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Macau

Macau issues cryptocurrency crime warning after link to former triad boss emerges

Authority warning reminds residents that virtual currency is not legal tender

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 April, 2018, 12:13pm
UPDATED : Friday, 20 April, 2018, 11:33pm

Concerns over a Macau cryptocurrency firm backed by a notorious former gangster, and which has links to the company behind the Facebook data-mining scandal, have prompted monetary chiefs in the city to issue a warning over possible “fraud and criminal activities”.  

In a statement of concern, published on the website of the Monetary Authority of Macau, the regulator reminded residents that cryptocurrencies are not legal tender.

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The warning comes in the wake of revelations that Macau Dragon Group, a firm associated with “Broken Tooth” Wan Kuok-koi, employed the British company, Cambridge Analytica, to promote Dragon Coin, a new virtual currency created to help gamblers transfer money to Macau casinos.

Wan is one of Asia’s most infamous organised crime figures, and spent more than 10 years in jail for an array of gangland crimes including being leader of the 14K triad group in Macau.

“The media has reported that a Macau company was involved in an ICO [initial coin offering] recently,” the monetary authority said in its statement. “Monetary Authority of Macau reminds all Macau residents that cryptocurrencies are virtual products, but not legal currencies or financial tools. Residents should be aware of fraud and criminal activities associated with cryptocurrencies.”

“Monetary Authority of Macau reiterates that any institution providing regulated financial services such as currency exchange, cross-border fund transfer and financial exchange platforms without permission violates relevant provisions of the Financial System Act.”

Under Macau monetary regulations, banks and payment institutions are forbidden from direct or indirect involvement in providing financial services for cryptocurrency exchanges. However, there are no rules restricting ICO activities by the private sector in the casino hub.

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In a related development, another digital currency company said on its website this week it hoped to offer ATM cryptocurrency deposit services in Macau, Hong Kong and Taiwan – a claim likely to raise a regulatory red flag with Beijing as it continues to crack down on capital flight.

The move by monetary chiefs in the city follows a similar warning from the Hong Kong government in January, when it launched a public education campaign on the risks associated with ICOs and cryptocurrencies.

Beijing has also come down hard on cryptocurrencies, and in September last year mainland Chinese authorities banned companies issuing ICOs, saying new projects raising cash and other virtual currencies through cryptocurrencies were not allowed. 

Around the same time, Hong Kong’s Securities and Futures Commission warned investors that tokens issued via ICO may be classified as securities, and said the SFC was “concerned about an increase in the use of ICOs to raise funds in Hong Kong and elsewhere”.