<p>U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr announced the release of a new <a href=cryptocurrency enforcement framework. Produced by the Attorney General’s Cyber-Digital Task Force, the framework outlines the emerging threats and enforcement challenges associated with the increase in digital asset use, the relationship between the Department of Justice and other enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad in addressing these challenges and details the Department of Justice’s strategy for responding to them.

It makes for great reading for anyone who remains unconvinced that regulation and effective enforcement is necessary for the survival of digital assets and their mass adoption. It shows the scale of the problem, the extent to which regulation and enforcement has been able to be used to combat it, and where gaps in regulation and enforcement are currently allowing criminals running criminal platforms to enable serious crime and defraud market participants of their money.

And for those who are enabling this crime wave—whether by committing the crimes directly, running the platforms which enable crimes to be committed or as an employee of a company who is operating outside of the law—this document shows that world governments are keenly aware of you, and it’s only a matter of time until you, your platform and/or your employer become another case study.

The report

In publishing the report, the task force could almost be addressing the crypto crime cartel directly. In categorizing the key threats posed by the digital asset market, they say:

“As the Task Force has found, illicit uses of cryptocurrency typically fall into three categories: (1) financial transactions associated with the commission of crimes; (2) money laundering and the shielding of legitimate activity from tax, reporting, or other legal requirements; or (3) crimes, such as theft, directly implicating the cryptocurrency marketplace itself.”

The account of criminal activity taking place using digital assets and associated technologies given by the DoJ in the report is sobering.

They point to countless instances of exchange operators allowing their platforms to be used—often openly—as a means of laundering money used in illegal transactions:

“Unlicensed or unregistered exchanges or money transmitting businesses can ‘provide an avenue of laundering for those who use digital currency for illicit purposes.’ In addition, even properly registered exchanges can serve as a haven for criminal activity by operating under lax rules or by flouting AML protocols.”

They talk about the bust of Welcome To Video, then the world’s largest child exploitation marketplace, where operators and users transacted in BTC on the belief of anonymity. They talk about the dismantling of three large-scale terrorist financing campaigns that were being enabled by digital assets; money went to al-Qassam Brigades, al-Qaeda and ISIS.

Of particular focus in the publication is the crimes that are taking place within digital asset markets themselves (as distinct from using the markets as a means to a criminal end). It identifies the very real risks of theft, market manipulation and general fraud posed by rogue exchanges that have been allowed to operate in absence of a comprehensive enforcement regime:

“This susceptibility to theft on a massive scale demonstrates that the lack of appropriate regulation and monitoring of cryptocurrency exchanges poses a threat to cryptocurrency users themselves, as well as to the general public.”

And:

“Given their potential to facilitate criminal activity, these entities have a heightened responsibility to safeguard their platforms and businesses from exploitation by nefarious actors and to ensure that customer data is protected and secured.”

The report goes on to identify the key business models which are being used to facilitate crimes of many kinds:

  • Cryptocurrency exchanges
  • Peer-to-peer exchanges
  • Cryptocurrency kiosks
  • Virtual currency casinos
  • Anonymity enhanced cryptocurrencies
  • Mixers and tumblers

The focus on digital assets which purport to provide anonymity as an enabler of criminal activity is encouraging, and touched upon throughout the report.

Enforcement

Unfortunately, however sobering, the report shouldn’t surprise anyone who has been paying attention. CoinGeek has reported extensively on the rampant fraud, money laundering, theft, child exploitation and drug trafficking which is currently taking place thanks to the efforts of big criminal exchanges and other crypto industry players.

Thankfully, the publication includes a comprehensive overview of the channels being used by law enforcement to hold these criminals to account. It identifies the agencies working under the mandate of the criminal code (think BitMEX’s Bank Secrecy Act indictments), regulatory authorities  (FinCEN and the SEC fall into this category). It also looks at non-U.S. regulators, such as the Financial Action Task Force (who are apparently investigating Binance).

As far as enforcement goes, the publication reports that a core part of law enforcement’s strategy is to be ‘aggressive’  in its investigation and prosecution of those who use digital assets to ‘commit, facilitate or conceal’ crimes. It specifically mentions the need for U.S. law enforcement and regulators to be able to pursue people and companies which are based overseas:

“The inherently global nature of the virtual asset ecosystem poses significant investigative challenges for U.S. law enforcement agencies and for Department prosecutors. Effectively countering criminal activity involving virtual assets requires close international partnerships.”

Education is another piece of the U.S.’s strategy in this space, emphasizing the need to have law enforcement that is appropriately trained and aware of crimes which are using often complex and novel technology.

Conclusion

The thrust of the DoJ’s work in this area is summed up nicely in the closing paragraphs of the report, something which the various scam digital assets and criminal exchanges should pay close attention to (emphasis added):

“Despite the many challenges, the Department of Justice has aggressively investigated and prosecuted a range of malign actors who have used cryptocurrencies to facilitate or to conceal their illicit activities. Similarly, the Department has brought actions against individuals and companies that have failed to meet their legal obligations to counter illicit activity. In particular cases, we have even proceeded against the illicit cryptocurrency itself, seizing those virtual assets and removing them from the stream of international commerce, irrespective of our ability to identify or to apprehend the actors who used them.”

The prosecution of BitMEX’s founders and lawsuits against the likes of Binance and Bitfinex show that U.S. law enforcement will not be stopped by a corporate veil or a thinly-disguised attempt to flee the reach of regulators and prosecutors by re-establishing in overseas jurisdictions. By referring these attempts directly, and by explaining that damaging criminal activity is taking place under the guise of a variety of different business models, it would seem that the most recent slate of prosecutions and lawsuits are the first of many.

The above quote also again emphasizes that action can be taken against digital assets directly, even when the criminals behind them might be unlocatable. Agencies in the U.S. have steadily expanded the scope of their enforcement actions over the past two years, and this report references privacy-enhanced assets multiple times. One can speculate based on this that ‘privacy coins’ and similarly marketed assets will increasingly fall into the crosshairs of the DoJ and associated agencies.

Now, it’s only a question of which illegal exchange, criminal mixer or fraudulent asset peddler comes next.

Follow CoinGeek’s Crypto Crime Cartel series, which delves into the stream of groups—from BitMEX to BinanceBitcoin.com, Blockstream and Ethereum—who have co-opted the digital asset revolution and turned the industry into a minefield for naïve (and even experienced) players in the market.

" title="DoJ puts crypto criminals on notice: You’re the next BitMEX" />
Business 2 November 2020

DoJ puts crypto criminals on notice: You’re the next BitMEX

U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr announced the release of a new cryptocurrency enforcement framework.

<p>One of the hallmarks of the <a href=Crypto Crime Cartel that has infiltrated Bitcoin is that profit isn’t the sole motivation: every one of these enterprises has a vested interest in seeing true Bitcoin—as specified in the Satoshi White Paper—fail, and it is that failure on which they seek to profit.

There is perhaps no better illustration of this than Blockstream, a company which perpetuates the problems faced by Bitcoin knockoffs and then offers its own solution to those problems, while attempting to destroy and censor the better solutions that already exist (and have existed since the release of the White Paper).

Blockstream a nexus point for the crypto crime cartel

Blockstream is a blockchain technology company founded by Adam Back. Its activities should be of great interest to the wider digital asset community: they have raised over $80,000,000 since going public in 2014. But for a company who promises to form the foundations for the financial infrastructure of the future, that money has returned very little other than the undermining of digital asset adoption and ensuring the personal enrichment of its founders.

If you understand what Blockstream actually is—and who is running it—then this isn’t a surprise. Straight from the Roger Ver playbook, Blockstream is a fundamentally ideological company masquerading as a non-partisan blockchain company.

The stated purpose of Blockstream, in Back’s words, is to “sell sidechains to enterprises, charging a fixed monthly fee, taking the transaction fees and even selling hardware.”

A sidechain is not a blockchain at all. The fees from sidechains do not go to miners—they go to the developer of the chain, in this case Blockstream. Sidechains are typically used to patch the holes in the capabilities of the underlying protocol. Therefore, the better Bitcoin becomes, the more obsolete companies like Blockstream become.

Blockstream’s Liquid sidechain is a perfect example. According to them, Liquid was created because Bitcoin’s supposed high-latency means that the volume of transactions which take place on-chain is going to be limited, so the solution is to move a large volume of transactions off the main chain and onto this sidechain.

This is laughable in itself because we know that the original Bitcoin does scale and was designed to do so—more on that in a moment.

But most important about Liquid is that it works by replacing the on-chain Proof-of-Work model with a system where Blockstream appoints a small group of market participants to validate the side-chain transactions themselves and then submit them to the main chain. This small group is called the Liquid Federation, and by and large consists entirely of digital asset exchanges.

If this is raising red flags already, it should. Not only is this not decentralized, as Blockstream audaciously claims, it is entirely centralized in a small hand-picked cabal (read: cartel) of exchanges with which they will trust the transactions they are trying to lure off-chain.

What kind of entity does Blockstream find suitable to give this kind of control to? Well, included in this ‘federation’ are such criminal enterprises as BitMEX and Bitfinex, both of whom have been shown to treat the digital asset economy and the money trusted to them as a private cash dispensary and in BitMEX’s case, at least, were complicit in the dubious Bitcoin SV delisting attacks.

What’s more is that Bitfinex is an early investor in Blockstream. This isn’t disclosed anywhere on Blockstream’s site, and yet Bitfinex is an approved member of Blockstream’s Liquid Federation.

https://twitter.com/lawmaster/status/1123900632862265345?s=20

Here’s Bitfinex executive Zane Tackett admitting the company seed invested in Blockstream and also into Shapeshift:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fActT2J1ROo&feature=youtu.be

Despite BitMEX’s founders being indicted and Bitfinex coming under investigation for covering up an $850 million loss and using user funds to do so, both are still members of the Blockstream federation.

The solution Blockstream says it wants

Blockstream has built itself on a business plan which requires bitcoin—as originally conceived in the White Paper—to fail. Blockstream needs bitcoin to be unscalable, with a hard block cap to ensure that mass adoption is impossible. Every failing of Bitcoin is a victory for Blockstream, because it allows them to provide a patchwork service on top of the original protocol to fill the need.

What does Blockstream make of Bitcoin SV, then? Bitcoin SV scales on-chain already, having demonstrated massive transaction volume and fractional cost. It does everything that Blockstream says Bitcoin can’t do.

In reality, the millions that have been funneled to Blockstream have funded the on-going misinformation campaign which passes the various Bitcoin imitators off as the real bitcoin and in which the proponents of the true bitcoin are subject to libel, slander and harassment.

In addition to being the person behind Blockstream’s business model, Adam Back has accused Bitcoin founder Craig Wright of lying about having invented Bitcoin, that he had forged the evidence which supports him, and that he had committed tax fraud. Back also inadvertently admitted that Blockstream employs a ‘large’ team whose job it is to ‘debunk and disprove.’ Given the scale of the misinformation peddled by Blockstream, it’s no surprise that they have a dedicated propaganda team, but Back’s admission of this is bold, to say the least.

https://twitter.com/adam3us/status/943876564856348673

Former Blockstream CTO Gregory Maxwell once provided a step-by-step guide to exploiting a possible vulnerability between BTC and Bitcoin SV which would allow users to steal unsplit coins. The vulnerability was not disclosed in accordance with Bitcoin SV’s bug bounty system, but was instead posted to social media site Reddit.

Speaking of Reddit, Maxwell was exposed for using multiple Reddit accounts to spread misinformation about bitcoin and denigrate Craig Wright. This is par for the course for Maxwell, who was banned by Wikipedia for bullying, harassment and using multiple accounts to reinforce edits he was making on Wikipedia.

Former Blockstream CEO and co-founder Austin Hill made his debut into the business world by scamming $100,000 out of unsuspecting Canadians. He placed advertisements in newspapers offering to pay people up to $600 a week to review television shows. Those that wrote in were asked to pay a deposit of $49 for a hastily cobbled-together training program, and Hill was relying on these people simply not completing the program. Hill has openly admitted to all of this. Rather than acting as a wholesome story about how Hill found the light and went on to work with Blockstream, the actual story reads more like a troubling origin story that is consistent with Blockstream, a company which is designed to profit from perpetuating the flaws of Bitcoin’s imitators.

Of the cofounders who don’t appear to be involved in theft, fraud and slander, most appear to be happy to leave Blockstream behind. Co-founder Matt Corallo said on Twitter that he’s embarrassed to have helped co-found the company. In response, Luke Dashjr, apparently another co-founder, speculated that Blockstream has let troll propaganda redefine the company.

https://twitter.com/LukeDashjr/status/1133104787619221504

Bitcoin loses out

Consider how corrupt Blockstream is, and the damage it is doing to those who have bought the false vision of Bitcoin that the likes of Adam Back have sold. Blockstream, employer of many BTC Core developers, creates and sells sidechains which exist to address flaws in the underlying protocol. The flaws that Blockstream is trying to address—like scalability—were actually all created by Blockstream themselves. The original protocol worked and still works today as BSV. Blockstream only exists to try to confuse the world on the design brilliance of the original protocol of Bitcoin, trading today only as BSV.

Bitcoin SV is the answer to the problem that Blockstream is pretending to solve: only Bitcoin SV’s solution precludes the likes of Blockstream entirely. Our thesis holds true: a good test for criminality is whether a company and its executives are in favor of Bitcoin SV and Craig Wright, or if they spend their time trying to tear them down. Blockstream continues to make a tidy sum by doing the latter, and the rest of the cartel are reaping the benefits as well.

That is how criminal cartels work, after all.

Follow CoinGeek’s Crypto Crime Cartel series, which delves into the stream of groups—from BitMEX to Binance, Bitcoin.com, Blockstream and Ethereum—who have co-opted the digital asset revolution and turned the industry into a minefield for naïve (and even experienced) players in the market.

" title="Crypto Crime Cartel: Blockstream needs Bitcoin to fail" />
Business 29 October 2020

Crypto Crime Cartel: Blockstream needs Bitcoin to fail

Blockstream perpetuates the problems faced by Bitcoin knockoffs and then offers its own solution to those problems, while attempting to destroy and censor the better solutions that already exist.

<p>Switzerland continues to lead the way in <a href=blockchain regulation, approving a raft of new laws which amend existing statutes to bring them in line with advancements in blockchain and digital asset technology. The laws are expected to come into force in early 2021.

The amendments apply to several statutes, and have been drafted with concern for the potential damage wrought by under-regulation in this area, balanced by the need for a commercially sensible regime which does not stifle industry growth. Throughout the consultation and drafting process, the Swiss Federal Council has made clear that the objective is to create the best possible framework so that Switzerland can continue to grow as a leading, innovative and sustainable blockchain and fintech destination.

Bitcoin Association’s Regional Manager for Europe, Patrick Prinz, said the changes had been a long time coming and sent a strong signal to the market.

“Regulators always take time to learn and understand the environment before acting,” explained Prinz.

“Globally, we are now entering a phase of execution, where regulators are beginning to directly engage by implementing new laws and legal frameworks, as well as removing those players who are intentionally disregarding the core rules of the cross-border investment game.”

The three largest amendments concern tokenization of rights, digital asset exchanges, and bankruptcy law.

The amendments introduce a new category of tokenized rights called ‘uncertificated register securities’ (Registerwertrechte/URS), analogous to security tokens. URSs share the same key features as traditional securities, but are able to be transferred digitally. Under the amendments, these assets must be registered on a distributed ledger technology (DLT)-based register and can only be transferred or claimed through that register.

They set out requirements for the DLT-based register, which include adequate security standards protecting the register against unauthorized changes. While the amendments do not go far into detail as to what qualifies as adequate, it does provide a list of well-known examples of adequate systems, including proof-of-work and proof-of-stake. The entity offering the URS must also disclose the details of the URS and the register being used. The amendment also stipulates the liability of the offeror if they do not meet their disclosure obligations.

Regarding exchanges, the amendments apply to the Swiss Financial Market Infrastructure Act. Specifically, it sets out the requirements for exchanges that are offering DLT-based securities (as distinct from payment assets, such as Bitcoin SV). It largely uses the existing wording regarding traditional trading venues. Most importantly, it allows the Swiss Federal Council and Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority to stipulate licensing requirements for these exchanges. Keeping in line with the attitude toward commercial practicality in the amendments, they are also given the discretion to make specific requirements for smaller exchanges which pose lower risks to the financial system and their customers.

Prinz expected the changes to create a more equitable environment for exchanges to operate in—a move he said would only be a positive for the industry.

“These moves by the Swiss regulator will have the effect of levelling the playing field for DLT exchanges and traditional exchange operators alike, as well as strengthening the requirements for service providers to retail customers to implement and obey both AML and transaction monitoring rules,” he explained.

“To date, I am still not clear why some digital asset service providers felt that they could operate in the dark, with existing rules and regulations not applying to them.”

The last big area to be impacted by the amendments is bankruptcy law. Legislators foresee digital assets playing more of a role in insolvency proceedings as adoption continues to increase. From next year, digital assets which rest with a third-party custodian are protected in case the custodian begins bankruptcy proceedings. Custodians must keep the digital assets available to the rightful owner at all times, and must be able to allocate the assets it is controlling to individual clients or an identifiable community of clients.

There are other, smaller amendments which are also important. Issuers of payment tokens and decentralized trading platforms are also now explicitly subject to Switzerland’s anti-money laundering requirements, meaning they will now have to take the same steps to prevent money laundering as traditional financial institutions. Offerors of URSs who exclusively serve institutional or professional requirements are no longer required to be affiliated with an ombudsman’s office, as was the case before. Those acting as custodians are also now required to obtain a FinTech license in situations where digital assets are accepted as deposits.

The amendments are far reaching, and Switzerland’s efforts to modernize existing legislation to accommodate digital assets means many already-understood rules and regulations can be applied to digital assets. At the same time, the Swiss Parliament has tried to avoid stifling the growth of the digital asset industry in the country by making practical allowances within the rules, especially for smaller entities who might have value to add to the ecosystem but would be unduly burdened by rules which are more appropriate for larger companies. 

It’s important to note that the amendments still leave discretion to the likes of the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority regarding issues such as licensing requirements, so there will be further developments in Switzerland once the amendments come into force next year.

“The values and mantra that underpin the moves by the Swiss regulator today are right in-line with Bitcoin SV: foster a regulation-friendly ecosystem that facilitates innovation in the digital currency space and blockchain industry, while respecting the rule of law,” said Prinz.

“Today, the regulator has made it clear that running a business comes with liabilities—something which must be glaringly obvious to even the most ignorant players in the market now.”

See also: CoinGeek Live panel on Digital Currency & Global Compliance: Tools & Tips for Exchanges, Wallets & Other Service Providers.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cGcz1LLXMJY&feature=youtu.be&t=23072

" title="Swiss parliament approves raft of digital asset regulations" />
Business 21 October 2020

Swiss parliament approves raft of digital asset regulations

The Swiss Federal Council has made clear that the objective is to create the best possible framework so that Switzerland can continue to grow as a sustainable blockchain and fintech destination.

[id^="_form"]
[id^="_form"]
[id$="_submit"]
[id$="_submit"]
[^;]
[^;]
[?&]
[?&]
[^&#]
[^&#]
[(d+)]
[(d+)]
[elem.name]
[elem.name]
[+_a-z0-9-'&=]
[+_a-z0-9-'&=]
[+_a-z0-9-']
[+_a-z0-9-']
[a-z0-9-]
[a-z0-9-]
[a-z]
[a-z]
[el.name]
[el.name]
[id^="_form"]
[id^="_form"]
[id$="_submit"]
[id$="_submit"]
[^;]
[^;]
[?&]
[?&]
[^&#]
[^&#]
[(d+)]
[(d+)]
[elem.name]
[elem.name]
[+_a-z0-9-'&=]
[+_a-z0-9-'&=]
[+_a-z0-9-']
[+_a-z0-9-']
[a-z0-9-]
[a-z0-9-]
[a-z]
[a-z]
[el.name]
[el.name]