Kenyan authorities attempted to arrest the CEO of Worldcoin, but U.S. authorities intervened and requested his release, a government official has confirmed.
Kenya made headlines when it became the first country to halt Worldcoin activities, citing data security and privacy concerns. CEO Alex Blania jetted into the East African nation to appear before an ad hoc parliamentary committee to defend his company, and on his way out of the country, authorities detained him at the airport.
Speaking before the ad hoc committee, Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki said authorities also detained Thomas Scott, the legal spokesperson for Tool for Humanity, the entity behind the controversial digital asset project.
“They tried to leave the country but were stopped and put in custody. However, the US government intervened saying they should be allowed to leave because they haven’t been found guilty of committing a crime and gave an undertaking that it will produce them when required,” Kindiki told the lawmakers.
While the Kenyan authorities released the two, they confiscated electronic gadgets used to collect data from Kenyans, including the iris-scanning orbs. The minister says the gadgets were handed to the Communications Authority for analysis.
The 48 Orbs used by Worldcoin to scan eyeballs and the electronic gadgets recovered from the company are currently undergoing forensic scrutiny. pic.twitter.com/Yg7TEjoYSm
— Ministry of Interior | Kenya (@InteriorKE) September 14, 2023
“This will enable the investigators to ascertain the exact number of people in Kenya who were signed up and their sensitive personal data collected as well as the capability of the apparatus, possible health implications and whether they were authorised for use in the country,” he stated.
Before its shutdown in Kenya, Worldcoin had enrolled 350,000 people, Blania told Kenyan lawmakers. Each recruit received 25 WLD tokens, at the time worth $60. However, according to Blania, Worldcoin had invested millions of dollars in Kenya before launching the tokens in education programs.
Worldcoin revives Kenya’s ‘crypto’ concerns
Kenya has been one of the world’s biggest digital asset adopters and a leader in Africa. The country ranked atop the global peer-to-peer trading volume list for two years and continues to be a blockchain hotspot.
However, the Kenyan government has been anti-“crypto” for years, discouraging the public from investing in digital assets. The Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) has issued public warnings against “crypto,” and the introduction of new taxes targeting the sector has compounded the challenges.
Worldcoin has exacerbated Kenya’s “crypto” concerns, with prominent government officials now voicing their opposition to the sector.
Speaking to the ad hoc committee probing Worldcoin, Interior Minister Kindiki expressed concern over digital asset money laundering and terrorism financing.
“It encourages anonymity in financial transactions. You cannot trace, you cannot locate the owners and the dealers in the money or the finances that are involved in this space… Money can move from one account to another account across borders without the regulatory oversight of the Central Bank and still end up financing criminal activities like terrorism,” the minister said.
Kindiki believes the industry needs better mechanisms to trace digital assets, especially where they intertwine with the mainstream financial system.
“…at the risk of being accused of being at war with commerce and technology, I would be reluctant to allow [crypto] in the country,” he stated.
Central Bank governor Kamau Thugge recently told parliament that the central bank doesn’t regulate the sector. While noting that digital assets may have their benefits, he told lawmakers that CBK has been issuing warnings to the public against investing in digital assets for the past eight years.
“When the issue of crypto became more prominent in the country in 2015, CBK issued a public notice warning Kenyans to be careful of the new legal asset whose owners were unknown and a public institution that is behind it,” he said.
The top bank hasn’t banned digital assets, the governor clarified.
Watch: Chamapesa’s Michael Kimani helps Kenyans change their views on blockchain
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