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Bitcoin: UK and EU plan crackdown amid crime and tax evasion fears

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The UK and other EU governments are planning a crackdown on bitcoin amid growing concerns that the digital currency is being used for money laundering and tax evasion.

The Treasury plans to regulate bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to bring them in line with anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financial legislation. Traders will be forced to disclose their identities, ending the anonymity that has made the currency attractive for drug dealing and other illegal activities.

Under the EU-wide plan, online platforms where bitcoins are traded will be required to carry out due diligence on customers and report suspicious transactions.

Q&A

What is bitcoin and is it a bad investment?

Bitcoin is the first, and the biggest, “cryptocurrency” – a decentralised tradable digital asset. Whether it’s a bad investment is the $97bn question (literally, since that’s the current value of all bitcoins in existence). Bitcoin can only be used as a medium of exchange and in practice has been far more important for the dark economy than it has for most legitimate uses. The lack of any central authority makes bitcoin remarkably resilient to censorship, corruption – or regulation. That means it has attracted a range of backers, from libertarian monetarists who enjoy the idea of a currency with no inflation and no central bank, to drug dealers who like the fact that it’s hard (but not impossible) to trace a bitcoin transaction back to a physical person.

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The rules are expected to come into effect next year.

The bosses of Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan have criticised bitcoin as a vehicle to commit fraud and other crimes. But Sir Jon Cunliffe, a deputy governor of the Bank of England, last week said the digital currency was too small to pose a systemic threat to the global economy. He also cautioned that bitcoin investors needed “to do their homework”.

Bitcoin was trading at $11,566 on Monday. It hit a fresh record high of $11,800 on Sunday but fell to $10,554 on news of the regulatory crackdown.

zerohedge (@zerohedge)

Reason For Bitcoin Sudden Plunge Revealed: UK Plans Regulatory Crackdown On Cryptocurrencies https://t.co/xIxdg6aUkU

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The Labour MP John Mann, a member of the House of Commons Treasury select committee, suggested MPs would look into the regulation of virtual currencies.

He told The Daily Telegraph: “These new forms of exchange are expanding rapidly and we’ve got to make sure we don’t get left behind – that’s particularly important in terms of money laundering, terrorism or pure theft.

“It would be timely to have a proper look at what this means. It may be that we want speed up our use of these kinds of thing in this country, but that makes it all the more important that we don’t have a regulatory lag.”

Stephen Barclay, the economic secretary to the Treasury, set out the government’s plans in a written parliamentary answer in October. “The UK government is currently negotiating amendments to the anti-money laundering directive that will bring virtual currency exchange platforms and custodian wallet providers into anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing regulation, which will result in these firms’ activities being overseen by national competent authorities for these areas.

“The government supports the intention behind these amendments. We expect these negotiations to conclude at EU level in late 2017 or early 2018.”

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