The 5th Virtual Currencies Conference, organized by Europol's European Cybercrime Centre, was held last week in The Hague to discuss the legitimate use of cryptocurrencies as well as how to combat their use in cybercrime and money laundering.
This year, as in previous years, the conference attendees were a mix of law enforcers, public prosecutors, cryptocurrency experts, exchange executives, and blockchain company representatives. The conference also featured operational case studies, such as tracking cybercrime suspects and exploring malicious cryptocurrency mining. For their part, attendees discussed the use of blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies for trading, investment, and payment.
ETHNews spoke with OKCoin, owners of the OKEx token trading platform and soon-to-be-launched OKCoin USA, and France-based Coinhouse to find out more about the event, the impact on cryptocurrency exchanges, and what the future might hold.
Regulatory Respect and Compliance
ETHNews asked if the conference had inspired the attendees to make any changes in their businesses. "A big part of the Coinhouse brand is regulatory respect and a willingness to take an active role in helping inform the regulatory environment in which it operates," said Brian O'Hagan, marketing manager for the online exchange.
O'Hagan told us that compliance has been an active area for the company for the past two years and that there are now six full-time employees on the Coinhouse compliance team.
"This conference reinforced our vision that we should not compromise on compliance and security," said O'Hagan.
Compliance is also important to Tim Byun, CEO of OKCoin USA Inc. and CRO & Head of Government Relations of OK Group. According to Byun:
"As an exchange, we have an important role in combating cybercrime as we comply with local regulations and operate as an on-ramp and off-ramp for fiat currency exchange. It is vital to ensure that AML rules apply to us in the same way as any other financial services organization when we are at the intersection of the fiat currency world."
Blockchain-based Solutions to Fight Cybercrime
The conference featured presentations by blockchain companies offering the facility to track transactions across multiple exchanges for law enforcers. Alberto Ornaghi, CTO of Neutrino, which is developing blockchain-based solutions for law enforcement, told ETHNews, "It was great to be there to help LEA [law enforcement agencies] and exchanges to bring transparency into the cryptocurrency world. This will help for a more broad mass adoption."
ETHNews was curious to discover if this was something the cryptocurrency exchanges in attendance would be open to.
Byun found it "encouraging that law enforcement bodies are becoming very sophisticated with the available technology – even to the extent of becoming programmers themselves as they develop blockchain-based solutions/systems to strengthen their efforts to pursue cybercrime."
Local Regulatory Differences
With regulatory uncertainty rife and many organizations and countries taking different approaches, ETHNews was keen to discover any key differences between Europol's stance on cryptocurrencies and that of US regulators and bodies.
OKCoin has certainly found differences between local laws and classifications for digital currencies. The discovery led OKCoin to launch OKCoin USA this coming July, which it will do in compliance with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network's (FinCEN) 2013 regulations rather than following recent SEC hints that some cryptocurrencies could be classified as securities. FinCEN's regulations classify cryptocurrencies as "convertible virtual currencies."
"It allows exchanges to operate in Malta and serve international customers whilst still being in compliance with the Malta VFA framework as well as, of course, preserving foreign countries' laws and regulations," explained Byun.
Decentralizing Business Entities
Byun, who has supported the Europol Virtual Currencies Conference since 2015 when he was chief compliance officer for BitPay, predicts that for cryptocurrency exchanges looking to access customers and remain compliant "companies will bifurcate, and earmark different service entities for different geographic locations in order to comply with local laws in that country."
This will have key implications for law enforcement agencies and their requests for information. "The law enforcement bodies will increasingly need to reach out to these specific local entities with requests for information, as opposed to contacting a single central entity," said Byun.
Sandrine Lebeau, compliance officer for Coinhouse, found "a willingness for a more active cooperation with European judicial authorities" and that "judicial authorities have an excellent understanding of the risks with crypto-assets."
"The conference was mostly focused on Bitcoin. We are looking forward to share and discuss further around other crypto-assets like Ether and others," continued Lebeau, illustrating bitcoin's position as the leading cryptocurrency both in terms of market capitalization and, perhaps, the minds of regulators and law enforcers.
Though bitcoin and Ethereum as means of trade, investment, and payment, can be treated similarly by exchanges and regulators, the currencies' underlying blockchains and governance structures are very different.
International regulators and law enforcers are working to control the novel arena of cryptocurrencies so they can protect investors and combat cybercrime. Their approach appears to be a mix of applying traditional financial regulation and employing the blockchain technology this new sector is built on to better understand and access it.