Ethereum Fork Successful, Solutions Target Sneakers and Browsers, EU and NY Consider Regulations, Enforcement Actions Continue

In this issue:

Ethereum Fork Implemented, Exchanges Expand Services, New Bitcoin Network Data

Enterprise Developments in Sneakers, Browsers, Copyrights and Private-Public Blockchain Integration

EU and NY Consider New Crypto Regulations, AML Report Published and Tools Debut

Enforcement Actions Target ICO Fraud and Ponzi Schemes, Assets Retrieved From Hacked Exchange

Ethereum Fork Implemented, Exchanges Expand Services, New Bitcoin Network Data

By: Joanna F. Wasick

The Ethereum network’s Istanbul hard fork went forward late last week with the support of node operators, miners and cryptocurrency exchanges. This eighth upgrade of the Ethereum protocol aims to make improvements such as faster network speed and preventing the spamming of blocks. So far, no major negative events have been reported. Also last week, the Bitcoin network transferred $8.9 billion worth of bitcoin within one hour – the highest hourly volume move in Bitcoin history. The spike was reportedly caused by the Bittrex exchange, which conducted a series of 21 equally valued transactions as part of its scheduled maintenance.

Kraken, a U.S.-based cryptocurrency exchange, announced last week that, as part of a collaboration with an independent Lichtenstein-based bank, it will now support Swiss franc trading. This is the sixth fiat currency that Kraken will trade, the others being the United States dollar, Canadian dollar, Euro, British pound sterling and Japanese yen. BitPay, a major blockchain payment service, announced this week the rollout of stablecoin payments for merchants and consumers around the globe. The company will now support payment acceptance and settlement in three U.S. dollar-pegged stablecoins: Circle’s USD Coin, the Gemini Dollar and Paxos Standard Token. BitPay will also continue to accept bitcoin, bitcoin cash and ether.

Announced late last week, cryptocurrency exchange Binance is partnering with peer-to-peer cryptocurrency trading platform Paxful to enable new fiat payment options through Paxful’s Virtual Bitcoin Kiosk. According to the announcement, the kiosk will enable Paxful to facilitate bitcoin purchases with fiat payments in more than 167 currencies. Binance also recently announced a collaboration with Settle Network, a Latin American digital asset network, to launch “Latamex,” a new platform allowing Latin American users to directly purchase cryptocurrency. The new platform will first launch in Argentina and Brazil, with 13 other Latin American countries to follow.

Finally, a recent report indicates that bitcoin miners in China control two thirds of the network’s overall processing power. Chinese miners reportedly now have 66% of the global hashrate – the measure of network power that dictates the ability of computers on the Bitcoin network to mine new bitcoin.

For more information, please refer to the following links:

Enterprise Developments in Sneakers, Browsers, Copyrights and Private-Public Blockchain Integration

By: Marc D. Powers

A leading American sneaker and footwear company has patented a system for tokenizing shoes on the Ethereum blockchain. The patent describes the creation of a non-fungible token on the blockchain, representative of a particular kind of shoe with its own unique characteristics, and of identifiers, which are “unlocked” upon the sale of the physical sneaker to a customer. According to the patent, the digital shoe and the cryptographic token collectively represent a “CryptoKick.”

Bitcoin mining giant Bitfury, out of Amsterdam, recently announced the launch of its latest enterprise blockchain software development, Exonum Enterprise. This continues the expansion of the company’s move away from its core business, which it began in 2011 selling mining hardware in exchange for cryptocurrencies. This product is claimed to be the first private enterprise blockchain that “anchors” data to the Bitcoin blockchain.

Brave announced last week that it had 10 million active monthly users since the release of the Brave 1.0 platform on Nov. 13. This reportedly amounts to an almost 20% increase in less than a month of 1.7 million users for the browser, which combines privacy with a blockchain-based digital advertising platform and is reported to have three to six times faster browsing capability. According to reports, Brave’s monthly active users have doubled in the past year.

The Italian Society of Authors and Publishers (SIAI) has reportedly teamed up with Algorand to develop a new ecosystem for copyright management, based on Algorand’s recently launched blockchain platform. Algorand uses a Proof of Stake protocol that it says guarantees decentralization, scalability and security, which SIAI believes makes it particularly suitable for copyright management of its members’ copyrighted materials.

For more information, please refer to the following links:

EU and NY Consider New Crypto Regulations, AML Report Published and Tools Debut

By: Simone O. Otenaike

Last week the European Council and the Commission adopted a statement regarding stablecoins. According to the statement, the lack of legal clarity regarding stablecoins makes it difficult to determine whether and how the existing EU regulatory framework applies. The Council and the Commission also noted that stablecoin arrangements cannot launch in the European Union until regulatory and oversight frameworks are developed. Meanwhile, the New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS) announced plans to review and update their virtual currency regulations, which were issued back in 2015. DFS is seeking comments from the public regarding two proposed coin adoption or listing options that the agency reportedly plans to make available to current DFS license holders.

CipherTrace recently published its 2019 Q3 cryptocurrency anti-money laundering report. According to the report, roughly 60% of the top 120 cryptocurrency exchanges have insufficient know-your-customer practices. The report also noted that Q3 of 2019 saw a significant reduction in total cryptocurrency crimes from previous quarters, but the total dollar amount attributed to theft and fraud in 2019 is still relatively high at $4 billion.

Elliptic, a global leader in crypto-asset risk management solutions for businesses and financial institutions, recently launched Elliptic Discovery. Elliptic Discovery offers a broad range of risk indicators for financial institutions to identify and evaluate the risk posed by the flow of funds into and out of crypto-assets on exchanges. Elliptic Discovery seeks to allow banks to work more closely with certain cryptocurrency businesses based on an evidence-based risk assessment.

More than 80 Japanese banks have shown recent interest in a leading U.S.-based financial institution’s Interbank Information Network, which leverages blockchain to help combat money laundering. If these banks join, Japan will reportedly have the largest number of banks in the worldwide network.

For more information, please refer to the following links:

Enforcement Actions Target ICO Fraud and Ponzi Schemes, Assets Retrieved From Hacked Exchange

By: Veronica Reynolds

Last week, operators of a Romanian criminal enterprise named the “Bayrob Group” were convicted of cybertheft crimes resulting in $4 million in losses to victims. The unlawful operation began in 2007 and involved viral distribution of malicious software via phishing emails. The malware harvested personal data and diverted processing power for cryptocurrency mining.

This week, U.S. law enforcement arrested four men for wire fraud and conspiracy to offer and sell unregistered securities in a purported cryptocurrency mining pool operation. Victims were lured into the investment scheme through promises of high returns from participation and investment in the scheme. No returns materialized, and the fraudsters swindled would-be investors out of more than $722 million.

Also this week, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charged a digital-asset entrepreneur and his company with defrauding investors through an initial coin offering (ICO) that solicited more than $42 million from investors in violation of the securities laws. The company, Shopin, allegedly failed to create the retail blockchain platform it hocked to investors. According to the SEC’s complaint, Shopin fraudulently claimed partnerships with major retailers and a prominent cryptocurrency entrepreneur to make its business model more attractive to the public while the company’s founder misappropriated at least $500,000 for his own use.

Overseas, Ugandan Police cracked down on cryptocurrency-related Ponzi schemes this week, with the arrest of one of the directors of a sham cryptocurrency company. The Ugandan government believes the company has defrauded victims out of at least $2.7 million. Meanwhile, Denmark’s tax agency has reportedly begun sending letters to cryptocurrency investors requiring them to reply to a detailed questionnaire that seeks to understand profits and losses from cryptocurrency investments for fiscal years 2016 to 2018. This follows authorization by the country’s Tax Council earlier this year to investigate trades across the nation’s domestic cryptocurrency exchanges.

And finally, some good news for victims of the Cryptopia hack – the New Zealand exchange that in January 2019 was “hacked to death” – who received a breakdown of retrieved assets from the accounting firm in charge of liquidating the assets of the bankrupt exchange. However, distribution of assets to victim investors may be a long time coming, because the exchange pooled all investments on the platform into general wallets, making it difficult to find out how much of which assets customers held on Cryptopia.

For more information, please refer to the following links:

Institutional Blockchain and Crypto Adoption Continues, New Supply Chain and Patent Applications, Foreign Cryptocurrency Exchange Is Hacked

A side view on a digital panel merging binary numbers with an integrated circuitIn this issue:

New Capital Market Offerings and Solutions Launch, Courting Institutional Investors

NY DFS Grants New License, Stablecoin Debate Continues, Crypto Mining Reports Issued

New Blockchain Supply Chain Solutions and Patent Applications Announced

Cryptocurrency Exchange Hacked, Crypto-Mining Malware Detected, Ethereum Developer Arrested

New Capital Market Offerings and Solutions Launch, Courting Institutional Investors

By: Brian P. Bartish

Last week, the Marco Polo network, a blockchain trade finance platform with a strong presence in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, announced the addition of the second U.S. bank – one of the world’s largest custody banks, with $326.9 billion in assets – to join the platform. The Marco Polo network is seeking to leverage blockchain to replace less efficient paper-based processes in trade finance.

In custody news, Konainu, a joint venture for cryptocurrency custody and depositary services, was recently granted regulatory approval from the Jersey Financial Services Commission. According to a press release, Konainu is designed to provide institutional investors entering the cryptocurrency space with the security and infrastructure they are familiar with when trading traditional assets.

According to recent reports, one of the largest banking and financial services organizations in the world is planning to move $20 billion in assets – 40 percent of its total assets under management – to the blockchain-based custody platform Digital Vault by March 2020. The new platform will reportedly give investors real-time access to records and securities bought on private markets and reduce the time it takes to make checks or queries on holdings.

Earlier this week, one of the largest exchange-traded fund (ETF) providers in the U.S. launched a bitcoin exchange-traded product (ETP) on Switzerland’s SIX stock exchange. The ETP is physically backed by the underlying bitcoin and is designed to give investors exposure to bitcoin without the need to directly hold the cryptocurrency or interact with the blockchain infrastructure, while offering transparency and institutional-grade digital currency custodians.

For more information, please refer to the following links:

NY DFS Grants New License, Stablecoin Debate Continues, Crypto Mining Reports Issued

By: Simone O. Otenaike

Earlier this week, the New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS) reportedly approved the virtual currency and money transmitter license applications of a leading online personal finance company that offers student loan refinancing, mortgages and personal loans. According to reports, the two licenses allow the firm to offer its New York customers the ability to buy and sell cryptocurrency – the company is currently authorized to support bitcoin, bitcoin cash, ether, ether classic, litecoin and Stellar lumens. Late last week, reports surfaced regarding a new bipartisan bill called the Managed Stablecoins Are Securities Act of 2019. While the bill is still in its primary stages, reports note that it may eventually provide regulatory clarity for stablecoins.

In other recent news, the British Virgin Islands, in partnership with LIFELabs.io, reportedly presented details of its new national digital currency rollout. According to reports, the British Virgin Islands aims to implement a national digital currency, BVI~LIFE, powered by LIFEtoken and pegged 1:1 against the U.S. dollar. LIFELabs.io will also reportedly offer LIFElabs – a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) model that provides blockchain solutions (e.g., merchant services, peer-to-peer transactions and cross-border payments) to businesses in the British Virgin Islands as a turnkey solution. According to the governor of Ghana, Ghana’s central bank is also considering the launch of a national digital currency due to the recent increase in volume of mobile money transactions. In related news, Paxful, a peer-to-peer bitcoin marketplace, has also seen a recent surge in weekly traded volume according to a new report. Paxful is a decentralized and noncustodial service that connects users offering to buy and sell bitcoin using gift cards, Internet payment providers, domestic bank transfers and other payment methods.

In mining news, a recent report provided details on Bitriver, the largest data center in Russia. The data center’s proximity to one of the largest hydropower plants in Russia, En+, allows it to receive cheap and stable power. En+ reportedly supplies up to 100 megawatts of power to the facility, enough energy to sustain 100,000 homes. A report noted that Bitriver currently hosts more than 20,000 bitcoin mining devices but has the capacity to host up to 67,000 units. According to reports, Bitriver does not directly engage in mining but rather provides equipment and technical services for cryptocurrency mining. Low temperatures in the Siberian city of Bratsk are ideal for the data center equipment—mining hardware can work at higher efficiency rates while cutting cooling costs. Meanwhile, Great North Data, a data center in Labrador, Canada, reportedly filed for bankruptcy last week. Great North Data hosted bitcoin mining operations and processed artificial intelligence algorithms at facilities in Labrador City and Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

For more information, please refer to the following links:

New Blockchain Supply Chain Solutions and Patent Applications Announced

By: Diana J. Stern

A multinational retail giant and DLT Labs recently launched a blockchain-based freight and payment network that is the largest of its kind in the world, according to reports. The permissioned system, a variant of Hyperleger Fabric, tracks deliveries, verifies transactions, and automates payments, invoicing and reconciliation among the retailer’s Canadian division and its carriers. The solution incorporates IoT sensors and integrates with legacy systems. According to reports, the system could be used by more than 70 trucking companies that transport goods and deliver them to more than 400 stores.

The Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA) recently announced that it is engaging in two proofs of concept. Both will involve the consortium’s Standards Review Working Group to ensure alignment with other emerging, global blockchain standards. One of the projects will center on ports, with the Port of Miami, Florida Blockchain Foundation, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and other participants involved.

A major financial services firm has filed a patent application for a blockchain solution that improves auditing of automobile inventory used to finance car dealership loans. This revolving line of credit, known as floorplan lending, currently involves physical inspection and reconciliation across multiple parties’ systems in order to track the cars that will serve as collateral for the loans. The firm said that it is piloting the application with dealership partners. While Bitcoin solved the crucial “double spend” problem for internet money, this system is reported to solve what is known as the “double flooring” problem, in which a dealership accidently pledges the same vehicle as collateral for floorplan contracts at two different banks.

In another recent patent filing, an American multinational technology conglomerate described how blockchain technology can be integrated with 5G telecommunication networks. According to reports, the invention uses a blockchain platform to manage data sessions between devices and a virtual network, creating a kind of blockchain interface between the network and equipment such as phones or laptops.

For more information, please refer to the following links:

Cryptocurrency Exchange Hacked, Crypto-Mining Malware Detected, Ethereum Developer Arrested

By: Joanna F. Wasick

Last week Upbit, a South Korean cryptocurrency exchange, confirmed that 342,000 ether (presently worth about $51 million) was stolen off the exchange. Upbit suspended withdrawals and deposits and stated that it would take at least two weeks for services to return to normal. The exchange also said, however, that the loss would be covered by the company’s own assets. Some who have reviewed the transfer details from that Wednesday suggest the hack was an inside job.

Lazarus, a state-sponsored North Korean computer hacking team, is believed to be behind new macOS malware that can pull a payload (malicious coding) from a remote location and run it in memory, making it harder to conduct forensic analysis. The “fileless” malware was uncovered earlier this week by Dinesh Devadoss, a threats analyst, and was found on a website “unioncrypto.vip” that claimed to offer a “smart cryptocurrency arbitrage trading platform.” Last week, security analysts from a major U.S. technology firm revealed that the malware – called Dexphot – had infected nearly 80,000 devices since October 2018. The malicious code allows criminals to deploy CPU miners onto the victim’s device, stealing processing power and generating money from mining cryptocurrency – a process sometimes referred to as “cryptojacking.”

Late last week, the Department of Justice issued a press release announcing the arrest of Virgil Griffith, a U.S. citizen living in Singapore, for violating the International Emergency Economic Power Act by traveling to North Korea to deliver a presentation called “Blockchain and Peace” at the Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference. The U.S. government had previously denied Griffith’s request to travel to the country. A U.S. assistant attorney general said, “Despite receiving warnings not to go, Griffith allegedly traveled to one of the United States’ foremost adversaries, North Korea, where he taught his audience how to use blockchain technology to evade sanctions. By this complaint, we begin the process of seeking justice for such conduct.” Griffith’s arrest occurred on Thanksgiving Day in Los Angeles International Airport. He was later released from jail after bond was posted.

For more information, please refer to the following links:

Blockchain Developments: Crypto Custody and Payments, Supply Chain Pilots, Regulation and Enforcement

shiny bitcoins with stock market background.In this issue:

Cryptocurrency Custody, Payments and Mining Initiatives Announced

Blockchain Provenance and Authentication Solutions Emerging in Food and Manufacturing Markets

Recent Global Regulatory Developments in Digital Assets

U.S. and International Enforcement Agencies Take Action Against Crypto Crimes

Crypto Tax Update: Foreign Accounts, Like-Kind Exchanges, Software Uptick

Cryptocurrency Custody, Payments and Mining Initiatives Announced

By: Diana J. Stern

According to recent reports, the digital asset arm of a multinational financial services corporation was issued a trust company charter by the New York Department of Financial Services. As a designated New York Trust Company, the firm can now custody bitcoin for institutional investors in the United States.

Another recent report explained that holders of a major U.S. cryptocurrency exchange debit card can now use their BAT, REP, ZRX, XLM, and XRP to make purchases, and the exchange will instantly convert the tokens to fiat currency to pay out merchants. This development more than doubles the number of cryptocurrencies cardholders can spend.

This week, cryptocurrency exchange Binance made a play to enter the Indian market with its acquisition of WazirX, a local peer-to-peer exchange, for an undisclosed amount. According to reports, in April 2018, India’s central bank banned banking services for cryptocurrency companies, which forced many to shut down or to rely heavily on peer-to-peer or crypto-to-crypto trading.

Swiss startup and digital payments processor Utrust announced late last week that it signed up its first merchant in the travel industry. The online travel agency serves more than 650 airlines, and the deal with Utrust will allow its customers to book flights with cryptocurrency.

This month, distributed ledger startup Hashgraph and streaming music service Tune.fm announced a partnership to create a token that is specialized for the music industry. The token, Jam, can be used to make micropayments to artists for every second of music fans stream, reward listeners for trying music they have not heard before and promote artists through verifiable first-time streams.

Rockdale, Texas, is becoming a hotbed for massive cryptocurrency mining operations. When Bitmain announced its mining farm in Rockdale last month, it was the world’s largest at an expected potential capacity of 300 megawatts. But this week, a data center developer owned by Northern Bitcoin broke ground on a project that plans to start with 300 megawatts and scale up to 1 gigawatt by the end of 2020. Both projects are on a more than 33,000-acre plot of land that has been owned by a large American industrial corporation since the 1950s.

For more information, please refer to the following links:

Blockchain Provenance and Authentication Solutions Emerging in Food and Manufacturing Markets

By: Brian P. Bartish

Last week, the world’s largest food and beverage company and a French supermarket chain announced a blockchain pilot aimed at providing transparency to consumers on the supply chain of a leading brand of infant formula. Leveraging the Hyperledger-based Food Trust platform, consumers can scan a QR code with a smartphone to access information on the formula’s path from dairy to shelf. In related news, this week, one of the world’s leading fish farming operations announced a similar solution, also built on the Food Trust Platform, which allows consumers to pull up the CV of salmon, including information regarding the fish’s origin and health history, by scanning a QR code. And last week, an American logistics giant announced the successful delivery of a blockchain-verified beef shipment from Kansas to Tokyo, for a meal that was served to U.S. Embassy and Japanese officials.

The aerospace division of a U.S.-based conglomerate recently partnered with Hyperledger to develop an online marketplace for the highly regulated used airline parts industry that seeks to provide certainty to buyers that critical parts such as engines and landing gears meet FAA requirements. An Italian luxury sports car manufacturer is also turning to a blockchain solution for quickly and securely authenticating sales of its “heritage” vehicles, which require more than 800 certification checks conducted at company headquarters before they can be resold through a network of trusted partners.

In a final notable development, this week, HashCash announced its partnership with a consortium of global automobile manufacturers, a mining company and battery manufacturers to build a blockchain supply chain network to meet demands for authenticating the ethical sourcing of minerals such as cobalt, tungsten and lithium, which are often surrounded by allegations of child labor.

For more information, please refer to the following links:

Recent Global Regulatory Developments in Digital Assets

By: Jonathan D. Blattmachr

There were several interesting developments across the world this week in the digital asset arena. First, the UK Jurisdiction Taskforce (UKJT) published its Legal Statement on the Status of Cryptocurrencies and Smart Contracts. The UKJT hopes this statement will give the market “legal certainty and predictability” in this emerging space. In sum, the UKJT has determined that digital assets are “property” under UK law. It reasoned that such assets have the indicia of property, and simply because they have distinctive or innovative features does not disqualify them from being property. While digital assets cannot be physically possessed, therefore meaning they cannot be used as bailment, they can be used to grant security through other means.

As to smart contracts, the UKJT found they are capable of being a contract in the broader sense. This is because in a smart contract, the parties to it have intended to create a legal relationship and have each given something of value as consideration. Therefore, “a smart contract can be identified, interpreted, and enforced using ordinary and well-established legal principles.”

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) issued a consultation paper that proposes allowing payment token derivatives to be traded on approved exchanges and to regulate their activity. MAS states there is significant interest in payment tokens such as bitcoin and ether, and the interested institutional investors need a regulated product to be able to hedge their exposure to them. It warned, however, that such tokens are not suitable for most retail investors, who should use “extreme caution” when trading in them or their related derivatives.

Back in the United States, CFTC Chair Heath Tarbert penned an op-ed piece in which he advocated for principles-based regulation in the fintech space. Tarbert stated that the regulators should avoid “detailed prescriptive rules” and focus on “high-level, broadly stated principles” for the industry. The piece points out that the U.S. code covering banking, securities and derivatives regulation totals more than 13,000 pages, which he finds to be inefficient and inflexible. While he acknowledged certain rules must be in place, especially those covering customer protection, he indicated that because of the rapidly evolving nature of the space, a principles-based system is more appropriate.

For more information, please refer to the following links:

U.S. and International Enforcement Agencies Take Action Against Crypto Crimes

By: Joanna F. Wasick

Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a press release about the extradition of a Swedish citizen, Roger Nils-Jonas Karlsson, from Thailand to the United States for alleged securities fraud, wire fraud and money laundering. The complaint alleges that he and his company, Eastern Metal Securities, defrauded victims of more than $11 million through an investment scheme in which Karlsson convinced individuals to invest cryptocurrencies into a product called a “Pre Funded Reversed Pension Plan.” Instead of making any investments, Karlsson directed the funds into his personal bank account, and the funds are apparently now tied up in Thai real estate.

A DOJ press release issued last week detailed the arrest of two men in Massachusetts for crimes including aggravated identity theft and computer fraud. According to the DOJ, the men targeted people who likely had significant amounts of cryptocurrency, such as executives of cryptocurrency companies, and conspired to take over their social media accounts and steal their cryptocurrency using techniques including “SIM swapping,” whereby a victim’s cellphone carrier is convinced to reassign the victim’s cellphone SIM card to the criminal, who then uses it to hack into the victim’s various accounts.

The court-appointed receiver of Einstein Exchange, a Canadian cryptocurrency exchange, recently stated that the exchange has only $45,000 remaining of the reported $16 million in customer funds. The exchange was seized by Canadian officials earlier this month after receiving complaints from Einstein customers that they could not access their accounts.

Karatbars, a German company, was recently ordered by German officials to wind up its blockchain-based business in Germany after allegations it was luring investors into a pyramid scheme. Around the same time, South African officials issued their own warning, telling consumers to avoid investments offered by the company. Karatbars issues KaratGold Coin, a supposedly gold-backed cryptocurrency that runs on the Ethereum network and is listed on approximately 30 exchanges. And reports out earlier this week describe a hack into the Monero website, with currency-stealing malware allegedly delivered to users who were downloading Monero wallet software. Representatives from the company issued a statement strongly recommending anyone who downloaded the wallet during certain times on Monday, Nov. 18, to check whether they might have contaminated files.

For more information, please refer to the following links:

Crypto Tax Update: Foreign Accounts, Like-Kind Exchanges, Software Uptick

By: Nicholas C. Mowbray

An official from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) that specializes in cybersecurity policies stated last week at the American Institute of CPAs National Tax Conference in Washington, D.C., that a U.S. holder of cryptocurrency on a foreign exchange is not required to disclose the information on a foreign bank account report. At the same conference, however, officials for the IRS Office of Associate Chief Counsel indicated that the IRS has still not decided whether cryptocurrency held in a foreign exchange must be reported on IRS Form 8938, which is a disclosure statement that is separate and apart from a foreign bank account report. The news is not a surprise to taxpayers given that FinCEN responded to a previous request over the summer that virtual currency held in an offshore account was not a reportable account on a foreign bank account report.

At the same conference, a different official from the IRS Office of the Associate Chief Counsel confirmed that certain like-kind exchange rules that allow taxpayers to postpone paying tax on gain where property is exchanged for like-kind property do not apply to cryptocurrencies. The rules with respect to like-kind exchanges were changed in 2018 as part of tax reform. Accordingly, the comment addresses any like-kind exchanges occurring prior to 2018 and taxpayers who took the position that the exchange of a token for another qualified as a tax-free exchange.

In other news, according to a recent report, startups providing crypto tax software have seen a significant increase in users. The report indicates this may be related to the IRS’s guidance issued this fall addressing airdrops and hard forks, and the IRS enforcement letters that were sent during the summer to thousands of virtual currency traders warning them about the failure to properly report crypto transactions.

For more information, please refer to the following links:

Shipping Firms Pilot Blockchain, New Crypto Payment Gateways and Products, Wyoming Announces Crypto Custody Rules

In this issue:

Shipping Firms, DHS and Wine Merchants Participate in Blockchain Pilots

Crypto Payment Gateways Announced, Multimillion-Dollar Property Sold for Bitcoin

Developments in Cryptocurrency Custody Providers, Banks and New Product Offerings

Enforcement Updates From US and Dutch Agencies

Shipping Firms, DHS and Wine Merchants Participate in Blockchain Pilots

By: Simone O. Otenaike

Earlier this week, one of the United States’ largest multinational package delivery and supply chain management firms reportedly made the first blockchain-verified shipment of beef from the U.S. to Japan with the help of a leading agri-tech solutions firm. The two firms will reportedly continue to work together to deliver tracking and traceability technology that improves quality assurance for beef products being shipped internationally. The package delivery firm created a customized, integrated visibility tool that plugs into the agri-tech firm’s blockchain technology to offer live updates throughout the journey. The package delivery firm’s customs brokers also coordinated with health, food and safety regulators in both the U.S. and Japan to obtain all required certifications that promoted accurate customs compliance, timely clearance of goods, and reduced risk of delays or penalties. Late last week, another leading global package delivery firm announced plans to pilot a blockchain-based invoice system for one-off, noncontractual shipments. The pilot will be developed in conjunction with a leading global information technology firm.

According to recent reports, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is working with a Canadian blockchain firm, Mavennet, to build a cross-border, blockchain-based platform for tracking and tracing oil. To build this platform, Mavennet will retrofit its existing oil tracking platforms and build a proof-of-concept demo for use by the Customs and Border Protection branch of DHS at the Canadian border. In other recent international news, a Singaporean firm reportedly launched its blockchain-based wine marketplace for consumers across the Asia-Pacific region. The marketplace allows customers to purchase premium wines using a secure, blockchain-based platform with digital tokens that trace the provenance, quality and authenticity of new and vintage wines, ultimately eliminating layers of intermediaries and improving efficiency. The firm’s wine marketplace is supported by a leading professional services firm’s blockchain platform.

For more information, please refer to the following links:

Crypto Payment Gateways Announced, Multimillion-Dollar Property Sold for Bitcoin

By: Joanna F. Wasick

Lolli, a company that lets online shoppers earn bitcoin in lieu of regular cash-back points, recently announced a new partnership with a major Chinese online commerce entity. Lolli users can now earn up to 5 percent bitcoin when shopping on the site. The announcement was made on Nov. 11 – Singles’ Day, a shopping holiday popular among young Chinese consumers.

According to a press release, a major European payments firm has signed a letter of intent with “Bitcoin Suisse, the oldest and largest crypto financial-services company in Switzerland … to offer cryptocurrency payment services to Swiss merchants and consumers both in-store and in web-shops.” In more news from Switzerland, Utrust, a Swiss-based cryptocurrency payment and services platform, announced this week that it was partnering with a United Kingdom-based online travel agency to enable its customers to purchase flights on several major airlines using cryptocurrency.

Earlier this week, Paxos Trust Company introduced Fiat Gateway, a product that allows its users to swap between dollars and stablecoins. Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange (by trading volume), will be the first to integrate the product. Also this week, Blockchain Venture Capital Inc. (BVCI) launched CUSD, a U.S. dollar-backed stablecoin. The launch comes about four months after BVCI issued a Canadian dollar-backed stablecoin. In a final item of note, the Magnum Real Estate Group recently sold an 11,400-square-foot Manhattan condominium for $15.3 million in bitcoin. The buyer was reportedly a Taiwanese entity, and the transaction was described as a “seamless process.” Magnum reportedly sold two units in the same building last year for bitcoin, one worth $875,000 and the other worth $1.48 million.

For more information, please refer to the following links:

Developments in Cryptocurrency Custody Providers, Banks and New Product Offerings

By: Robert A. Musiala Jr.

This week Bakkt, which recently launched a platform for physically settled bitcoin futures contracts, announced the launch of Bakkt Warehouse, a qualified bitcoin custodian that is authorized to offer institutional bitcoin custody by the New York Department of Financial Services. In a related development, according to reports this week, the state of Wyoming has released new custody rules for state-chartered special purpose depository institutions (SPDIs) that will allow banks that qualify as SPDIs to act as custodians of “digital assets” under Wyoming law. And late last week, Silvergate Bank, one of the first U.S. banks to begin servicing the cryptocurrency industry, officially began selling shares on the New York Stock Exchange in an initial public offering.

More new cryptocurrency-related products were announced this week. A Chicago-based global derivatives marketplace announced that it intends to launch options on its bitcoin futures contracts in January 2020, subject to regulatory approval. According to reports, U.S.-based cryptocurrency wallet Abra is adding support for 60 new cryptocurrencies. In Europe, Switzerland’s largest stock exchange has reportedly listed an exchange-traded product that is based on the tezos cryptocurrency. Finally, according to reports this week, cryptocurrency exchange Bitfinex has announced plans to launch cryptocurrency options products and a gold-backed stablecoin, Tether Gold.

For more information, please refer to the following links:

Enforcement Updates From US and Dutch Agencies

By: Joanna F. Wasick

Earlier this month, the Joint Chiefs of Global Tax Enforcement (J5), hosted The Challenge, an event bringing together investigators, cryptocurrency experts and data scientists, in order to find the world’s most egregious tax offenders. It was the second time the event was held, and this year’s focus was on cryptocurrency-facilitated crime. The J5 was established in mid-2018 by tax enforcement leaders from Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States, to combat cross-border money-laundering, tax crime and cybercrime. After the recent event, the criminal division of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) reportedly stated that it identified “dozens” of potential cryptocurrency tax evaders.

Last week in New York, Hugh Brian Haney pleaded guilty to money laundering charges based on his attempt to launder about $19 million in bitcoin obtained from a drug trafficking operation that he ran on Silk Road, the infamous Dark Web marketplace. Haney is scheduled for sentencing in February; he faces a possible maximum sentence of 30 years in prison. This week in the Netherlands, Dutch police arrested the founder of Komodore64, a now-bankrupt blockchain game development company. The founder, whose name has not been confirmed, allegedly lied to investors in order to procure about $86 million in startup funds, and refused to make promised payments to vendors who were helping with the company’s launch.

For more information, please refer to the following links:

Industry Token Standards Published, Supply Chain Pilots Expand, Foreign Crypto Guidance Issued, US Enforcement Actions Continue

In this issue:

Token Taxonomy Framework Published, Blockchain Supply Chain Pilots Expand

Stellar Burns Tokens, New Cryptocurrency Market Data and Studies Released

Blockchain Startup Receives Transfer Agent License, UK and Hong Kong Issue Crypto Guidance Enforcement

Multiple US Agencies Bring Enforcement Actions, Report Describes North Korea Crypto Sanctions Evasion

Token Taxonomy Framework Published, Blockchain Supply Chain Pilots Expand

By: Robert A. Musiala Jr.

This week, the members of the Token Taxonomy Initiative (TTI), an organization with members that include several major firms across a diverse set of industries, announced the publication of the Token Taxonomy Framework (TTF) v1.0. According to the TTI, the TTF is intended to be a set of industry standards for building token-based systems that can “interoperate across the multiple and disparate systems that make up a typical enterprise infrastructure.” In a related development, according to a report this week, a major U.S.-based global technology firm, and member of the TTI, is testing a “mint” that will enable the creation of blockchain tokens that meet the standards of the TTF.

Several blockchain pilots announced advancements this week. According to reports, a major U.S.-based food and beverage company is expanding its blockchain pilot for tracking bottled drinks in its supply chain from two to 70 manufacturers. In another development, a Sweden-based automobile manufacturer has reportedly joined the Responsible Sourcing Blockchain Network (RSBN), “a blockchain network committed to strengthening human rights and environmental protection in mineral supply chains.” The auto manufacturer reportedly intends to trace the cobalt used in its batteries using blockchain technology.

In Peru, a major Peruvian grocery chain has reportedly announced a pilot project to trace the provenance of various meat products using blockchain. Finally, in a press release this week, a major global charity organization “announced the success of the first season of their blockchain-based delivery of microinsurance to smallholder paddy field farmers in Sri Lanka.”

For more information, please refer to the following links:

Stellar Burns Tokens, New Cryptocurrency Market Data and Studies Released

By: Joanna F. Wasick

The Stellar Development Foundation (SDF) announced earlier this week that it burned 55 billion of its Stellar Lumens tokens (XLM), reducing the number of XLM in existence by about 50%. Of the remaining XLM, about half are still in SDF’s possession. The decision follows SDF’s earlier proposal to disable the network’s inflation mechanism. SDF said its decision was due in part due to the difficulty in moving the XLM into the market.

On Wednesday, a major U.S. cryptocurrency exchange announced staking rewards, estimated at 5% annually, for eligible customers holding Tezos on the exchange. Staking lets holders earn income by participating in a network of a particular asset, and it can make the underlying blockchain of that asset more secure and efficient – in exchange for locking their assets in a staking wallet, customers are rewarded with more assets from the network. And major cryptocurrency exchange Binance continues to move into new markets, having recently registered an affiliate with authorities in South Korea. Binance is also reportedly planning to issue a won-backed stablecoin.

This week, a major U.S. fintech firm released its earnings report, which reflected that it processed $148 million in bitcoin sales in the third quarter of 2019. According to an investor letter published contemporaneously, first-time bitcoin buyers on the firm’s platform approximately doubled.

A recent study by two university professors concludes that a single large player manipulated the price of bitcoin up to its peak of nearly $20,000 in 2017. The unknown manipulator allegedly operated from a single Bitfinex account and used tether to boost bitcoin’s demand. Tether’s general counsel called the report meritless. Also this week, Juniper Research, a fintech data analysis company, issued a report in which it found that the total value of B2B business-to-business cross-border payments stored on blockchain will exceed $4.4 trillion by 2024, up from $171 billion in 2019.

For more information, please refer to the following links:

Blockchain Startup Receives Transfer Agent License, UK and Hong Kong Issue Crypto Guidance Enforcement

By: Veronica Reynolds

This week, security token startup Harbor received a transfer agent license from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Transfer agents record changes of ownership, maintain issuers’ security holder records, cancel and issue certificates, and distribute dividends. Harbor’s acquisition of this license, along with the broker-dealer license it was granted in September by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), brings it closer to becoming a “one-stop shop” for digital asset issuance. It is the first blockchain company to receive both licenses.

On Nov. 1, the United Kingdom’s tax, payments and customs authority, HM Revenue & Customs, released a white paper explaining how the administrative body will tax cryptoasset exchange token transactions undertaken by companies and other businesses. The guidance provides a detailed breakdown of fact-specific circumstances that may affect taxpayer liabilities for trading, mining and other cryptocurrency-related activities. And in Hong Kong, the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) published a position paper outlining its regulatory approach to virtual asset trading, stating that it will only grant licenses to platforms capable of meeting the standards. Its guidance will reportedly allow investors to better distinguish between platforms that are regulated from those that are unregulated.

For more information, please refer to the following links:

Multiple US Agencies Bring Enforcement Actions, Report Describes North Korea Crypto Sanctions Evasion

By: Jordan R. Silversmith

On Wednesday, U.S. law enforcement officials announced charges against an alleged fraudulent intergovernmental organization for falsely promising investors guaranteed returns and an ownership interest in a “digital coin offering.” Asa Saint Clair was charged with one count of wire fraud related to an alleged scheme to use World Sports Alliance, a fraudulent affiliate of the United Nations, to defraud lenders and investors in IGOBIT, a digital currency Saint Clair claimed World Sports Alliance was developing. Another press release from U.S. law enforcement officials, issued last week, announced the guilty plea of defendants in an extortion conspiracy where the defendants demanded payment in bitcoin.

Last week, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) announced that a federal court had entered a default order against two individuals and four corporate entities, ordering them to pay $4.25 million for fraud and misappropriation. The order resolves a CFTC enforcement case filed on April 16, 2018, charging the defendants with fraud relating to a binary options scam based on a virtual currency known as ATM Coin.

In a filing with the New York Eastern District Court dated Oct. 31, the SEC said it reached a settlement with Reggie Middleton; Veritaseum Inc.; and Veritaseum LLC related to a $14.8 million initial coin offering (ICO). The case began in 2017 when Middleton was accused of allegedly raising millions through an ICO without registering with the SEC while also deluding investors with false information to raise more funds. Middleton agreed to pay approximately $9.5 million to settle the case without admitting or denying the allegations. In a separate SEC action last week, the SEC charged a Switzerland-based securities dealer “for offering and selling unregistered security-based swaps to U.S. investors using bitcoins and for failing to transact its swaps on a registered national exchange.”

In Canada, the British Columbia Securities Commission (BCSC) has appointed a receiver to take control over Einstein Exchange, a cryptocurrency exchange, related to reports of customers being unable to access their funds. Finally, a report from Hong Kong indicates that North Korea has been using a Hong Kong-based blockchain company to launder money, prompting an investigation by the UN Security Council’s Sanctions Committee on North Korea. The committee reportedly said that North Korea used the “front” company to exchange stolen cryptocurrency for cash after “layering” it through at least 5,000 separate transactions through several countries to make tracking difficult.

For more information and related news, please refer to the following links:

 

Blockchain Pilots Move Forward in Food Supply Chain, Land Registries and Buying Coffee with Crypto; Regulators Grant Approvals and Continue Enforcement

A side view on a digital panel merging binary numbers with an integrated circuitIn this issue:

Coffee Conglomerate Set to Accept Bitcoin in 2020 as Cryptocurrency Adoption Continues to Rise

Blockchain Capital Markets Firms Achieve New Approvals in US and Abroad

Blockchains Take Another Bite Into Food Tracking; Land Registry Pilot Takes Off in Latin America

US Agencies Join Global Innovation Network, Crypto Enforcement Actions Continue

Coffee Conglomerate Set to Accept Bitcoin in 2020 as Cryptocurrency Adoption Continues to Rise

By: Veronica Reynolds

This week brought big news for fans of both coffee and cryptocurrencies. According to reports, a leading financial company has said that it will begin testing a consumer app for bitcoin purchases of coffee from a well-known international coffee chain. Testing of the app is set to launch in the first half of 2020. In other news, Avalon bitcoin miner maker Canaan filed for a $400 million Initial Public Offering this week. This attempted offering comes after two failed attempts to go public overseas in mainland China and Hong Kong. Chinese media outlets peg Canaan’s valuation at between $2 billion and $3 billion. Finally, Binance has begun its rollout of a new payment service allowing international users to buy cryptocurrencies using local fiat. Last week, it added a Nigerian fiat-to-cryptocurrency gateway that allows consumers to enter the market using the Nigerian currency, Niaira.

Yet as cryptocurrency markets continue to develop, so do cyberthreats. Cryptocurrency-related crime is on the rise in South Africa, according to digital wallet provider Paxful. According to Paxful, there has also been a 64% increase in cryptocurrency trades occurring in Africa this month compared to October 2018. Meanwhile, the number of Americans who own cryptocurrencies has doubled since 2018, according to an Australia-based financial services company. According to a recent survey it conducted, an estimated 36.5 million people currently hold some form of cryptocurrency. The survey indicates the average cryptocurrency holder owns approximately $5,500 worth of digital currencies, but the median amount hovers at only $360. The survey also found that daily bitcoin transactions now amount to $9.6 billion per day, a figure that surpasses PayPal’s yearly transaction volume ($578 billion in 2018) in just two months. The survey found that since Bitcoin’s inception in 2009, $11 trillion in wealth has been transferred within the network.

For more information, please refer to the following links:

Blockchain Capital Markets Firms Achieve New Approvals in US and Abroad

By: Simone O. Otenaike

Early this week, a New York-based regulated financial institution announced plans to launch a blockchain-based settlement platform for a limited number of U.S. equities. The platform will reportedly help clients reduce fees and gain access to capital that is otherwise unavailable through the legacy settlement system. The financial institution recently received a “no-action” letter from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which means the SEC will not take any enforcement action against the institution for its platform. According to reports, two multinational financial services firms will be the first to use the financial institution’s settlement service once those firms obtain additional approvals from the SEC.

3iQ, a Canadian investment fund manager focused on digital asset technologies, announced earlier this week that the Ontario Securities Commission issued a favorable ruling regarding the Bitcoin Fund, a closed-end bitcoin fund that is expected to be listed for trading on a major Canadian stock exchange. According to reports, Gemini Trust Company LLC, a New York-based cryptocurrency exchange and trust company, will operate as the custodian of the bitcoin in the fund.

Overseas, Sygnum, a digital asset technology group based in Singapore and Switzerland, recently obtained a capital markets services license from the Monetary Authority of Singapore. The license allows the group to offer private qualified investors a curated portfolio of digital assets. Also this week, tZero announced plans to partner with a U.K.-based direct-to-developer real estate investment company to tokenize the company’s 180-unit luxury residential development and issue tokens on the Tezos Blockchain. According to reports, this offering will be the U.K.’s first real estate-backed security token offering.

For more information, please refer to the following links:

Blockchains Take Another Bite Into Food Tracking; Land Registry Pilot Takes Off in Latin America

By: Diana J. Stern

Recently, a multinational financial services corporation announced a food supply chain pilot that will be used by a major United States food cooperative to track salmon, cod and shrimp. The goal is to provide greater visibility into ethical sourcing and environmental compliance of seafood. According to reports, the pilot is built on the financial services firm’s proprietary blockchain technology, which provides industry-agnostic track-and-trace functionality.

Another enterprise pilot took off this week in the real estate sector. The largest source of development financing for Latin America and the Caribbean engaged blockchain startup ChromaWay to record land registration and lending in Bolivia, Peru and Paraguay on a blockchain over the next two years. The solution has multiple layers, including a blockchain rooted in relational databases, a smart contract programming language and the option to deploy on a public blockchain, Chromia. In addition to tech, the project will focus on governance and standards such as the W3C standard for Verifiable Claims and Decentralized Identifiers. ChromaWay’s platform was previously used for tracking land titles in Sweden.

For more information, please refer to the following links:

US Agencies Join Global Innovation Network, Crypto Enforcement Actions Continue

By: Jordan R. Silversmith

Last week, four U.S. financial regulatory agencies, including the SEC and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC), joined the Global Financial Innovation Network (GFIN). Participation in GFIN will help the agencies clarify regulations and promote the early identification of emerging regulatory opportunities, challenges and risks. In related news, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s (CFTC) fintech initiative, LabCFTC, is set to become an independent operating office of the agency. A newly independent LabCFTC, reporting directly to Chairman Heath Tarbert, will take on a greater role in engaging with the fintech community to develop and write regulations for new products involving technologies such as blockchain, digital assets and other novel financial technologies.

A New York federal judge recently resolved the CFTC’s claims against a convicted fraudster, his co-conspirator and his British binary options company, ordering them to pay a total of more than $4.6 million in a default judgment. The CFTC claimed that the defendants had used digital assets to cheat investors, using a cryptocurrency to conceal their misconduct and make illegal off-exchange retail swaps.

Also in New York, the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of New York last week indicted a banking solution platform’s principal on three criminal counts. Oz Yosef, the principal of Crypto Capital, was indicted on conspiracy to commit bank fraud, bank fraud and conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business. As a result of the indictment, Yosef will forfeit listed assets that represent the number of proceeds traceable to his offenses. The president of Crypto Capital was later extradited to Poland by Polish authorities on charges of laundering approximately $390 million. In a final note, this week another instance of cryptocurrency SIM swapping hacking was reported in a lawsuit filed by a major cryptocurrency investor, who claims he lost $1.7 million in cryptocurrency in a SIM swapping attack.

For more information, please refer to the following links:

Blockchain Pilots from US Treasury, Seafood Providers, Voting Systems; Global Regulators Address Stablecoin Risks

In this issue:

US Treasury Announces Blockchain Pilot, Major Bitcoin Mining Facility Launches in Texas, Foreign Crypto Exchange Developments

More Blockchain Solutions for Food Safety and Telecom; Utah Voting Pilot Expands

Regulators Address Stablecoins, CFTC and IRS Rules; Telegram Network Postponed

New Crypto-Mining Malware Discovered in Audio Files

US Treasury Announces Blockchain Pilot, Major Bitcoin Mining Facility Launches in Texas, Foreign Crypto Exchange Developments

By: Jonathan D. Blattmachr

There were several developments in the digital capital markets and payments space this week, spanning a variety of topics. First up, Blockstacks announced that its Stacks (STX) token can now be traded on the Binance and HashKey Pro exchanges (U.S. investors may not buy, sell or trade the tokens). The company raised most of its money from a Reg A+ offering in July, the first of its kind involving ERC20 tokens.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Financial Innovation and Transformation announced this week two projects to improve financial management and the government’s interaction with its customers, including a blockchain project that will aim to provide proof of concept of payments in a simulated letter of credit context. In another announcement, a major U.S. financial institution signaled this week that its cryptocurrency custody and trading service platform is in final testing. The company is waiting for final approval from the New York State Department of Financial Services before it fully launches.

Circle announced this week that it is spinning off the Poloniex cryptocurrency exchange into a new company called Polo Digital Assets Ltd. Circle acquired Poloniex just 18 months ago but said it has had issues as a U.S. company trying to run an international cryptocurrency exchange. As a result of the spinoff, U.S. customers will no longer be able to trade on the exchange.

Computer chip manufacturer Bitmain said this week it has launched a 50MW bitcoin mining farm in Texas. The farm, Bitmain’s third in the U.S., has the capacity to grow to 300MW, which would make it the world’s largest mining facility. Finally, ATM manufacturer Bitsmap recently installed crypto ATMs at the Miami International Airport. Travelers are required to declare when they carry over $10,000 in cash or equivalent fiat currency, gold or other assets. This begs the question for some: Is a traveler required to make a declaration if she carries a crypto cold wallet holding more than the equivalent of $10,000? Congress has considered several bills recently that would address this directly. For now, it is an open question.

For more information, please refer to the following links:

More Blockchain Solutions for Food Safety and Telecom; Utah Voting Pilot Expands

By: Diana J. Stern

In its latest food supply chain effort, a multinational technology firm partnered with a U.S. seafood provider to implement blockchain for tracking and tracing wild-caught scallops. Reports indicate that a number of details about the catch and subsequent processing will be recorded on a permissioned blockchain platform, allowing those with access to quickly obtain information about the scallops at any point from catch to market. Seafood distributors, suppliers and retailers are also on board with the project. The seafood provider says it plans to build a connected app that enables diners to scan a QR code on a menu and deep dive into the history of the scallops on deck for dinner.

Earlier this week, Utah County, Utah, announced it is expanding the voting pilot it launched this past summer, as reported on by the Blockchain Monitor. Continuing the work with blockchain start-up Voatz, Utah will allow disabled voters to use their smartphones to cast their ballots in the November municipal elections. The county’s decision to move forward with the initiative came after the National Cybersecurity Center audited votes from the 45 participants who participated in the pilot and found the results were accurate.

Finally, a multinational conglomerate holding company headquartered in Tokyo, a multinational technology corporation and blockchain start-up TBCASoft announced a strategic collaboration to facilitate the adoption of blockchain technology by telecommunications carriers in the Carrier Blockchain Study Group Consortium. The consortium’s first application is the Cross-Carrier Payment System, which aims to allow mobile phone users traveling abroad to pay local merchants with their mobile payment app.

For more information, please refer to the following links:

Regulators Address Stablecoins, CFTC and IRS Rules; Telegram Network Postponed

The Group of Seven (G7), an international intergovernmental economic organization comprised of seven of the largest economies in the world, recently published a report that discusses potential risks and benefits associated with global “stablecoins.” The report notes that stablecoins have the potential to provide access to financial services to unbanked populations and to improve cross-border retail payments but are associated with potentially crippling risks as well, including the potential to destabilize the global economy and facilitate money laundering and terrorism. The report cites the need for a “well founded, clear and transparent legal basis in all relevant jurisdictions” to support mass adoption of global stablecoins. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an inter-governmental body established to set standards to protect the integrity of the global financial system, recently issued a press release highlighting the money laundering risks of stablecoins as well. In addition, a bill titled “Stablecoins are Securities Act of 2019” is now under review by Congress. The bill seeks to define “managed stablecoins” as securities within the Securities Act of 1933.

In other regulatory news, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) Chairman, Heath Tarbert, recently said cryptocurrency assets classified as securities have the potential to become commodities, and vice versa. Meanwhile, the Chief Counsel for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) confirmed that the agency plans to release additional guidance to clarify unanswered questions related to cryptocurrency. The attorney stated that the agency’s main concern is one of compliance, with too few cryptocurrency investors reporting cryptocurrency transactions on their taxes.

Finally, an anticipated hearing between the SEC and Telegram, a global messaging platform, related to whether the messaging platform’s pending GRAM token launch is a securities offering, has been postponed until February. According to reports, as a result, Telegram will delay the launch of its TON blockchain network.

For more information, please refer to the following links:

New Crypto-Mining Malware Discovered in Audio Files

By: Joanna F. Wasick

Last week, a software company that develops antivirus programs reported the discovery of malicious code hidden in WAV audio files, including malware known as “steganography,” in which hackers hide malware codes in ordinary-looking files. The report notes that when played, some of the WAV files produced music with no discernible quality issues, while others simply generated static. The malicious WAV files enable hackers to steal processing resources from unwitting users and use it to mine cryptocurrency. The report goes on to explain the three methods the WAV file loaders employ to decode and execute the malicious code, and provides in-depth technical details on the WAV file loaders and indicators of compromised (IOCs), including malware sample hashes and C2 infrastructure.

For more information, please refer to the following links:

Multiple Enterprise Blockchain Applications Announced, SEC and CFTC Issue Guidance and Enforcement Actions

In this issue:

Blockchains on Broadway, Smart Contracts Make Headway, Food Supply Chain and Health Applications Continue

CFTC Says Ether Is a Commodity, Crypto Trading and Payments Markets Expand

Federal Agencies Warn on AML and Bring Civil Actions; DOJ Brings Down Darknet Site

Blockchains on Broadway, Smart Contracts Make Headway, Food Supply Chain and Health Applications Continue

By: Diana J. Stern

The National Science Foundation has awarded SimplyVitalHealth Inc. a grant to further develop its blockchain protocol, Nexus, which seeks to “decrease healthcare costs by enabling data access through blockchain.” According to a press release, Nexus is compatible with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

In supply chain news, KT, a South Korean telecommunications company, is working with the Korea Muslim Federation and B-square Lab to develop a blockchain-based platform that authenticates halal food. KT intends to transform a largely paper-based process by issuing blockchain-based certificates and utilizing unique QR codes to track products. In another development that would transform the chocolate supply chain, Dutch NGO FairChain Foundation is working with the United Nations to insert a code inside wrappers for The Other Bar chocolate. Consumers scan the code to donate a blockchain-based token to the farmer who produced the cocoa and to receive discounts on future chocolate bar purchases. Reports state that many cocoa farmers currently do not earn a living wage, despite chocolate production being a €92 billion industry.

An Asian news outlet reported this week that the Mobility Open Blockchain Initiative, a consortium of international automobile manufacturers, will soon begin testing a blockchain-based system that assigns digital IDs to automobiles, enabling the collection of data throughout the lifetime of a vehicle. According to reports, among other features the system would enable automatic payment of parking fees and highway tolls.

This week, the largest theater operator on Broadway announced a pilot with startup True Tickets. Starting next year, the pilot will leverage the True Tickets’ blockchain-based mobile ticketing platform to reduce fraud in the secondary market for theater tickets. In other news, a multinational professional services firm launched a blockchain-enabled solution for governments that tracks and improves processes for financial management of public funds. The City of Toronto has already piloted the platform to test how it can improve reconciliations and interdivisional fund transfers by increasing transparency and efficiency.

Finally, yesterday, Canadian multinational media conglomerate and smart contract startup OpenLaw announced a proof-of-concept to test how the Canadian firm’s flagship document automation product, Contract Express, can integrate with OpenLaw and the Ethereum blockchain. According to reports, Contract Express can be used to input the initial data for the agreements, and then OpenLaw can hash certain data points on the Ethereum blockchain. As a result, users could configure smart contracts to preprogram how certain tokens should be sent among parties.

For more information, please refer to the following links:

CFTC Says Ether Is a Commodity, Crypto Trading and Payments Markets Expand

By: Joanna F. Wasick

The chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) recently stated that ether is a commodity and therefore falls under the CFTC’s jurisdiction. While the CFTC had previously announced its view that bitcoin was a commodity, this was its first official statement on ether, and it comports with the position of the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) that neither bitcoin nor ether is a security. The CFTC chairman also stated that “forked” assets – cryptocurrencies created by forks from the original cryptocurrency (e.g., bitcoin cash or bitcoin gold) – should be treated by regulators the same way as the original asset.

In capital markets news, earlier this week trading platform eToro launched a new portfolio that trades cryptocurrencies based on AI analyses of Twitter posts (tweets). In the foreign markets, late last week, SE Digital Co. Ltd., a subsidiary of a leading Thai financial services firm, obtained SEC approval to operate in Thailand as an initial coin offering portal. The company plans to launch the country’s first investment token with a target transaction size of between two and three billion Thai Baht. Also last week, a major Australian precious metals company announced the launch of the Perth Mint Gold Token, a digital token backed 1:1 by GoldPass certificates issued by the Perth Mint, the world’s largest refiner of newly mined gold.

Acceptance of cryptocurrency as a form of payment continues to increase. According to a major British online real estate portal and property website, the seller of a property in Durham County priced at 1.2 million British pounds will accept bitcoin as a method for payment. Additionally, a California-based luxury electric car automaker now accepts bitcoin as payment for car sales and services at its flagship store in Newport Beach. And the Bermuda government announced this week that it will accept payments for taxes, fees and other government services in USD Coin (USDC), a stablecoin backed by U.S. dollars that was launched a year ago by a major cryptocurrency exchange and a U.S. fintech and cryptocurrency firm.

For more information, please refer to the following links:

Federal Agencies Warn on AML and Bring Civil Actions; DOJ Brings Down Darknet Site

By: Jonathan D. Blattmachr

Last Friday, FinCEN, the CFTC and the SEC issued a joint statement warning digital asset space players of their AML/CFT obligations under the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). The statement emphasized that covered entities must establish and implement an effective AML program, and have certain recordkeeping reporting obligations, including filing suspicious activity reports. The agencies reminded those dealing with digital assets that simply labeling an asset or activity something does “not necessarily align with” how the BSA or other federal rules or regulations may classify them: “The nature of the digital asset-related activities a person engages in is a key factor in determining whether and how that person must register with the CFTC, FinCEN, or the SEC.”

Also last Friday, the SEC announced a temporary restraining order against two offshore entities the Commission alleges were conducting an illicit digital token offering in the U.S. and abroad. The SEC alleges that Telegram Group Inc. and subsidiary TON Issuer Inc. began raising capital in January 2018 to fund their operations. The complaint against the companies alleges they failed to register the token offers and sales, 2.9 billion tokens worth $1.7 billion, which the SEC avers are securities.

This week the CFTC filed a civil action against David Saffron and Circle Society Inc. related to a Ponzi scheme Saffron allegedly ran through Circle Society. The complaint alleges that for nearly two years, defendants tricked U.S. individuals into handing over $11 million worth of bitcoin and U.S. dollars to trade off-exchange binary options on foreign currencies and cryptocurrency pairs. The defendants allegedly guaranteed returns up to 300%, but instead misappropriated the funds.

A federal grand jury has indicted a South Korean national for operating the largest child exploitation market by volume of content. Hundreds of users in the U.S. and 37 other countries have been arrested and charged. The darknet site offered 250,000 videos for sale in exchange for bitcoin. The DOJ is seeking forfeiture of the bitcoin and to give the funds to the victims.

For more information, please refer to the following links:

UNICEF Launches Crypto Fund, Class Action Alleges Price Manipulation, US Enforcement Continues, More Ransomware and Hacks

In this issue:

Crypto and Blockchain Capital Markets News From UNICEF, Europe and Hong Kong

Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Payment Applications Introduced Across Jurisdictions

Class-Action Suit Filed Against Bitfinex/Tether, US Enforcement Actions Continue

Incidents of Ransomware, Cryptocurrency Hacks and Malware Continue

Crypto and Blockchain Capital Markets News From UNICEF, Europe and Hong Kong

By: Joanna F. Wasick  

On Wednesday, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced its launch of a newly established cryptocurrency fund, making it the first UN agency that can receive donations and make disbursements in bitcoin and ether without having to convert the cryptocurrencies into fiat currency. The first contributions to the fund will be made by the Ethereum Foundation; the grantees are organizations dedicated to connecting schools around the world to the internet.

Earlier this week, the Swiss-based SIX Digital Exchange announced its collaboration with the central bank of Switzerland (SNB) on a project exploring how digital central bank money can be used in the trading and settlement of cryptocurrencies between market participants. Also this week, trade publication CoinDesk announced a major Swiss-based investment bank’s confirmation that it now accepts transactions on we.trade, a blockchain-based trade finance platform launched in 2018. The bank reportedly stated that the transactions are focused on facilitating services to small and midsized enterprises. And B2C2, a UK-based over-the-counter (OTC) trading platform, has reportedly launched a gold derivatives product that synthetically trades against bitcoin, enabling clients to trade gold priced in bitcoin and settle trades in bitcoin. B2C2 reportedly commented that the product will give clients “access to the underlying metal, since they correspond to ownership of physical gold in vaults.”

On Thursday, the Securities and Futures Commission of Hong Kong (SFC) issued a comprehensive set of regulations focused on funds investing in cryptocurrencies as well as the trading platforms on which the currencies are traded. The new regime essentially closes a regulatory loophole, as neither digital currency funds nor their trading platforms were under the regulatory purview of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority or the SFC. The guidelines also reflect the regulatory differences between Hong Kong and mainland China, where cryptocurrency initial coin offerings and exchanges have been banned since September 2017. Japan also issued guidelines for funds investing in cryptocurrencies in late September.

For more information, please refer to the following links:

Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Payment Applications Introduced Across Jurisdictions

By: Simone O. Otenaike

A U.S. blockchain payments firm and a UK financial technology company made news this week with the announcement of their strategic partnership. The partnership will reportedly enable users to send international payments with end-to-end tracking and visibility into fees, delivery time and status through the U.S. firm’s global blockchain payments network. According to a blog post, the partnership will employ the U.S. firm’s cloud solution and provide access to the UK firm’s network of more than 200 financial institutions. Users will reportedly also have the option to use On-Demand Liquidity, which leverages the digital asset XRP for cross-border payments.

According to recent reports, cryptocurrency exchange Binance now accepts fiat deposits through two popular Chinese mobile payment applications. This move reportedly opens the exchange to peer-to-peer digital asset transactions from China. In other recent international news, a partnership between a leading Spanish bank and blockchain startup Vottun plans to launch a single unified digital payment system powered by blockchain to handle payments for city transportation. The new city transportation application reportedly would leverage a blockchain platform to allow Madrid commuters to centrally access and pay for all different modes of public transportation in the city. In Venezuela, the country’s largest retail chain recently announced the launch of a bitcoin ATM in one of its stores. The retail chain’s bitcoin ATM reportedly only allows customers to buy bitcoin and other digital assets from the machine but does not yet allow customers to trade cryptocurrencies for cash.

For more information, please refer to the following links:

Class-Action Suit Filed Against Bitfinex/Tether, US Enforcement Actions Continue

By: Veronica Reynolds

A class action lawsuit filed on Oct. 6, 2019, against Bitfinex and its sister company, Tether, made waves in cryptocurrency headlines this week. The plaintiffs claim that the defendants manipulated cryptocurrency markets by issuing USDT, a stablecoin that Tether claims is backed 1:1 by US dollars, in amounts that exceeded Tether’s fiat reserves. The lawsuit further alleges that Tether purposefully issued unbacked USDT and the defendants used the USDT to flood the Bitfinex exchange and purchase other cryptocurrencies, thereby artificially inflating demand for cryptocurrencies and creating the “largest bubble in human history.” The suit claims that as much as half of the growth of the cryptocurrency market between 2017 and 2018 was driven by Bitfinex’s and Tether’s “manipulative scheme,” and cites economists and numerous studies. The complaint alleges damages of more than $1.4 trillion related to the crimes of Bank Fraud, Money Laundering, Wire Fraud and more.

Also this week, prosecutors in the United States indicted Ho Jun Jia, who stands accused of Wire Fraud, Access Device Fraud, and Identity Theft for allegedly stealing the identities of multiple parties to gain unauthorized access to cloud computing services, which the defendant then used to run a large-scale cryptocurrency mining operation. At one point, one of the fraudulent accounts constituted a cloud provider’s “largest consumer of data usage by volume.” Ho allegedly racked up in total more than $5 million in unpaid cloud computing services. Ho allegedly executed the scheme by creating false emails and web domains and obtaining personally identifiable information, all used to execute a sophisticated social engineering campaign that gave him access to retail cloud provider accounts.

Late last week in San Antonio, Texas, a federal judge sentenced 30-year-old Alaa Mohammed Allawi to 30 years in prison for using cryptocurrencies to sell narcotics, including fentanyl, on the dark web. Allawi was ordered to pay a $14.32 million judgment based on the profits he generated by operating the criminal enterprise, as well as forfeit property worth around $28,000, multiple firearms, over $21,000 in cryptocurrency and his rights to a coffee and tea franchise.

On Oct. 2, 2019, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced a final judgment against PlexCoin proprietors Dominic Lacroix and Sabrina Paradis-Royer, who were ordered to pay nearly $7 million for selling unregistered securities to the public during an unlawful Initial Coin Offering (ICO). The ICO lured investors by disseminating false and misleading information about the size of the company’s operations, how the money raised would be used, and the amount of funds that were raised. The money judgment reflects a disgorgement of monies received by the parties, as well as civil penalties.

And finally, yet another asset-backed token issuance has come under regulatory scrutiny. Karatbars, a German company that previously sold gold products online, raised $100 million in 2018 through an ICO selling KaratGold Coins (KBCs), a cryptocurrency supposedly backed by gold. There has been no independent verification that the tokens are, indeed, backed by gold. The company announced plans to launch a second ICO in December 2019, this time for the launch of a coin connected to a “cryptocurrency bank” in Miami. This put the company on the radar of the Florida Office of Financial Regulation, which is currently investigating Karatbars.

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Incidents of Ransomware, Cryptocurrency Hacks and Malware Continue

By: Robert A. Musiala Jr.

According to reports late last week, another ransomware attack has hit the U.S. The attackers encrypted the file systems at three hospitals and demanded cryptocurrency as payment to provide the decryption keys. Medical staff at the hospitals were reportedly “forced to switch to a manual paper system to track patient data while their systems were down.” According to a report published in early October, “[i]n the first nine months of 2019, at least 621 government entities, healthcare service providers and school districts, colleges and universities were affected by ransomware.” The report estimates the total losses from these attacks at $5 billion.

In another hacking incident reported this week, the cellphone of an executive at a blockchain investment firm was hacked, resulting in the loss of $1 million to $2 million in cryptocurrencies. Separately, a malware attack was reported this week that involves a relatively simple botnet that has reached an estimated 2,000 devices per week since December 2018 in a phishing scam. Victims who open a malicious file attached to a phishing email enable the malware to steal cryptocurrencies stored in hot wallets on the victim’s device.

In a final item of note, last week a “high-severity security vulnerability” was reported in Tendermint Core, the consensus engine of the Cosmos blockchain interoperability platform. According to reports, an update patch has been released, and all validators and service providers on Tendermint-powered networks have been advised to update their software.

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Alert: IRS Issues New Guidance and FAQs on Virtual Currencies

On Oct. 9, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued additional guidance regarding the taxation of cryptocurrency. The guidance comes more than five years after the IRS issued Notice 2014-21, the first and, until now, only official guidance regarding cryptocurrency.

Revenue Ruling 2019-24 (the Revenue Ruling) reaffirms that virtual currency is treated as property and does not constitute currency. The Revenue Ruling distinguishes virtual currencies from foreign currencies. According to the Revenue Ruling, foreign currency, unlike virtual currency, is “legal tender, circulates, and is customarily used and accepted as a medium of exchange.”

The Revenue Ruling goes on to analyze two hypothetical situations, one involving a “hard fork” and the other involving an “airdrop.” The Revenue Ruling defines a hard fork as occurring “when a cryptocurrency on a distributed ledger undergoes a protocol change resulting in a permanent diversion from the legacy or existing distributed ledger” and “the creation of a new cryptocurrency on a new distributed ledger in addition to the legacy cryptocurrency.” It defines an airdrop as “a means of distributing units of a cryptocurrency to the distributed ledger addresses of multiple taxpayers.”

In the first situation, a taxpayer holds units of a cryptocurrency on a distributed ledger that experiences a hard fork, but the event does not result in the taxpayer receiving the new cryptocurrency via an airdrop. In this situation, the Revenue Ruling makes clear that no taxable event has occurred under Section 61 of the Internal Revenue Code (the Code) because the taxpayer “did not receive units of the new cryptocurrency.” Continue Reading

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