India sends tax notices to cryptocurrency investors as trading hits $3.5 billion

UNTV News   •   January 23, 2018   •   2788

A Bitcoin sign is seen in Kuta on the resort island of Bali, Indonesia January 18, 2018. Picture taken January 18, 2018. REUTERS/Nyimas Laula

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India has sent tax notices to tens of thousands of people dealing in cryptocurrency after a nationwide survey showed more than $3.5 billion worth of transactions have been conducted over a 17-month period, the income tax department said.

Tech-savvy young investors, real estate players and jewelers are among those invested in bitcoin and other virtual currencies, tax officials told Reuters after gathering data from nine exchanges in Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru and Pune.

Governments around the world are grappling with how to regulate cryptocurrency trading, and policymakers are expected to discuss the matter at a G20 summit in Argentina in March.

The Indian government has issued repeated warnings against digital currency investments, saying these were like “Ponzi schemes” that offer unusually high returns to early investors.

But it has not so far imposed curbs on an industry estimated to be adding 200,000 users in India every month.

B.R. Balakrishnan, a director general of investigations at the income tax department in the southern state of Karnataka, said notices were sent following the survey to assess the penetration and patterns of virtual currency trade.

“We cannot turn a blind eye. It would have been disastrous to wait until the final verdict was out on its legality,” he told Reuters.

The tax department has asked people dealing in bitcoin and other virtual currencies such as ethereum and ripple to pay tax on capital gains. They have also asked for details about their total holdings and the source of funds in the tax notice seen by Reuters.

“We found that investors were not reflecting it on their tax returns and in many cases, the investment was not accounted for,” Balakrishnan said.

Bitcoin, the world’s biggest cryptocurrency, soared more than 1,700 percent last year, hitting a record high just shy of $20,000 as institutional and retail investors around the world snapped up the virtual currency.

Its huge gains have attracted the attention of global regulators tasked with protecting investors from fraud.

In recent weeks, Japan and China have made noises about a regulatory crackdown, while South Korean policymakers said they were considering shutting down domestic virtual currency exchanges.

REGULATION

An Indian finance ministry official said a federal committee was looking into the possibility of imposing restrictions on virtual currencies and that eventually parliament would have to legislate a regulatory regime.

Officials at Zebpay, India’s leading bitcoin exchange, said the industry was adding near 200,000 users every month with an estimated trade volume of about 20 billion Indian rupees ($315 million).

“Many of our customers are treating digital currency like gold,” said Zebpay co-founder Saurabh Agarwal.

Aman Kalra, marketing head of Coinsecure, a bitcoin exchange in New Delhi, said more than 150 bitcoins were changing hands every week through its platform. The company has 100,000 registered users and is now launching a platform to sell ethereum and other digital currencies.

“I don’t think anyone in the government should label our business as a ‘Ponzi scheme’, we are not doing anything illegal,” said Kalra.

Tax inspectors said they sought help from experts in blockchain, the technology that underpins bitcoin, to conduct the survey.

In some cases, tax officials themselves participated in the trade to identify loopholes after they found investors had poured in billions of dollars through unregulated exchanges.

The biggest worry for New Delhi, the finance ministry official said, was how to protect investors trading on offshore exchanges.

Already hundreds of investors have gone to the police and courts with complaints of transactions in virtual currencies that turned out to be fraudulent, said Pavan Duggal, a Supreme Court lawyer specializing in cybercrimes.

“Considering cryptocurrencies are here to stay, the government must consider granting limited legality while ensuring that these are not used for crypto crimes,” he said.

($1 = 63.7625 Indian rupees)

Additional reporting by Jatindra Dash in BHUBANESWAR, Vishal Sridhar in BENGALURU; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Alex Richardson

EXCLUSIVE: G20 financial heads to urge crypto-asset monitoring to safeguard financial stability

UNTV News   •   March 15, 2018

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

Singapore explores rules to protect investors in cryptocurrencies

UNTV News   •   March 2, 2018

Representations of the Ripple, Bitcoin, Etherum and Litecoin virtual currencies are seen on a PC motherboard in this illustration picture, February 13, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Singapore’s central bank is assessing whether additional regulations are required to protect investors in cryptocurrencies, an official said in a speech released on Thursday.

The city-state – which is aiming to be a hub for financial technology and so-called initial coin offerings in Asia – does not regulate virtual currencies and last year called for the public to exercise“extreme caution” over investment in cryptocurrencies.

Its central bank does regulate activities involving virtual currencies if they pose specific risks. For example, it imposes anti-money laundering requirements on intermediaries providing virtual currency services.

“We are assessing if additional regulations are required for investor protection,” Ong Chong Tee, deputy managing director (Financial Supervision), Monetary Authority of Singapore said.

Other countries such as South Korea, where trading in cryptocurrencies is more popular, are looking at ways to regulate that activity.

Reporting by Aradhana Aravindan and John Geddie; Editing by Kim Coghill

Cryptocurrency traders to launch lawsuit against Coincheck on Thursday – lawyer

UNTV News   •   February 14, 2018

Cryptocurrency exchange Coincheck’s signboard is pictured in front of a building where their office is located in Tokyo, Japan February 2, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

TOKYO (Reuters) – A group of cryptocurrency traders will file a lawsuit against Coincheck Inc on Thursday over last month’s theft of $530 million (£382 million) in digital money from the Tokyo-based exchange, a lawyer representing the claimants said.

The ten traders will file the claim at the Tokyo District Court over Coincheck’s freezing of cryptocurrency withdrawals, Hiromu Mochizuki, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, told Reuters.

The traders will request that Coincheck allows them to withdraw cryptocurrencies to “wallets” – folders used for storing digital money – outside the exchange, Mochizuki said. The group may launch a second lawsuit at the end of the month to claim for damages over the heist, he added.

Coincheck representatives did not immediately respond to phone and emailed requests for comment.

The Coincheck incident highlighted the risks in trading an asset that policymakers are struggling to regulate, and has renewed the focus on Japan’s framework for overseeing these exchanges.

The Tokyo-based exchange, which froze all withdrawals of yen and digital currencies following the theft, resumed yen-withdrawals from Tuesday, according to posts on Twitter.

Coincheck said on Friday it would allow customers to withdraw yen after confirming the integrity of its system security. It added it would keep restrictions on cryptocurrency withdrawals until it could guarantee the secure resumption of its operations.

Coincheck is set to file on Tuesday a report with regulators on the heist, the safety of its systems, and measures it will take to prevent a repeat.

Reporting by Thomas WilsonEditing by Shri Navaratnam

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