In this issue:

Payments Firm Unveils Crypto Services, Exchanges Achieve Foreign Approvals

By Veronica Reyno­­lds

A large U.S.-based financial services company launched its crypto services arm last week, providing consumers with a platform to buy and sell cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens (NFTs). According to reports, the company’s new crypto-based offerings provide fraud prevention, know-your-customer and Web3 services and are currently available in the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union, with its NFT offerings available in Japan. According to reports, the company commemorated the unveiling of its new crypto-focused services with the launch of its NFT collection, with proceeds going to charity. 

In another recent development, a U.S.-based real estate investment trust (REIT) investing in supply chain real estate will now accept cryptocurrency payments from investors in exchange for the investment, making it the first REIT to do so. The REIT reportedly accepts multiple cryptocurrencies, including bitcoin and ether.

Several major cryptocurrency firms achieved approvals this week under foreign regulatory regimes. A large blockchain infrastructure platform recently secured “in-principle approval” from the Monetary Authority of Singapore to offer digital asset products to Singapore customers. According to reports, the platform is one of the first to gain this approval, granted under the country’s Payment Services Act of 2019. And in Dubai, only a week after the country announced the creation of the Virtual Asset Regulatory Authority, two of the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchanges reportedly became the first to receive licenses to operate in Dubai as digital asset service providers.

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Blockchain Network Developments: Ethereum 2.0, Wallets, DAOs and Mining

By Joanna F. Wasick

More than 10 million ether, the native token of the Ethereum Network, is reportedly now locked on the Ethereum staking contract in preparation for the network’s planned upgrade from a proof-of-work consensus mechanism to a proof-of-stake consensus. This change will mean that network transactions will be validated by nodes based on the ether they have staked on the network instead of by miners that solve algorithmic puzzles. Supporters of the change assert that the upgrade will reduce Ethereum’s transaction costs, or “gas fees,” and decrease the amount of power (and associated environmental costs) needed to support the network. 

zkSNACKs, the company behind Wasabi Wallet, an open-source, noncustodial bitcoin wallet, announced its own technical update late last week. Certain transactions will now be barred from using CoinJoin – a privacy service offered by Wasabi to conceal a token’s transactional history. The move follows widespread sanctions issued by governments around the world in response to the Ukraine conflict. 

According to reports, in a proposed network upgrade, “[t]he community behind decentralized stablecoin platform MakerDAO is mulling over a major tokenomics shift that could replace its governance token, Maker (MKR).” The proposed new governance token would be a non-transferable token “staked in governance” that would receive certain MKR rewards. 

In the mining sector, on Tuesday the government of Kazakhstan announced it was cracking down on illegal crypto miners; over 100 mining companies have ceased operations. Kazakhstan has reportedly been facing serious electricity shortages since fall 2021, when numerous miners migrated to the country from China, where the practice was banned. In other mining news, Bitmain, the world’s biggest manufacturer of crypto mining rigs, recently announced a new energy-efficient mining rig that uses liquid coolant to manage heat released from the rig.

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Crypto Legalized in Ukraine; New Crypto Sanctions Screening Tools Launch

By Kayley B. Sullivan

This week, Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed into law a bill on virtual assets that, among other things, effectively legalizes and determines the legal status and classification of cryptocurrencies. According to reports, under the new law, virtual assets will be regulated by Ukraine’s National Commission on Securities and the Stock Market. The new law comes in response to the influx of digital asset donations to support the country’s defense against the Russian invasion. With the backing of a major crypto exchange platform, the Ukranian government recently launched a crypto donations website, Aid for Ukraine, which will route digital asset donations to the Bank of Ukraine.

To assist decentralized platforms and their customers in compliance with the global sanctions imposed on Russia, a blockchain analytics platform has accelerated the launch of two compliance screening tools free of charge for companies. One, an on-chain oracle, reportedly became available last week; the second, an application programming interface, is expected to launch next month. According to recent reports, in response to the recent wave of global sanctions, wealthy Russians may be transferring value in the form of cryptocurrencies to exchange platforms based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in order to move cryptocurrency funds into the UAE and convert the crypto into other assets, such as property.

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Regulators Issue Warnings on Crypto Retirement Plans, ATMs and Sanctions

By Alex Karambelas

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued a notice last week cautioning fiduciaries against adding cryptocurrency and other digital assets as investment options for retirement plans. The DOL warned that digital assets “present significant risks and challenges to participants’ retirement accounts, including significant risks of fraud, theft, and loss,” based on a range of concerns including investment volatility, regulatory compliance and valuation issues. In the same notice, the DOL announced that the Employee Benefits Security Administration will conduct an investigative program aimed at retirement plans offering cryptocurrency investment options.

Regulators in the United Kingdom also issued warnings related to cryptocurrencies late last week. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) warned that operators of unregistered cryptocurrency automated teller machines (ATMs) will face enforcement actions if they do not shut down their machines in the United Kingdom. According to the FCA’s announcement, 110 unregistered cryptocurrency ATMs have ceased operation in the United Kingdom since January 2020. Also last week, the Bank of England and two financial regulatory agencies issued a joint statement, calling on cryptocurrency firms to “play their part” in complying with global sanctions against Russia and Belarus. In the joint statement, regulators urged cryptocurrency firms to “take steps to ensure they are compliant with their legal obligations in relation to sanctions.” 

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DOJ Extradites Individual Charged with Ransomware; $28M in Bitcoin Seized

By Jordan R. Silversmith

Last week, the DOJ announced the extradition of a Canadian government employee to face charges relating to dozens of ransomware attacks. According to a DOJ press release, the man has been charged in the Middle District of Florida with conspiracy to commit computer fraud and wire fraud and other charges related to accessing protected computers. The charges arise from the man’s alleged participation in the NetWalker ransomware scheme, which targeted dozens of institutional and individual victims around the world. The alleged perpetrator was extradited to the United States pursuant to the extradition treaty between the United States and Canada. According to the DOJ press release, Canadian law enforcement officers discovered and seized 719 bitcoin, valued at over $28 million, during a search of the man’s home.

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