in the technology and teams required to address these challenges.”
Nextford recorded a 300 percent increase in revenue in 2020 with learners enrolling from over 65 countries. It has formed partnerships with tech giants Microsoft, LinkedIn and IBM.


Iraq oil minister says gas sector a priority

Iraq oil minister says gas sector a priority
Updated 12 June 2021

Iraq oil minister says gas sector a priority

Iraq oil minister says gas sector a priority
  • Iraq is currently trading oil at $68 per barrel, close to the approximately $76 needed for the state to operate without reliance on the central bank

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s oil sector is rebounding after a catastrophic year triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, with key investment projects on the horizon, Iraq’s oil minister said Friday. But he also warned that an enduring bureaucratic culture of fear threatens to stand in the way.
Iraq is currently trading oil at $68 per barrel, close to the approximately $76 needed for the state to operate without reliance on the central bank to meet government expenditures.
Oil Minister Ihsan Abdul-Jabbar Ismail took over the unenviable job of supervising Iraq’s most vital industry at the height of an oil price crash that slashed oil revenues by more than half last year. Since then, he has had to balance domestic demands for more revenue to fund state coffers and pressure from OPEC to keep exports low to stabilize the global oil market.
With the sector rebounding, Ismail told The Associated Press, he can now focus on other priorities. In the interview, he offered a rare glimpse into the inner-workings of the country’s most significant ministry — Iraq’s oil industry is responsible for 90 percent of state revenues.
He said cutthroat Iraqi politics and corruption fears often derailed critical investment projects during his tenure and those of his predecessors — a source of long-term frustration for international companies working in Iraq.
“In the Ministry of Oil, the big mistake, the big challenge are the delays in decision-making or no decision-making at all,” he said, attributing indecisiveness to fears of political reprisal from groups or powerful lawmakers whose interests are not served.
He described what he said was a warped work culture where allegations of corruption are used as tools by political players to get their way. He alleged that the mere possibility is often enough to keep high-ranking officials in ministry from signing off on important projects.
“This is the culture: To stay away from any case, to stay away from inspectors, to say ‘let us not do it,’” he added. “I think this is the corruption that slows the economy.”
He said that during his time as minister he has sought to fast-track projects, he said.
Top on his list is developing the country’s gas sector, a central condition for Iraq to be eligible for US sanction waivers enabling energy imports from neighboring Iran. To that end, Iraq is looking to develop long-neglected gas fields and capture gas flared from oil sites.
Ismail said he is hopeful contracts will be signed within the coming months to develop key projects that could boost Iraq’s gas capacity by 3 billion cubic standard feet by 2025. But that all depends on closing the deal with oil companies; lucrative contract negotiations in Iraq have a history of stalling once commercial terms are laid out.
Iraq currently imports 2 billion standard cubic feet to meet domestic needs.
The ministry is close to signing with China’s Sinopec to develop Mansuriya gas field in Diyala province, said Ismail. The field could add 300 million standard cubic feet of gas to domestic production. He hopes to finalize the deal by mid-July.
The ministry is also in talks with France’s Total to develop an ambitious multi-billion dollar mega investment project in southern Iraq, including the Ratawi gas hub, development of Ratawi oil field and a scheme to provide water to oil fields required to boost production.
Early talks are also ongoing to develop Akkas gas field in Anbar province, with the American Schlumberger and Saudi Arabia’s oil giant Aramco, he said, expressing hopes for an agreement there too.
Though negotiations with international companies have picked up speed, Ismail said entrenched indecision within his ministry persists. Investors have blamed glacial bureaucracy and indecision within ministry ranks for thwarting projects.
Among his deepest regrets is the collapse in talks — after five years of negotiations — between the ministry and Exxon-Mobil over a multi-billion dollar investment project that would have been key to increasing Iraq’s production and exports.
“For me it was a big mistake from our side,” said Ismail, who was the former director-general of the state-owned Basra Oil Company.
Ismail himself came under scrutiny when lawmakers accused him of corruption. The Cabinet dismissed him as head of the Basra company in October 2019 during a purge against alleged corruption. He was reinstated a few months later.
Iraqi media are often used as a pressure tool, Ismail said
“Someone sends me a contract, and it would be illegal to say yes, so I say no, and he starts to say bad things in the media,” Ismail said.
Also, he said 80 percent of his time is spent fielding requests from political parties and individuals asking for employment, contracts or job transfers — requests he says he routinely rejects.
“They say: ‘Move this person from this position to this, we need this position, we need this department, we need this company’,” he said.