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Bitcoin

Why the world's biggest cryptocurrency exchange is heading to Malta

The island nation is looking to reinvent itself as a digital currency hub, while regulators in other jurisdictions crack down on virtual money

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 March, 2018, 5:58pm
UPDATED : Friday, 23 March, 2018, 5:58pm

Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange by traded value, is seeking a fresh start in the Mediterranean.

The company, founded last year in Hong Kong, is planning to open an office in Malta, said founder Zhao Changpeng in an interview from Hong Kong. Binance will soon start a “fiat-to-crypto exchange” on the European island nation, and is close to securing a deal with local banks that can provide access to deposits and withdrawals, he said, without providing a time frame.

“We are very confident we can announce a banking partnership there soon,” Zhao said. “Malta is very progressive when it comes to crypto and fintech.”

Regulators from China to the US have been cracking down on cryptocurrency exchanges and businesses since last year, leaving many like Binance struggling to find a permanent base. The company had an office in Japan and was trying to get a licence to operate, but decided to remove its staff to avoid a clash with local regulators, Zhao said. Japan’s Financial Services Agency issued a warning to the venue on Friday for operating without approval.

Zhao said he was also continuing discussions with authorities in Hong Kong, but the outcome of those talks was uncertain. Binance was among seven cryptocurrency exchanges to receive a warning letter in recent months from the Securities and Futures Commission telling firms not to trade digital assets defined as securities under Hong Kong law, a person familiar with the letter said.

The pivot to Malta also comes as policymakers look for ways to promote the nation as a leader in the digital assets field. The government has held several public consultations on regulating virtual currencies, token sales and cryptocurrency exchanges. Plans for a Malta Digital Innovation Authority that will certify and regulate blockchain-based businesses and their operations were unveiled last month, the Malta Independent reported. The organisation will also create a framework to oversee initial coin offerings, the newspaper said.

Zhao said he had recently been invited by the Maltese government to review an upcoming bill that was favourable to cryptocurrency businesses. His venue was the world’s top-ranked exchange by volume for the past 24 hours, according to Coinmarketcap.com, trading about US$1.7 billion.

Binance is also planning to launch a decentralised exchange in the coming months, Zhao told Bloomberg this month. About 10 teams are working on its development, but the technology is currently too slow to replace the firm’s existing centralised exchange, he said.

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