The Chain: North Korean trades and Goldman-backed crypto
Asia Times bring you a new daily column on developments from the blockchain and crypto 'space'
The governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has once again waded into the crypto debate. He is among a growing band of financial regulators saying that while crypto-currencies should not necessarily be banned, they do have to be regulated. “The time has come,” said Carney, “to hold the crypto-asset ecosystem to the same standards as the rest of the financial system.”
While Carney was generally supportive of blockchain technology, he was unsparingly critical of cryptos, saying they are no substitute for cash or payment cards. “Many crypto-currencies have exhibited the classic hallmarks of bubbles including new paradigm justifications, broadening retail enthusiasm and extrapolative price expectations reliant in part on finding the greater fool.” Many from the pro-crypto camp jumped online after Carney’s comments to respond with: “Well he would say that, wouldn’t he.”
A whale in Pyongyang?
The sort of global regulation Carney is hoping for might prove tricky if Priscilla Moriuchi is right. This former US National Security Agency official, who previously oversaw cyber threats from East Asia, claims North Korea is a major player in the creation and trading of crypto-currencies. Speaking in the wake of a raft of new US sanctions against companies that are, allegedly, helping Pyongyang fund its nuclear and missiles programs, Moriuchi said: “I would bet that these coins are being turned into something — currency or physical goods — that are supporting North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile program.”
This is, of course, not the first time North Korea has been accused of online crimes. Pyongyang was said to be behind last year’s worldwide WannaCry cyber ransom attack and a host of regular hacking attacks on South Korean crypto exchanges. It has also been blamed for the US$530 million theft of virtual coins from the Japanese crypto-currency exchange Coincheck in January, in what has been described as the biggest crypto heist in history. Whatever the truth, it is quite a story.
Big Circle, Big Vision
And so we move neatly from North Korea to Goldman Sachs. Circle, a Goldman-backed financial services firm with a crypto-facing focus, has reportedly just paid around US$400 million for the Delaware-based crypto-currency exchange Poloniex. The purchase makes Circle a major player in the crypto exchange market but it maintains this is just a small, early step. Apart from Goldman Sachs, four-year-old Circle also received funding from Chinese internet giant Baidu and the venture capitalist and early Facebook-backer Jim Breyer, and its strategy has always been to stay close and compliant to the banking establishment and to financial regulatory bodies. Circle’s long-term vision sees our future financial world driven by crypto tokens, with it as the global bank of choice. Ambition indeed.
What chance Amazon Coin?
Talking of big players, a survey published last week found that nearly 52% of Amazon customers would be happy to use an Amazon-created crypto-currency. It has often been said that Amazon would utterly transform the sector if it started accepting bitcoin, or indeed any other crypto-currency, but this recent survey turned that idea on its head by asking what would happen if Amazon created its own virtual payment token. This would certainly be possible, what with Amazon’s technical know-how, financial clout and vast existing marketplace, but there seems to be no plan to roll out this mythical ‘Amazon Coin.’ Not yet, at least…
Tethered to what?
Talking of mythical tokens, the rumors continue to fly about Tether and the Bitfinex exchange it is closely linked with. Marketed as a so-called “stablecoin” that is pegged to the US dollar, critics say Tether has been issuing more tokens than it has dollars. Another criticism is that trading volume regularly exceeds its market cap, which sits at around US$2 billion.
Tether commissioned an audit to prove it does indeed hold the required cash reserves, only to then fall out with said auditor, which meant no report was ever issued. In November last year, Tether claimed that a hacker snatched nearly US$31 million of tokens from the company and last month it was reported that the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission has sent subpoenas to both Bitfinex and Tether. Jordan Belfort, the ‘Wolf of Wall Street,’ has called Tether a “massive fraud.” The crypto world is watching this closely because Tether is a key player and it if falls, then so could bitcoin. And no, there will not be a government bailout.