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Market regulators and commissioned authorities with oversight over digital assets worldwide have taken to combative approaches to keep the fast-growing industry in check in recent months. In some jurisdictions like Canada and the US, the unrelenting enforcement stance adopted by domestic regulators has yielded a hostile environment, compelling some crypto companies to reconsider their operations. The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and its equivalent in the north, the Canadian Securities Administrators (CAS), have mainly come down hard on centralized exchanges and their offerings.
This week, Binance became the latest exchange to announce its exit from Canada, chalking the decision to a challenging regulatory environment. In other news, Coinbase cooled rumors of relocating from the US whilst sharing details of its plans to expand its exchange business to Europe and Asia. Here are the details and other exchange headlines you missed this week.
Bakkt delists two-thirds of supported altcoins amid shifting focus to corporate clients
Georgia-based digital assets management platform Bakkt conveyed in a Friday statement that it has embarked on the mass delisting of tokens as part of its pivoting from retail services to a business-to-business-to-consumer (B2B2C) model. Bakkt is partly owned by the Intercontinental Exchange and recently completed the acquisition of Apex Crypto for a combined value of $200 million – accounting for the package involving Bakkt stock. Takeover talks began last November, but the deal was completed in April.
Apex Crypto's clearing and custody platform supported trading 36 tokens, 25 of which were highlighted for delisting. The decision affects several layer one and layer two native tokens, including Avalanche (AVAX), Fantom (FTM), and Stellar (XLM). The list also featured DeFi tokens like Aave (AAVE), Uniswap (UNI), Curve (CRV), Maker DAO (MKR), and SushiSwap (SUSHI). Blockchain gaming and non-fungible (NFT) ecosystem tokens like ApeCoin (APE) and Enjin Coin (ENJ) will also be expunged.
In its quarterly financial and operations update released on May 11, Bakkt revealed it secured a broker-dealer license from Bumped Financial. The Intercontinental Exchange-owned platform posted revenue of $13 million across the three months, up from 12.5 in Q1 2022 but still below analyst estimates. The mass token delisting move comes less than two months since Bakkt wound down its retail-focused cryptocurrency app in March, citing a lean and less opportunistic climate.
Binance winds up its operations in Canada as domestic securities regulator tightens grip on the industry
Elsewhere this week, Binance, the world's largest crypto exchange, shared in a Friday tweet plans to close shop in Canada, citing the country's adverse regulatory climate. The May 12 communication faulted the new guidance on stablecoins and other restrictive business obligations that have made the environment hostile for business. The exchange noted that it sought alternative ways to keep the operations afloat but was ultimately left with no choice but to withdraw.
Binance's tweet nonetheless conveyed that the exit is non-permanent, with the exchange leaving a door open to return to the market. The exchange welcomed further discussions with Canadian regulators on developing a “thoughtful, comprehensive regulatory framework” that could lead to an understanding. Binance has a history of clashing with regulators in various jurisdictions, including the US and Canada. In June 2021, Binance announced it would exit the province of Ontario after the Ontario Securities Commission started closing in on offshore companies that didn't comply with the province's securities laws. Markedly, Binance joins a list of other exchanges that have pulled out of the market since the domestic securities regulator introduced guidance that mandates crypto companies to submit pre-registration filings.
The requirements, published in February, pertain to business registration, crypto asset custody and service (offerings) provision to any Canadian client. On the latter, the Canadian securities administrators outlawed the issuance, sale and deposit of stablecoins on digital asset trading platforms operating in the country without the CSA’s prior approval. In mid-April, derivatives exchange dYdX and digital asset firm Paxos separately announced their exits. In March, crypto and derivatives exchange OKX notified its Canadian users to complete withdrawals of funds and close their trading positions by June 22 before it halts operations. Bittrex Global, too, discontinued access to its platform by Canadian users in July last year for a similar reason.
Binance.US looks to cut ties with founder CZ in pursuit of desired regulatory licenses
The regulatory picture, at least in the case of Binance, is no different in the US, where Binance.US, the entity serving US-based customers, has come under scrutiny owing to its association with its founder and the international platform. Reports surfacing on Thursday indicated that Binance founder Changpeng Zhao has been trying to back out of his majority stake – a decision that counterpart executives in the US endorsed. The leadership of the California-headquartered arm believes that restructuring will help earn a better reputation that could ultimately help gain favor in the eyes of US authorities. Zhao, who has been attempting to offload part of his ownership stake since last summer, was named in a complaint filed by Commodity Futures Trading Commission in March.
The lawsuit targeting the US subsidiary alleges unethical business practices, among other infringements. The commission noted that the exchange and its executives disregarded registration requirements and compliance obligations under US federal law. The derivatives market watchdog also accused Binance.US and the named persons of leveraging crucial business connections and structuring entities to unfair advantage. Binance.US, like Coinbase, has shown dissatisfaction with the US regulatory landscape.
The New York State Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) ordered Paxos to stop minting BinanceUSD tokens in February. In March, Binance.US suspended BUSD services and communicated in a Mar 31 notice that it had paused select One Common Billing System (OCBS) services associated with the stablecoin pairs. All BUSD activities were put on hold, including deposits and withdrawals, buying, selling, and converting crypto options. Specific USD deposit services, including Apple Pay and Google Pay deposits, wire deposits and withdrawals, and debit card deposits, saw disruptions as the exchange transitioned to its new banking and payment service providers.
Paxful is back after a month-long halt, former CEO Ray Youssef envisions ‘a 1000 Paxfuls’ in Civ Kit
Peer-to-peer Bitcoin marketplace Paxful had been around for nearly a decade when it shut down in April this year, blaming a regulatory cloud hanging over its head. In addition to essential staff leaving the company, the exchange cited the unceasing wave of enforcement actions against exchanges and lawsuits from oversight agencies for its decision to halt service. Co-founder Ray Youssef stepped down at the time and pledged to sort out all user funds as the exchange wound up, despite struggling with a greedy and selfish bad actor in his co-founder Artur Shaback. Following the brief hiatus, Paxful shared a message on its website on Monday indicating that its P2P platform is back online.
Paxful is up but co-founders are not on the same page
The Paxful team assured that though the suspension was sudden and surprising, the exchange is now stronger than ever, ready to serve millions. While it's back up for the time being, Paxful is under a custodian – a Delaware lawyer who is also acting as the tiebreaker between the duo. Such is the case because the co-founders are at loggerheads. Artur Shaback claimed wrongful termination when he left the company, while Ray Youssef only sees a former partner seeking a nine-figure payout. According to Ray, the ongoing court case where Shaback is seeking a settlement and an exit from the company altogether is what scared staff away Paxful's best people – both the chief level and operation staff.
In the wake of Paxful closure, Youssef revealed he is pursuing a new project in the form of Civilization Kit, Civ Kit. Speaking in an episode on The Block’s The Scoop podcast, he explained that the harsh regulatory environment in the US has made it difficult to run any peer-to-peer Bitcoin trading activity seamlessly. This is the motivation for Youssef's vision for Civ Kit. The platform is to be developed as a P2P electronic market system combining Nostr architecture and Bitcoin's Lightning Network to hold out against censorship and promote permissionless trading, according to a whitepaper released last month.
A vision for a thousand Paxfuls
The project aims to achieve an ecosystem on which ‘a thousand Paxfuls’ can grow – a world where anyone can start their decentralized, non-custodial Bitcoin marketplace. Anyone on these platforms can trade with any other party there. Even better, rather than employing the know-you-customer (KYC) requirements, there'll be a decentralized option in know-your-peer (KYP) checks to verify identities. Towards the realization of this dream, the first phase, which is currently in progress, involves the development of an order book, which should be released in the next six months.
A mobile-friendly Lightning wallet with decentralized IPs will be created in the second stage, during which users on the platform will build a reputation (based on trading activity). In the third phase, money markets, credit lending, borrowing services, and more will be introduced based on the reputation attached to accounts. Youssef said Jack Dorsey's TBD, the Bitcoin-focused subsidiary of Block, will play an important role because Civ Kit is leveraging its decentralized identity technology towards the same goal – traction and accessibility to achieve the thousands of plug-and-play P2P marketplaces around the world. According to Youssef, Civ Kit would make Bitcoin available to everyone.
Coinbase might not relocate from the US, but it is exploring expansion opportunities
Coinbase has, in recent months, hinted in several ways that it is dissatisfied with US authorities' handling of regulations around crypto. The crypto exchange is at the receiving end of action from the SEC, against which the exchange has said it will defend itself. CEO Brian Armstrong said at Fintech Week in London last month that should the regulatory uncertainty continue, moving Coinbase's headquarters outside the US would be a consideration, but then reneged on the same in comments to CNBC yesterday, insisting that the exchange would always have a presence in the US.
Nevertheless, that does not calm persistent tensions between crypto firms, Coinbase in this case, and US authorities. Last month, Coinbase launched an offshore derivatives exchange in Bermuda – Coinbase International Exchange to offer non-US users a trading platform for Bitcoin and Ether perpetual futures. The platform would be initially limited to institutional investors, before other users can be allowed.
Conversations with the UAE to expand global reach
In a blog post published last weekend, Coinbase said it is collaborating with Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) regulators to facilitate the licensing of Coinbase International Exchange. The exchange is also engaging Dubai's Virtual Assets Regulatory Authority (VARA), all towards growing its global footprint and working towards its goal of onboarding 1 billion users to crypto. Coinbase executives acknowledged the potential of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as an ideal location to further its presence in Europe and Asia, owing to its strategic positioning as a bridge between the two key international regions.
UAE also stands out as one of the front runners in realizing a thriving web3 ecosystem, making it an appealing destination for investment. Coinbase believes that with notable jurisdictions creating a regulatory void, the UAE and other international counterparts are poised to fill this gap and establish themselves as pioneers. The blog post also detailed that Armstrong and other top Coinbase executives were visiting the UAE to meet with the country's regulators, policymakers, partners, and Web3 founders. CEO Brian Armstrong met with the Minister of Economy, H.E. Abdulla Bin Touq Al Marri, and the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Trade, Dr. Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeoudi.
In a recent tweet, Coinbase CEO commended the UAE for its progressive approach to crypto, arguing that it has established itself as a pioneer in the field by becoming the world's first jurisdiction to introduce a dedicated regulatory framework for the asset class. Its’ clear and comprehensive rule book assures certainty and transparency for crypto-related businesses, making it an attractive destination for these ventures. Further, the country’s business-friendly environment and robust customer protection measures create an ecosystem fit for crypto adoption and growth.
FTX legal proceedings
Last month during a court hearing, attorneys for the bankrupt FTX exchange, which fell alongside the larger Sam Bankman-Fried empire, said the platform was considering an outing that would have the creditors convert some of the funds they receive to a stake in a would-be reboot of the exchange. The proposition is to file a preliminary plan of reorganization in July, towards a potential restart in Q2 2024.
Talks of a reboot in 2024
Lead attorney Andy Dietderich told the court that while this is an option regarding the company's future, it would require a great deal of financing, and it still needs to be agreed where the capital should come from, according to a Reuters report. He clarified that, at this stage, the relaunch is still far from a reality. The lawyers also confirmed that the sum recovered in liquid assets increased from $5.5 million in January to $7.3 billion, which would have been valued at $1.1 billion less at the time of bankruptcy. Notwithstanding the development, the lawyers made it clear that FTX is still a long way from achieving an equity distribution mechanism.
IRS tax claims and pretrial motions
This week, reports of the US tax agency (IRS) filing tax claims amounting to $44 billion against SBF's empire became public. The Internal Revenue Service set forth several claims against entities affiliated with FTX including Alameda Research (IRS claims $20.4 billion and $7.9 billion) and Alameda Research Holdings. The revenue service filed the claims on April 27 and 28 under the ‘Administrative Priority,' suggesting that the IRS tax bill will take precedence over the claims of other creditors. Meanwhile, in the FTX case, lawyers representing Sam Bankman-Fried submitted a motion to dismiss criminal charges on Monday.
The counsel for SBF specifically asked the Southern District Court of New York judge to drop 10 of 13 criminal charges the client faces. The charges omitted in the pretrial motion are conspiracy to commit commodities fraud, to commit money laundering and to commit securities fraud. The prosecution side has until May 29 to submit a response to the requests made by lawyers, while court arguments are expected to commence on June 15. SBF's colleagues and close associates Alameda Research ex-CEO Caroline Ellison, FTX co-founder Gary Wang and FTX’s former engineering director Nishad Singh have already pleaded guilty to their respective charges. Bankman-Fried is still under house arrest at his parent's house awaiting trial in October.
FTX EU customers can check balances and process withdrawals on a new website
More than five months after FTX went bust and filed for bankruptcy alongside 130 affiliate firms, European users of the crypto exchange can check and request funds withdrawals. FTX EU, the European subsidiary of the exchange, unveiled a new website on Mar 31 where users can check balances and send withdrawal requests. As FTX EU was still nascent (launched in March 2022), only a few users are likely impacted by the news, but all within the Europe Economic Area and the Middle East are covered.
FTX said in the press release that its European arm received approval from the Cyprus Securities and Exchange Commission (CySEC) for the new domain to allow FTX EU customers to claim their FIAT balances exclusively and not any additional services or products. To ensure compliance with anti-money-laundering regulations and authenticate the user's identity, customary know-your-customer (KYC) and anti-money-laundering checks are conducted when users carry out a withdrawal.