The US regulators filed a suit against the Binance cryptocurrency exchange

In light of the recent legal cases and lawsuits against companies from the cryptocurrency industry, the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) filed a suit against world’s biggest cryptocurrency exchange Binance. The Binance exchange, and the company CEO Changpeng Zhao are accused of trading violation, by not registering with the US regulatory body.

gold round coin on brown and black box

The commission has been investigating the online exchange since 2021 and this is a final step in their investigation. The CFTC claims that Binance also allowed US citizens to buy and trade cryptocurrency on its platform, back in 2017. Currently, the US citizens are not allowed to trade on the exchange which implements Know Your Customer (KYC) procedure. The companies CEO Changpeng Zhao is accused of having numerous accounts on the exchange which he used to trade against their customers.   

The Binance exchange started in Shanghai and it now holds companies in a couple of world jurisdictions, with a yearly revenue of $20 billion. Mr Changpeng Zhao has Canadian and Chinese passports, while living in Dubai.

The US proposes a tax on energy used for cryptocurrency mining

The new 2024 Revenue Proposal in the US will consider the progressive tax on electricity that is used for cryptocurrency mining. The US Department of the Treasure proposed a tax for energy used in mining of any digital asset, and defines digital assets as: ‘any digital representation of value which is recorded on a cryptographically secured distributed ledger or any similar technology (blockchain)

Cryptocurrency mining is seen as a wasteful use of energy and the proposed tax would start from 10% in year one (2024), increasing to 30% in the two-year time. The environmental impact is the main reason behind the proposal as the document suggest that: ‘the increase in energy consumption attributable to the growth of digital asset mining has negative environmental effects and can have environmental justice implications as well as increase energy prices

The instability of the mining operations is also stated as one of the reasons, as the mining industry follows the cheapest energy sources. ‘Digital asset mining also creates uncertainty and risks to local utilities and communities, as mining activity is highly variable and highly mobile.’

Chainalysis issues the 2023 cryptocurrency crime report

Private US company Chainalysis is a leading company in collecting and analyzing data used on cryptocurrency blockchains. In its annual report on cryptocurrency-related crime, they point out that illicit cryptocurrency volumes reach all-time highs amid a surge in sanctions and hacking. 

‘Overall, the share of all cryptocurrency activity associated with illicit activity has risen for the first time since 2019, from 0.12% in 2021 to 0.24% in 2022.’ The company assesses that an equivalent of $20.6B is used for illicit activities. 

A big part of that sum comes from the offenses related to the economic sanctions on Russia. This shows that a strict regime of sanctions is efficiently imposed on cryptocurrency exchanges, by the US department of the treasury, and international financial institutions. The report describes methods that are used for money laundering and fund transfers. As a key takeaway, Chainalisys points out that the impact of crypto sanctions depends on the jurisdiction and technical constraints.

Ransomware crypto payments

The report shows a decline in ransomware from 2021. Chainalisys claims that ransomware victims increasingly refuse to pay the ransom money hence pushing the criminals out of this scheme. The report is stating that “meaningful disruptions against ransomware actor groups are driving lower than expected successful extortion attempts”  In 2021, the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued an advisory document about the risk of ‘sanction crimes’ that can rise from ransomware payments. OFAC advises all US companies to report ransomware to the FBI prior to any action. This is also considered to be one of the factors for the drop in ransomware payments. In addition, ransomware lifespan is significantly shorter. From 470 days in 2019, it is down to 70 days in 2022.

Money laundering

The report is stating a rise in money laundering activities from $14.2B in 2021 to $23.8B in 2022. The report is stating ‘underground money laundering services’ are a growing concern. Such groups use private channels on messaging apps to set and organise private transactions that are hard to track.

Cryptocurrency scams

Cryptocurrency scams and the use of cryptocurrency on darknet markets are on the decline compared to previous years.

MasterCard and Visa delay plans for cryptocurrency implementation

According to a report from Reuters, the world’s largest payment processor companies, Visa and Mastercard, are pushing back the launch of products and services related to crypto, until market conditions and the regulatory environment improve. Visa and Mastercard already have a card issued in partnership with the cryptocurrency exchange Binance, and it offers a fiat-to-cryptocurrency gateway for Binance users.

Anyhow, companies shared concerns about the future of cryptocurrency regulation in a midst of the recent collapse of large players in the crypto industry, such as the FTX. A hard year for crypto companies, pushed Visa and MasterCard to delay the proposed partnerships and decide the way forward after a clearer regulation perspective is established.

The IMF is in favor of regulating the cryptoassets but also leaving the mechanism for ban if needed

At the outskirts of the G20 summit in India, the International Monetary Fund Managing Director, Ms Kristalina Georgieva answered the questions from media around the cryptoassets and digital currencies. In her words, the IMF is very much in favor of regulating the world of crypto and digital money. The IMF, alongside the Bank for International Settlements and the G20s Financial Stability Board (FSB) believes this is a top-priority in the forthcoming period.

She pointed out the difference between legal tenders (national currencies) which are backed by countries that issue them, and the ‘publicly issued cryptoassets and stablecoins calling them ‘just a speculative asset’. If such assets start to pose a threat to the consumers and/or financial  stability for countries we should have a mechanism to ban crytpoassets altogether. We have requests from our members not to rule out the mechanism for the total ban. If there are strong consumer protection laws set in place, we will not need a ban. The ban of cryptocurrencies is indeed a tool of last resort, she added in her interview.

Zambia to start work on the cryptocurrency regulation

In the recent announcement from the Ministry of technology and science of Zambia Mr Felix Mutati, the central financial institutions in Zambia will soon introduce legislation that would regulate the cryptoassests, and in particular Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC).

The Zambian Minister for technology and science, pointed out in the statement that: ‘there is a need for a policy framework that supports this revolutionary technology.’

In his words, Zambia is seeking the opportunity to embrace this innovative finance technology and will use the regulatory framework ‘as part of deliberate measures to achieve an inclusive digital economy for Zambia’. ‘Cryptocurrency will be a driver for financial inclusion and a change maker for Zambia’s economy’ he added.

Nigeria asks for private company expertise to enhance e-Naira digital currency

Nigeria is the first African country that introduced the digital version of its national currency. The e-Naira currency has been in use for more than a year now, but still lacks mass adoption. In a country of 200 million people, only 0.5% is using e-Naira on a daily basis. The Nigerian government is already using some of the programmability features of digital money, and it’s looking now to enhance them. According to reports from Bloomberg, the Nigerian government is seeking help from the US private tech companies to improve technology behind the virtual currency. Final idea is that at the end of this process, the Central bank of Nigeria achieves full custody and know-how on the technology needed to run a virtual currency environment.  

The Nigerian government confirmed that they are looking at: ‘developing additional features and enhancements.”

The US regulators order the halt of the BUSD stablecoin issuance 

The US cryptocurrency company Paxos was ordered by the New York department of financial services (NYDFS)  to stop the issuance of the BUSD stablecoin 

This action comes after Paxox received a notice from the US Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) that BUSD stablecoin is a financial security and that Paxos needs to register with the Commission. Stablecoins are cryptocurrencies that are pegged to the US dollar or other national currency. The regulatory battle around the stablecoins will continue as Paxos complained to the decision from the SEC. Meanwhile, all deposits of the BUSD will be halted. BUSD is a stablecoin used on a cryptocurrency exchange Binance as a stablecoin pegged to the US dollar. The Binance online exchange is the world’s second largest cryptocurrency exchange based. Binance announced that this will not affect their business.

Stablecoin regulation will be on the agenda of the G20 Finance Ministers meeting on February 24-25 in India. Regulation around this issue might need an overarching regulatory approach.

Lazarus group responsible for virtual currency theft

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) confirmed that the DPRK cybercriminal group, Lazarus, is responsible for stealing $100 million of virtual currency from Harmony’s Horizon Bridge. FBI found that the portion of the stolen Ethereum, laundered during the June 2022 heist, was sent to virtual asset providers and converted to bitcoins.

New threat actor enhancing Linux cryptocurrency mining attacks identified

Trend Micro security researchers have identified an advanced remote access trojan (RAT) named CHAOS that enhances Linux cryptocurrency mining attacks. It is based on an open-source project in which the main downloader script and further payloads are hosted in different locations to ensure the campaign remains active and constantly spreading. Investigation shows that the main server appears to be in Russia, which is also used for cloud bulletproof hosting. Trend Micro researchers stated that the infection routine of cryptocurrency mining malware seems minor, but organisations and individuals should stay cautious.