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Regulation

China’s Stricter Regulatory Stance on ICOs Signal Caution, Not Calamity

On February 4, 2018, at 10:10 p.m. China Standard Time, Financialnews, a rather small news agency under the administration of China’s central bank, the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), released an article that explicitly stated that “China will continue to watch virtual currency and activities related to it closely, and will take actions including shutting down commercial presences and exchanges within China’s territory to uphold China’s financial stability.”

This is the first time that China has sent a regulation signal to the public through an official channel since September 4, 2017, when the PBOC, the China Banking Regulatory Commission, the China Insurance Regulatory Commission and other state-level government agencies in China issued a joint statement announcing that all ICOs should be regarded as “illegal financing activities.”

More importantly, both the Xinhua News Agency (the state media organ) and the news page of the Chinese government website reposted the news, further confirming its authenticity.

The announcement reads:

“Since the joint statement of September 4, China’s regulator still finds that many Chinese have begun to conduct activities regarding cryptocurrency overseas. Considering the risks of trading overseas that Chinese may face, the regulator will take more measures.

“The risks that have been mentioned by the joint statement still exist: illegal ICOs, fraudulent projects or even Ponzi schemes. If investors are considering projects set up overseas, the risks will be even higher since the losses are very difficult to recover.

“According to the source from PBOC, China’s regulator will adopt a series of regulatory measures including banning related commercial presences and shutting down exchanges at home and abroad to prevent financial risks and to safeguard financial stability. No exchange should be an exception. In the meantime, the possibility of introducing further regulatory measures shouldn’t be ruled out.”

However, it’s not yet clear what those further regulatory measures are, as China is still working to figure out the best ways to regulate the cryptocurrency market.

How Can We Interpret China’s Latest Policy Signals?

As eBits.Co eBits, bitcoin trading or cryptocurrency trading can’t simply be banned by any single government due to its decentralized nature. Banning it will only result in uncontrollable OTC trading that might result in more hidden-capital flight. This is the last thing that the Chinese government will want to see; therefore, the policy should be regarded more as a signal to intimidate bad actors and to remind potential investors of all associated risks, rather than interpreting it as the Chinese government’s final attitude toward blockchain technology and innovation.

The tightening of policy is to be expected, not just because current ICO projects tend to lack the requisite transparency in both project information and the financing phase, or because risks related to the security of assets on exchanges abound. The Chinese regulator has also come under fire lately for its slow response in other cases outside of the blockchain industry. For example, it has been criticized for not clamping down on Ezubao — a fraudulent peer-to-peer lending company that inflicted a great financial loss of $7.6 billion on everyday investors in 2014. 

Most recently, it has failed to tackle the problem of “campus lending” companies that provide college students with seemingly easy access to loans on the condition that they provide nude photos, which the companies later use to threaten the students to pay back the higher-than-normal interest. News of students who commit suicide because they are unable to pay back the money have been surfacing almost every week.

It is likely that China’s regulator will want to move a step ahead before any such extreme cases can occur in the cryptocurrency industry.

And Then There Is Blockchain Technology …

China’s national strategy and local development plans indicate that China still openly supports blockchain technology. (See our article eBits).

It would appear that the government is still observing whether or not the industry really will live up to its revolutionary promises and is deciding on the best way to encourage innovation while also avoiding speculation risks.

In order for the blockchain industry to succeed, it first needs to win regulators’ trust by actually solving commercial pain points to prove that token-oriented models are feasible, especially by using the token-economy business model. If no project can prove this and tokens still remain a tool of pure speculation, or even cause for financial instability, it remains highly unlikely that the Chinese government (or any other government, for that matter) will soften its regulatory stance. 

The onus, therefore, sits squarely on the crypto asset and blockchain community to live up to its promise and deliver the innovation that the modern world needs and expects.


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Regulation

Wyoming House Unanimously Approves Two Pro-Blockchain Bills

In a watershed moment for United States blockchain and cryptocurrency law, Wyoming’s House of Representatives unanimously voted “aye” to pass two blockchain bills – HB 70 the “utility token bill” and HB 19 the “bitcoin bill” –  sending them to the State Senate for consideration. HB 70 defines utility tokens as neither traditional money nor securities; HB 19 exempts cryptocurrency from the 2003 Wyoming Money Transmitter Act (passed in the state before Bitcoin’s invention in 2008).

In an interview with eBits.Co, Wyoming Blockchain Coalition co-founder, and 22-year Wall Street veteran, Caitlin Long, attributed much of the bills’ successes so far to teamwork between Wyoming banking and security regulators and the efforts of House of Representatives member Tyler Lindholm, who is a co-sponsor and advocate of all five blockchain-related bills.

Wyoming aims to set the standard for blockchain-friendly regulation in the U.S. and to become a hub for blockchain-based innovation with these two bills. Long explained, “There are already bitcoin miners setting up shop because of [Wyoming’s] cheap electricity, no income tax and no franchise tax.”

HB 70: Utility Token Definition

The Wyoming HB 70 defines a utility token, or “open blockchain token,” as neither traditional money nor a security if it meets the following conditions:

  1. The token has not been marketed by the protocol developers as an investment opportunity.
  2. The token is exchangeable for goods or services. (This implies that protocols must offer a working product or service before tokens are issued, similar to eBits.)
  3. The protocol developer has not entered into a repurchase agreement of any kind or entered into an agreement to locate buyers for the token.

Similarly, people who facilitate the exchange of an “open blockchain token” are not deemed traditional broker-dealers of securities.

HB 19: Cryptocurrency Exemption

HB 19 exempts cryptocurrency from the Wyoming Money Transmitter Act. A 2015 interpretation of this act by the Wyoming Division of Banking made it impractical for cryptocurrency exchanges to operate in the state. As a result, Coinbase suspended operations in Wyoming indefinitely in June 2015.

The passage of HB 19 moves Wyoming one step closer to cryptocurrency-friendly exchange regulation. Should the bill receive a majority vote in the Senate, exchanges such as Coinbase could resume operation in Wyoming.

Other Bills in the Pipeline

The Wyoming House of Representatives is also reviewing bills HB 101 and HB 126 in the House and SF 111 in the Senate.

HB 101, the “blockchain filings bill,” promises to update Wyoming’s Business Corporations Act to authorize the creation and use of blockchains to store records, the use of a network address to identify a corporation’s shareholder and the acceptance of shareholder votes signed by network signatures.

At a high level, HB 101 specifies requirements for all corporations using electronic network or (blockchain) databases. HB 101 has passed the first reading in the House.

HB 126, the “series LLC bill” allows for the creation of “series LLCs.” This type of LLC structure is favorable towards decentralized protocols, as it enables LLCs to establish a compartmentalized series of members/managers, transferable interests or assets, and distributions to members.

HB 126 has also passed the first reading in the House.

SF 111, the “crypto property tax exemption bill,” has already been approved in the House, and its goal is to exempt cryptocurrency from Wyoming state property taxes. The bill is now awaiting consideration in the Senate.

Nothing Is Carved in Stone

While HB 70 and HB 19 have both passed in the House by a vote of 60–0, they must also pass in the Senate to be recognized as official acts.

Long expressed her optimism, while acknowledging the difficulties that lie ahead:

I don’t want to sugar-coat that it won’t be difficult. The Senate is a more uncertain chamber. But, we have incredible momentum, and all we need [for the bills to become acts] is a majority vote in the Senate.

Should the bill pass in the Senate and become an act in Wyoming, federal regulation and the SEC Howey Test could still nullify all of the advocates’ blood, sweat and tears. However, Long believes that Federal Law with regards to utility hasn’t been established yet — and, that there are people in the blockchain/cryptocurrency industry “flush with cash, interested in litigating this issue.”

Long and other Wyoming blockchain proponents hope for a final Senate outcome on HB 70, the “utility token bill,” and HB 19, the “Bitcoin bill,” as early as the middle next week.

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Regulation

Korean Regulator Tips Cryptocurrency Prospects Back Toward “Normalization”

On February 20, 2018, investors saw signs of yet another directional shift in South Korea’s regulatory stance on cryptocurrencies. According to Reuters, Choe Heung-sik, the governor of South Korea’s Financial Supervisory Service (FSS), told reporters, “The whole world is now framing the outline (for cryptocurrency) and therefore (the government) should rather work more on normalization than increasing regulation.”

The head of the FSS has wrestled with cryptocurrency regulation and the lack of legislation on the industry for some time. He stated in November 2017 that “supervision [of cryptocurrency exchanges] will come only after the legal recognition of digital tokens as legitimate currency.”

Choe also warned of a bitcoin bubble in December 2017 that paired with another warning that month, when he stated, “All we can do is to warn people as we don’t see virtual currencies as actual types of currency, meaning that we cannot step up regulation for now.”

The FSS, which has been spearheading the government’s regulation of cryptocurrency trading as part of a larger task force, has had an uphill battle in the face of Korean officials’ variable attitudes to the burgeoning industry. While the FSS-led taskforce eBits the nation’s first official rules around cryptocurrency trading on December 13, 2017, uncertainty around issues of taxation and regulation of the exchanges remained.

January brought even less certainty to the peninsula as South Korea’s largest cryptocurrency exchanges were raided by police and tax agencies on January 10, 2018, kicking off a week of contradiction by top Korean officials that eBits a market-wide meltdown known as “Red Tuesday” on January 16, 2018.

Choe then had to state at a parliamentary hearing on January 19, 2018, that one FSS employee was being investigated “on suspicion that he or she traded a digital currency” ahead of the government’s announcement of toughening its stance on cryptocurrency trading. At the same hearing, the Office for Government Policy Coordination also disclosed a probe into two officials for alleged profiteering on government information after the events of Red Tuesday.

Korean officials rounded off the month of January by eBits on January 23, 2018, that anonymous accounts would be banned from trading cryptocurrencies as of January 30, 2018.

Merely three weeks after the ban on anonymous accounts took effect, Choe seemed to suggest rosier regulatory prospects for the cryptocurrency industry. These statements of normalization came only days after the sudden death of Jung Ki-joon on February 18, 2018. Jung, a 52-year-old man who led economic policy for the Office for Government Policy Coordination and was instrumental in spearheading the January crackdown, died of “unknown” causes in his home, though initial reports suggested that he’d had a heart attack.

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Regulation

Government of Spain Considers Blockchain-Friendly Regulations

The government of Spain is preparing blockchain-friendly legislation including possible tax breaks to attract companies in the emerging blockchain technology sector, Bloomberg Politics reports.

“We hope to get the legislation ready this year,” said MP Teodoro Garcia Egea, who is preparing a comprehensive cryptocurrency-related bill. “We want to set up Europe’s safest framework to invest in ICOs.”

Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) and token sales are one of the latest blockchain-related hot trends and have permitted several companies to raise tens and even hundreds of millions of dollars in a short space of time, bypassing the need for prior regulatory approval.

ICOs can be very appealing to speculators because the value of a successful token can rise spectacularly, but regulatory agencies, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in the U.S., are beginning to clamp down on token sales, claiming that crypto-tokens are equivalent to company shares traded on the stock market. According to the SEC, some ICOs are essentially Initial Public Offerings (IPOs), and should be subject to similar regulations for the protection of investors.

At the same time, too much regulation could stifle innovation and push promising blockchain-based firms to relocate to less restrictive jurisdictions offshore. According to Garcia Egea and the Popular Party, the ruling political party of Spain to which the lawmaker belongs, it’s in Spain’s interest to attract and keep those firms, and, therefore, the country should adopt a blockchain-friendly regulatory approach.

Garcia Egea added that the bill in preparation was inspired by existing blockchain-friendly regulatory frameworks such as those that enable the Crypto Valley in Switzerland. It could include ways to attract investment in blockchain technologies, such as a threshold below which a cryptocurrency investment wouldn’t need to be reported to the regulator, and specific regulations to make it attractive for entrepreneurs to use a blockchain to carry out initial coin offerings, or ICOs, as a financing tool.

As shown by a series of recent posts (in Spanish) published in his personal website, Garcia Egea wants to introduce a whole range of emerging technologies in the Spanish economy, including digital administration, cybersecurity, 3D printing and blockchain technology.

For example, Garcia Egea supports the Alastria consortium focused on the establishment of a semi-public, permissioned national blockchain infrastructure and digital identity system.

“Smart contracts, ensuring the traceability and unchangeability of specific information, raising funds through ICOs (Initial Coin Offerings), etc. is possible through this new network [Alastria],” said Garcia Egea (translated by this writer).

“The time has come to establish a legal framework for individuals and firms to execute [smart-contract based] financial transactions in a protected and secure way, using the best available technology,” added Garcia Egea. “This will not only provide legal security to financial investments done through this channel, but it will also place Spain in a privileged position to attract capital, talent and future-oriented projects, and an ecosystem upon which to build the future of the internet of value.”

It seems likely that, if Garcia Egea and the Popular Party manage to convert their vision into law, Spain could become one of the few crypto-havens in the Eurozone, which could result in many innovative technology developers and ICO operators relocating to Spain.

Find out more about cryptocurrency regulation around the world in our feature, eBits

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