From Belarus to Bahrain, the small states going big on cryptocurrency

LONDON (Reuters) – When Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko met entrepreneur Viktor Prokopenya in March 2017, their dialogue was scheduled to final for an hour however went on for 3 times that lengthy.

Belarusian IT investor and entrepreneur Viktor Prokopenya is pictured at his workplace in London, Britain July 15, 2019. Picture taken July 15, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Wilson

The assembly, Prokopenya mentioned, ended with Lukashenko asking him to suggest rules to enhance the nation’s tech sector. Prokopenya labored with IT companies and legal professionals to draft pointers to money in on an rising digital trade: cryptocurrencies.

Some two years later, the guidelines are in place. Investors can commerce bitcoin on an change run by Prokopenya, whereas different firms are launching their very own cryptocurrency platforms.

“The idea was to create everything from scratch,” Prokopenya advised Reuters in an interview in London. “To make sure that it is free in some of the aspects it needs to be free, and very stringent in other aspects.”

Contacted for remark, Lukashenko’s workplace directed Reuters to an account of the assembly right here on the president’s web site.

Belarus is amongst a handful of smaller nations developing with particular rule books for digital currencies. Their efforts might assist form the growth of the world market and the development of trade gamers, from change platforms to brokers.

So far, cryptocurrency firms have usually had to select between two extremes when deciding the place to arrange store.

Major monetary facilities like London and New York, which apply conventional monetary providers guidelines to the sector, is likely to be engaging to big establishments searching for security however the compliance complexity and prices preclude lots of the startups at the coronary heart of the fledgling trade.

Conversely, lightly-regulated jurisdictions like the Seychelles and Belize permit far simpler market entry. But states with mild guidelines can supply much less safety for traders and have looser checks on cash laundering, legal professionals say.

The likes of Belarus and different newer entrants – together with Bahrain, Malta and Gibraltar – are searching for to supply a 3rd manner: crafting particular guidelines for the cryptocurrency sector, betting they’ll appeal to firms by offering regulatory safety in addition to perks like tax breaks.

While there is no such thing as a assure of success, cryptocurrencies symbolize a uncommon probability for these states or territories to seize a slice of an rising market, probably attracting funding and creating jobs, at a time when big monetary hubs are adopting a extra conservative, “wait-and-see” method.

“There are jurisdictions in the see-no-evil, hear-no-evil camp,” mentioned Jesse Overall, a lawyer at Clifford Chance in New York specializing in crypto regulation. “On the other end there is the U.S., UK, EU. In the middle, that’s the juicy part of the spectrum.”

Overall mentioned each nations and corporations may gain advantage from the emergence of frameworks particularly for cryptocurrencies. But states that get the guidelines mistaken might fall foul of world guidelines to stamp out illicit use of digital cash, he added.

Indeed, there are main questions over whether or not these nations will probably be in a position to persistently stop the hacks and unlawful actions, akin to cash laundering, that plague the opaque sector and will hammer their reputations as safe facilities.

Another threat of constructing guidelines for an unpredictable and quickly evolving trade is that they may quickly change into outdated.


ZPX, a Singapore-based crypto agency, will launch a cryptocurrency buying and selling platform, Qume, subsequent month catering to institutional traders akin to high-frequency proprietary buying and selling companies and hedge funds.

It has determined to base the enterprise in Bahrain’s capital Manama – and the issues it confronted are emblematic of the quandary confronting many gamers throughout the trade.

ZPX’s CEO Ramani Ramachandran mentioned it determined towards working in a so-called offshore jurisdiction with low or no regulation. Such a base might deter big traders as scrutiny of digital cash heats up from world regulators and politicians, he mentioned.

“As the market matures analogous to traditional capital markets, mainstream institutional capital will increasingly look to come to regulated exchanges such as Qume as opposed to ‘light-touch’ venues in offshore jurisdictions.”

Bahrain launched guidelines in February for cryptocurrency firms akin to buying and selling platforms, together with rigorous buyer background checks, governance requirements and controls on cyber safety dangers.

It’s additionally normally far cheaper when it comes to compliance and administration prices to arrange in smaller places like Bahrain than in main monetary hubs, mentioned Ramachandran.

ZPX estimates such prices would come to round $200,000 a 12 months in Bahrain, versus a minimum of $750,000 a 12 months in London.

Another benefit of establishing in a smaller nation, mentioned ZPX co-founder Aditya Mishra, was the shut communication firms might have with regulators, one thing that will be tough in a big monetary middle. Bahrain additionally supplied good entry to Gulf markets, he added.

Another cryptocurrency buying and selling platform, iExchange, started working in the Belarusian capital Minsk this month, aiming to appeal to traders from the CIS market of Russia and the former Soviet states.

Co-founder Igor Snizhko mentioned Belarus was the most suitable choice as a result of it had a regulatory framework that different nations in the area lacked.

Belarus calls for audits of issuers of digital cash and particulars of the initiatives underpinning any issuance. For buying and selling platforms, the guidelines embrace maintaining tabs on suspicious transactions to meet worldwide cash laundering requirements.

“For many the CIS market is very promising and very dangerous at the same time,” he added. “Many large and accomplished players are still afraid of one factor – a lack of transparency. We didn’t want to work in any ‘grey’ jurisdiction.”

Sweeteners supplied by Belarus embrace tax breaks for firms mining or buying and selling cryptocurrencies. The guidelines, described by PwC as “carrots with no sticks,” additionally give companies looser guidelines on foreign money controls and visas.

In the United States, against this, digital coin transactions are taxable. In Britain, capital beneficial properties taxes apply.

iExchange mentioned it had additionally initially checked out different nations together with Estonia and Malta, however selected Belarus due to its proximity to its goal market.


The measurement of the world cryptocurrency sector is difficult to gauge due to its complexity and lack of transparency. Still, Ireland-based Research and Markets reckons the sector will develop to $1.four billion by 2024 from $1 billion this 12 months. Other estimates see a quicker price of development.

Crypto rules range via the world. While Facebook’s unveiling of its Libra coin has prompted indicators of a coordinated backlash towards cryptocurrencies by main economies, a patchwork of approaches nonetheless guidelines from nation to nation.

China has even banned cryptocurrencies outright, whereas an Indian authorities panel final week really helpful an identical measure.

Sui Chung of Crypto Facilities, a London-based cryptocurrency futures change, mentioned there have been clear advantages to being in a significant monetary hub, together with having entry to extremely expert staff.

“You need to be in place where you can get the staff,” he mentioned. “Our product teams, development teams have financial institution experience.”

Being regulated in a longtime middle can even permit firms entry to deeper, extra liquid markets and supply better certainty on securities regulation, mentioned Ann Sofie Cloots, considered one of the authors of a Cambridge University examine on cryptocurrency regulation.

“It may mean you have a more sophisticated investor base, greater access to capital,” she mentioned. “It’s also a reputational thing.”

To make sure, it’s not simply the likes of Belarus and Bahrain which have coined their very own crypto guidelines: Some bigger nations like France and Japan have additionally made strikes in that path.

But it’s the smaller nations which have tended to launch the most refined “bespoke” approaches, in accordance to the Cambridge University examine.

That might carry readability to each cryptocurrency firms and associated providers like banks beforehand cautious of the sector’s unclear authorized standing, mentioned Cloots.

Slideshow (three Images)

Belarus entrepreneur Prokopenya, whose Instagram posts of sports activities automobiles in Cyprus and seashores in Dubai are adopted by 5.6 million folks, acknowledged the dangers that got here with blockchain know-how, together with the potential for cash laundering.

But he mentioned these could possibly be mitigated with clear regulation, and that nations like Belarus mustn’t miss out on an opportunity to seize a slice of an rising market.

“The biggest risks come from not taking any risks,” he mentioned.

Reporting by Tom Wilson; Additional reporting by Andrei Makhovsky in MINSK; Editing by Pravin Char

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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