FILE PHOTO: A man walks past an electric board showing exchange rates of various cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin (top L) at a cryptocurrencies exchange in Seoul, South Korea December 13, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
MINSK (Reuters) – Belarus has legalized transactions in crypto-currencies, part of a drive to foster private sector growth and attract foreign investment by liberalizing parts of its Soviet-style economy.
President Alexander Lukashenko signed a decree on the move on Thursday, his press service said.
Bitcoin, the world’s most popular crypto-currency, has lost a third of its value BTC=BTSP since hitting a record high of close to $20,000 on Sunday, but its supporters dismiss warnings over volatility and say it is the start of a new monetary system not dependent on central banks.
“All smart and intelligent people know what stability and order are,” state news agency BelTA quoted Lukashenko as saying earlier this month. “They’re all trying to reach that shore. We’re prepared to arrange a dock and even a harbor.”
The former Soviet republic, squeezed between Russia and the European Union, is still dominated by the state, weighed down by bureaucracy and inefficient state-owned enterprises, and dependent on Russian money and subsidies.
But Lukashenko, a former collective farm manager who once called the internet “garbage”, has introduced some reforms to improve the business climate and shore up the economy after recession in 2015 and 2016.
Belarus has developed some globally recognized IT brands, belying an image of a country stuck in a Soviet time warp.
The decree is designed to attract digital coin entrepreneurs, who are moving businesses to locations more welcoming to crypto-currencies as they face intensifying scrutiny from regulators over digital currency fund-raising, known as initial coin offerings.
“The decree is a breakthrough for Belarus,” Anton Myakishev, the head of Microsoft’s (MSFT.O) Belarus office, told Reuters.
“It gives the industry the possibility to make a leap forward in its development and allows foreign capital the possibility to come to Belarus and work in comfortable conditions.”
AVOIDING RED TAPE
The decree legalizes initial coin offerings and transactions in crypto-currencies, including their exchange for traditional currencies on Belarussian exchanges, while all trades will be tax-free for the next five years.
It also allows local IT companies to operate in part under English law – a boon to potential foreign investors, who can struggle to navigate the Belarussian legal system.
“We regularly faced legal problems. When a Western company buys a Belarussian company they try to structure the deal outside Belarus,” said Denis Aleinikov, senior partner in a private law firm Aleinikov and Partners in Minsk and the main author of the decree.
“Investors don’t want to deal with Belarussian legislation,” he told Reuters.
Viktor Prokopenya, a prominent investor in the Belarussian IT sector, said Reuters the legislation and other measures showed the government fully supported the industry.
The Belarussian IT sector has flourished despite the country’s wider economic slump, attracting foreign workers, expatriate Belarussians and locals to jobs that pay about five times the average wage.
Dozens of software companies operate in Minsk’s high-tech IT park, including U.S.-based EPAM Systems (EPAM.N), founded by two Belarussians in 1993. Belarussian software engineers are also behind the Japanese-controlled Viber messenger and the popular video game World of Tanks.
The bright outlook for the IT industry is not matched in other sectors of the Belarussian economy, which remains hamstrung by loss-making state-owned companies that have seen little or no reform since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The economy is expected to return to growth of 1.7 percent this year, but the International Monetary Fund in November said growth will remain around 2 percent annually over the next few years if state-run heavy industries don’t modernize.
Writing by Alessandra Prentice, editing by Matthias Williams and Timothy Heritage
Bitcoin slides 18 percent on crackdown fears; crypto rivals also plunge
FILE PHOTO: A small toy figure is seen on representations of the Bitcoin virtual currency in this illustration picture, December 26, 2017. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
LONDON (Reuters) – Bitcoin tumbled 18 percent on Tuesday to a four-week trough close to $11,000, after reports that a ban on trading of cryptocurrencies in South Korea was still an option drove fears grew of a wider regulatory crackdown.
Bitcoin’s slide triggered a massive selloff across the broader cryptocurrency market, with biggest rival Ethereum down 23 percent on the day, according to trade website Coinmarketcap, and the next-biggest, Ripple, plunging 33 percent.
South Korean news website Yonhap reported that Finance Minister Kim Dong-yeon had told a local radio station that the government would be coming up with a set of measures to clamp down on the “irrational” cryptocurrency investment craze.
South Korea had said on Monday that its plans to ban virtual coin exchanges had not yet been finalised, as government agencies were still in talks to decide how to regulate the market.
Bitcoin slid on the latest news, trading as low as $11,191.59 on the Luxembourg-based Bitstamp exchange, down 18 percent on the day, for a short period putting the digital currency on track for its biggest one-day fall in three years.
“It’s mainly been regulatory issues which are haunting the cryptocurrency, with news around South Korea’s further crackdown on trading the driver today,” said Think Markets chief strategist Naeem Aslam, who holds what he described as “substantial” amounts of bitcoin, Ethereum and Ripple.
“But we maintain our stance. We do not think that the complete banning of cryptocurrencies is possible,” he said.
Cryptocurrencies enjoyed a bumper year in 2017 as mainstream investors entered the market and as an explosion in so-called initial coin offerings (ICOs) – digital token-based fundraising rounds – drove demand for bitcoin and Ethereum, the second-biggest digital unit.
The latest tumble leaves bitcoin down more than 40 percent from the record high around $20,000 it hit in mid-December, wiping about $130 billion off its “market cap” – the unit price multiplied by the total number of bitcoins that have been released into the market.
The news from South Korea came as it emerged a senior Chinese central banker had said authorities should ban centralised trading of virtual currencies as well as individuals and businesses that provide related services, according to an internal memo from a government meeting seen by Reuters.
Bloomberg reported on Monday that Chinese authorities plan to block domestic access to Chinese and offshore cryptocurrency platforms that allow centralised trading.
“(It) seems like it’s uncertainty spooking the markets,…with regulations unclear,” said Charles Hayter, founder of data analysis website Cryptocompare. “(Traders) are taking profits on the increased risk scenarios going forward.”
A director at Germany’s central bank said on Monday that any attempt to regulate cryptocurrencies must be on a global scale as national or regional rules would be hard to enforce on a virtual, borderless community.
By 1000 GMT bitcoin was trading down 16 percent on the day at around $11,500 on Bitstamp.
Reporting by Jemima Kelly; Editing by Tommy Wilkes and Hugh Lawson
Any rule on Bitcoin must be global, Germany’s central bank says
FILE PHOTO: Sparks glow from broken Bitcoin (virtual currency) coins in this illustration picture, December 8, 2017. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo
FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Any attempt to regulate cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin must be on a global scale as national or regional rules would be hard to enforce on a virtual, borderless community, a director at Germany’s central bank said on Monday.
National authorities across the globe, and particularly in Asia, have attempted to put the brakes on a global boom in the trading of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies – a form of digital money created and maintained by its users.
But Joachim Wuermeling, a member of the board of Germany’s Bundesbank, said national rules may struggle to contain a global phenomenon.
“Effective regulation of virtual currencies would therefore only be achievable through the greatest possible international cooperation, because the regulatory power of nation states is obviously limited,” Wuermeling told an event in Frankfurt.
Chinese regulators have banned initial coin offerings, shut down local cryptocurrency trading exchanges and limited bitcoin mining – but activity has continued through alternative channels in China despite the crackdown.
South Korea, where speculation on cryptocurrencies is also rife, is working on plans to ban virtual coin exchanges.
European Union states and legislators agreed last month on stricter rules to prevent money laundering and terrorism financing on exchange platforms for bitcoin and other virtual currencies.
Reporting By Francesco Canepa Editing by Jeremy Gaunt
China to block cryptocurrency platforms that allow centralized trading: Bloomberg
BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese authorities plan to block domestic access to Chinese and offshore cryptocurrency platforms that allow centralized trading, Bloomberg reported Monday citing sources.
Chinese authorities will also target individuals and companies that provide market-making, settlement and clearing services for centralized trading, Bloomberg reported.
Last year, Chinese regulators banned initial coin offerings, shut down local cryptocurrency trading exchanges and limited bitcoin mining – but activity in the cryptocurrency and bitcoin space has continued through alternative channels in China despite the crackdown.
Reporting by Beijing Monitoring Desk; Editing by Nick Macfie