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
Russia seizes Ukrainian ships near annexed Crimea after firing on them
Russian jet fighters fly over a bridge connecting the Russian mainland with the Crimean Peninsula with a cargo ship beneath it after three Ukrainian navy vessels was stopped by Russia from entering the Sea of Azov via the Kerch Strait in the Black Sea, Crimea November 25, 2018. REUTERS/Pavlishak Alexey
MOSCOW/KIEV (Reuters) – Russia seized three Ukrainian naval ships off the coast of Russia-annexed Crimea on Sunday after opening fire on them and wounding several sailors, a move that risks igniting a dangerous new crisis between the two countries.
Russia’s FSB security service said early on Monday its border patrol boats had seized the Ukrainian naval vessels in the Black Sea and used weapons to force them to stop, Russian news agencies reported.
The FSB said it had been forced to act because the ships — two small Ukrainian armored artillery vessels and a tug boat. — had illegally entered its territorial waters, attempted illegal actions, and ignored warnings to stop while maneuvering dangerously.
“Weapons were used with the aim of forcibly stopping the Ukrainian warships,” the FSB said in a statement circulated to Russian state media.
“As a result, all three Ukrainian naval vessels were seized in the Russian Federation’s territorial waters in the Black Sea.”
The FSB said three Ukrainian sailors had been wounded in the incident and were getting medical care. Their lives were not in danger, it said.
With relations still raw after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its backing for a pro-Moscow insurgency in eastern Ukraine, the incident risks pushing the two countries towards a wider conflict.
Ukraine denied its ships had done anything wrong, accused Russia of military aggression, and for the international community to mobilize to punish Russia.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko held a meeting with his top military and security chiefs amid talk of imposing martial law.
Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and then built a giant road bridge linking it to southern Russia which straddles the Kerch Strait – a narrow stretch of water which links the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov which is home to two of Ukraine’s most important ports.
Russia’s control of Crimea, where its Black Sea Fleet is based, and of the bridge, mean it is able to control shipping flows.
The crisis began earlier on Sunday after Russia stopped the three Ukrainian ships from entering the Sea of Azov by placing a cargo ship beneath the bridge.
A Reuters witness said Russia backed its blockade with at least two Sukhoi Su-25 warplanes which screeched overhead. Russian state TV said Russian combat helicopters had been deployed in the area.
The Ukrainian navy said on social media that six Ukrainian sailors had been wounded in the subsequent seizure of its ships which appear to have been rammed and boarded and that the Russian attack on them had occurred after they had retreated and headed back towards Odessa, the Black Sea port from where they had begun their journey.
“After leaving the 12-mile zone, the Russian Federation’s FSB (security service) opened fire at the flotilla belonging to … the armed forces of Ukraine,” it said in a statement.
The European Union in a statement said it expected Russia to restore freedom of passage via the Kerch Strait and urged both sides to act with utmost restraint to de-escalate the situation. A NATO spokeswoman issued a similar appeal to both sides.
RISK OF WIDER CONFLICT
A bilateral treaty gives both Russia and Ukraine the right to use the Sea of Azov, which lies between them and is linked by the narrow Kerch Strait to the Black Sea. Since Russia annexed Crimea, tension has risen with both countries complaining about shipping delays and harassment.
Earlier on Sunday, Russia’s border guard service had accused Ukraine of not informing it in advance of the three ships’ journey, something Kiev denied.
Russia said the Ukrainian ships had been maneuvering dangerously and ignoring its instructions with the aim of stirring up tensions.
Russian politicians denounced Kiev, saying the incident looked like a calculated bid by Poroshenko to increase his popularity ahead of an election next year.
In another sign of rising tensions, Russia’s state-controlled RIA news agency reported on Sunday night that Ukrainian forces had started heavy shelling of residential areas in eastern Ukraine which is controlled by pro-Moscow separatists.
Reuters could not independently confirm that and the Interfax news agency cited separatists as denying there had been any unusual escalation.
Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Richard Balmforth
Myanmar judge jails Reuters reporters for obtaining state secrets
Reuters journalist Wa Lone departs Insein court after his verdict announcement in Yangon, Myanmar, September 3, 2018. REUTERS/Ann Wang
Reuters President and editor-in-chief Stephen Adler urged Myanmar‘s government to correct the verdict in the case of two Reuters journalists “as a matter of urgency” after a judge sentenced them to seven years in prison on Monday (September 3).
“This is a major step backward in Myanmar‘s transition to democracy, cannot be squared with the rule of law or freedom of speech, and must be corrected by the Myanmar government as a matter of urgency,” he said.
Yangon northern district judge Ye Lwin said Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, breached the colonial-era Official Secrets Act when they collected and obtained confidential documents.
The reporters had told the court two police officials handed them papers at a north Yangon restaurant moments before other officers arrested them.
One police witness testified the restaurant meeting was a set-up to entrap the journalists to block or punish them for their reporting of a mass killing of Rohingya Muslims. — Reuters
EXCLUSIVE: G20 financial heads to urge crypto-asset monitoring to safeguard financial stability
Cryptocurrencies are seen on a website that tracks the value of initial coin offerings (ICO) in this illustration photo taken September 5, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas White/Illustration
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The world’s financial leaders will call on international standard-setting bodies on March 20 for stronger monitoring of crypto-assets and to assess the need for a multilateral response as such assets could at some point threaten financial stability.
The call appears in a draft communique prepared for the meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors of the world’s 20 biggest economies in Buenos Aires on March 19-20, seen by Reuters.
The financial leaders will say the technological innovation behind crypto-currencies has the potential to improve the efficiency and inclusiveness of the financial system.
“Crypto currencies, however, raise issues with respect to consumer and investor protection, tax evasion, money laundering and terrorist financing. At some point they could have financial stability implications,” the draft communique adds.
“We agree that international standard setting bodies strengthen their monitoring of crypto-assets and their risks… and assess whether multilateral responses may be needed.”
Regulators globally have raised the alarm over cryptocurrencies, saying they may aid money laundering and terrorist financing, hurt consumers and undermine trust in the global financial system.
Japan was the first country to adopt a national system to oversee cryptocurrency trading. It carried out checks on several exchanges this year after the theft of $530 million from one exchange, Coincheck Inc, in January.
France and Germany have said they will make joint proposals to regulate the bitcoin cryptocurrency market.
The head of the European Union’s watchdog said a short-term strategy could be to focus on applying anti-money laundering and terrorist financing rules, warning consumers of the risk of trading in cryptocurrencies and preventing banks from holding them.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said last week that many online trading platforms for cryptocurrencies should be registered with the regulator and subject to additional rules, in a further sign regulators are cracking down on the digital currency sector.
In a statement, the SEC said these “potentially unlawful” platforms may be giving investors an unearned sense of safety by labeling themselves as “exchanges.” The regulator said these platforms need to register with the SEC as a regulated national securities exchange or as an alternate trading system, or ATS.
Virtual currencies have existed for years but speculation in them has recently ballooned – along with scams promising investors returns of over 1,000 percent in weeks.
In a time of volatile markets, hackers are also active in the sector.
Bitcoin, the best known virtual currency, lost over half its value earlier this year after surging more than 1,300 percent last year.
Reporting By Jan Strupczewski; Editing by Hugh Lawson