A ‘criminal act’? Iran bans Telegram cryptocurrency

Authorities in Iran have outlawed the native token of the message app Telegram over fears it could undermine attempts to resuscitate the country’s economy, according to reports.

Dealing in or promoting the cryptocurrency Gram, which is used by Telegram users for on-platform transactions, will now constitute a “criminal act,” at a time of increased sensitivity from a state reeling from U.S.-led international sanctions, the Tehran Times reported.

Javad Javidnia, secretary of Criminal Content Definition Task Force, was quoted by the news outlet as suggesting use of the Gram was an “action against national security.” He reportedly said, “Any cooperation with Telegram messaging app to launch Gram, the messaging app’s cryptocurrency, in Iran constitutes an action against national security and will be dealt with as a disruption to the national economy.”

Elaborating on the reasons for the ban, Javidnia said the political “fuss” around Iran was a factor in the decision to outlaw Telegram transactions.

“One of the most important factors in banning Telegram was a sense of serious economic threat from its activities, which was unfortunately marginalized and neglected due to the fuss in the political atmosphere of the country,” the official noted.

The move comes at a time of intense economic malaise in Iran, following successive rounds of sanctions against the country, led by U.S. President Donald Trump. This has left Iran effectively shut out and unable to access mainstream global payment systems, further exacerbating problems with both importing and exporting goods.

It coincides with the development of a new relationship with the SWIFT network. Last year, the Central Bank of Iran was ejected from the global SWIFT network, following the reintroduction of U.S.-led sanctions. This resulted, according to reports, in the country to step up efforts to introduce a state-backed cryptocurrency, similar to moves in Venezuela, which will be backed with Iranian rial.

In banning the Telegram cryptocurrency, Iran joins Russia in marginalising the token.

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