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Bitcoin

Bitcoin, released to the world in 2009 by a person or people called Satoshi Nakamoto, is not backed by a central bank or a government and is seen as an alternative payment system. In February 2013, Bitcoin went into the mainstream as a monetary crisis threatened to bankrupt Cyprus, seen as a safer bet. Early adopters of Bitcoin have been richly rewarded as the price has soared – in one case, a young Norwegian bought a house from an $850,000 windfall on a US$22 investment.

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Ex-convict cum bitcoin evangelist calls the rich to island paradise

Bitcoin evangelist's website offers new passport and near-zero taxes with swipe of a smartphone

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 June, 2014, 5:13am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 June, 2014, 5:13am

He is known as Bitcoin Jesus in the world of cyber-currencies. Though he cannot promise you heaven, he is offering a haven: a condominium in the Caribbean that comes with a new passport and almost zero taxes.

Meet Roger Ver, ex-United States citizen, ex-convict, millionaire investor, self-described libertarian and founder of Passports for Bitcoin.com.

The ever-expanding universe of what you can buy with bitcoins includes a hotel stay in Rome, a kimono in Tokyo, and cable television in the US. Ver, a pioneer investor in bitcoin start-ups, now says he can add citizenship to the list.

Specifically, that is the right to live in the Federation of St Kitts and Nevis - two sun-kissed islands a three-hour flight from Miami - that has run an invest-and-become-a-citizen programme since 1984.

Put down US$400,000 for property and you get a passport that allows visa-free travel to 120 countries. There are no taxes on personal income or capital gains and the islands' disclosure laws offer shelter from outside scrutiny, according to the Tax Justice Network, a think tank that studies jurisdictions offering secrecy.

Ver's website, in English, Russian and Chinese, offers a way to buy a piece of that paradise with bitcoins. He says it will help people who are hemmed in by government restrictions on cash transactions.

"I'm going to China next month to explain to people that bitcoin is the easiest way to pay for things outside the country," Ver, a trim 35-year-old with a crew cut, told an audience in Tokyo this month.

A crowd of followers hung on his every word. A former derivatives trader at Goldman Sachs, a hacker and a professional boxer were all there to pitch ideas or talk bitcoin with the master.

Ver got rich investing in bitcoin early and has become a regular speaker at industry conferences. He has provided seed funds for a dozen start-ups including Kraken, an exchange where people buy and sell the digital currency, and Blockchain, an online wallet used to store it.

Bitcoin was invented in 2008 as a currency that could be used without government oversight. It has drawn people who want to trade illicit goods like drugs and guns. It has also gained support from libertarians like Peter Thiel, the billionaire co-founder of PayPal who plans to build an artificial island where people can do whatever they want. Ver's passport site, his latest venture, is a scaled down version of that ideal.

"St Kitts' government is much more libertarian compared with the US," Ver said. "It's not even close. So all these early bitcoin adopters, of course if they have the means, they'd rather be a citizen of St Kitts."

A woman who answered the phone at the Office of the Prime Minister in St Kitts said the programme was "not a matter of buying passports, it's about gaining citizenship".

Nonetheless, no residency or visit is needed, just that US$400,000 investment - re-sellable after five years - or a non-refundable US$250,000 donation to the country, according to St Kitts' official website.

For those who do not get the message the first time, the site repeats in bold print: "No personal visit required."

Still, wealthy mainland Chinese have a tough time buying in because the central government's limits on money transfers stop them from sending more than US$50,000 worth of cash overseas each year.

"The processing agent in St Kitts told me he feels bad for all of his Chinese clients," Ver said. "They have to reach out to all different friends and relatives and get them to all send the money in drips and drabs. Bitcoin solves all of that."

A person in Beijing can buy bitcoins at home through BTC China, OKCoin or other exchanges. With a few swipes on a smartphone, the money can then be beamed to St Kitts with no government on earth the wiser.

Lai See is on holiday

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