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AS Asia’s premier cryptocurrency hub, Singapore will have to answer some tough questions. At least one of them has gained urgency following the bankruptcy of Sam Bankman-Fried’s digital-asset empire: “What do we do about Satoshi’s original sin?”
Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonymous founder of the bitcoin network, left a major gap in his original 2008 white paper.
He didn’t suggest an obvious way for people to swap their dollars or other fiat cash for decentralised currencies like bitcoin and ether.
Specialised crypto exchanges like FTX, one of the world’s largest exchanges of digital assets until recently, burst forth through this conceptual hole.
They helped create spectacular wealth, as evidenced by Bankman-Fried’s now-eviscerated US$26bil (RM119.4bil) fortune. But although they chose to go by the name “exchange,” they weren’t satisfied with taking a fee from customers. The real prize was in becoming shadow banks.
Globally, regulators let them get away with it, even allowing them to ride on the reputation of some of the world’s largest financial centres.
There was a reason for that indifference. Before the contagion set off by the crash of the Terra-Luna blockchain network this spring, authorities’ main preoccupation was preventing a new conduit for financing terrorism and laundering money.,
The Financial Action Task Force, an intergovernmental rule-setting body, said in 2019 that it wanted crypto exchanges to follow the “travel rule,” and identify the originator and beneficiary by name in transactions above a threshold.
When Singapore introduced a law that year to recognise crypto exchanges as payment service providers, it bolted on the travel rule to its licensing requirement.
This has been pretty much the global norm so far.
The focus of regulators worldwide is “generally on anti-money laundering and due diligence measures, not trading,” blockchain scholars Martin C.W. Walker and Winnie Mosioma noted in their survey last year of 16 major crypto exchanges.
They found only four to be regulated significantly when it came to trading.
Clearly, the scope of scrutiny needs to expand. Singapore, in the eye of the storm because of the city’s links with the now-defunct Three Arrows Capital hedge fund, the Terra-Luna project, and collapsed crypto platforms Hodlnaut and Zipmex, has already adopted a more cautious stance on consumer protection.
In a consultation paper last month, the island’s monetary authority asked the public if digital-token payment services should be “required to appoint an independent custodian to hold customers’ assets.”,
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