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Biden’s pick for CFTC chair wants the agency to be a ‘beat cop’ with the authority to oversee 60% of digital asset market

Rostin Behnam said it was "critically important to have a primary cop on on the beat" of an emerging market that included cryptocurrencies and stablecoins.

Acting chairperson of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, or CFTC, Rostin Behnam has likened the government agency’s enforcement of the digital asset space to a beat cop on duty.

At an Oct. 27 hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry to assume his position on a permanent basis, Behnam said to chairperson Debbie Stabenow the CFTC has been “aggressively pursuing enforcement cases” in the crypto space for some time, including its $100 million case against crypto derivatives exchange BitMEX and the $42.5 million in fines it levied against Tether and Bitfinex. However, he asked that the committee consider expanding the authority of the CFTC given the emerging digital asset market.

“This is the tip of the iceberg,” said Behnam. “As of yesterday, the total size of the digital asset market was $2.7 trillion. Among that $2.7 trillion, nearly 60% were commodities [...] given the size, the scope, and the scale of this emerging market, how it’s interfacing and affecting retail customers, and with the scale of the growth being so rapid, potential financial stability risks in the future, I think it’s critically important to have a primary cop on on the beat.”

Behnam also responded to a question from Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown on whether the CFTC would require “additional tools” to handle enforcement in the crypto space, saying the agency as well as the Securities and Exchange Commission would likely need “a regulatory structure for both securities and commodities.” Both groups in addition to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network currently handle digital asset regulation in the United States, but with different jurisdictional claims, resulting in a patchwork approach companies must navigate to legally operate.

“The markets and the market transactions that are taking place right now are a huge part of the risk that digital assets pose,” added Behnam.

Related: CFTC commissioner says agency has broad enforcement authority on crypto derivatives

There are currently only two commissioners serving at the CFTC out of the normal five since the departure of Dan Berkovitz earlier this month, Brian Quintenz in August, and former chair Heath Tarbert in January. Behnam — who has been serving as acting chair at the agency following Tarbert’s departure — is President Joe Biden’s pick to lead the CFTC. In addition, Biden has chosen Kristin Johnson and Christy Goldsmith Romero to fill two of the remaining three seats. All must be confirmed by the Democrat-controlled Senate.

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Privacy or policy? Why Facebook’s crypto wallet, Novi, is facing resistance

Facebook’s Novi wallet lets users send and receive a dollar-pegged stablecoin, but not hold it.

The stablecoin market has grown exponentially over the last few months due to the numerous advantages blockchain-based versions of fiat currencies have. But, when Facebook launched its cryptocurrency wallet Novi using Paxos’ stablecoin, some United States senators were quick to oppose it. Are they concerned about user data or monetary sovereignty?

The social media giant which, according to its Q2 2021 report, has 2.9 billion monthly active users across all of its platforms, tapped Coinbase and Paxos for its Novi digital wallet project that kicked off its testing phase in the U.S. and Guatemala on Oct. 19.

The pilot program allows users in both countries to download the Novi digital wallet app for iOS or Android devices and fund their accounts with a debit card. The wallet allows them to send and receive Pax dollars (USDP), which are dollar-pegged stablecoins issued by Paxos.

Novi customer funds will be custodied with Coinbase, which manages over $180 billion in assets. A Facebook spokesperson told Cointelegraph that the pilot phase allows the company to evaluate the wallet’s core functions and showcase operational capabilities. 

Additionally, the spokesperson said that the company hasn’t dropped support for the permissionless payment system it’s developing called the Diem network and is, instead, waiting for a green light from Washington. After receiving regulatory approval, Facebook plans to launch Novi with Diem.

Bringing stablecoins to the masses

Facebook’s digital wallet Novi and its use of a stablecoin custodied by a central entity may go against the cryptocurrency space’s ethos of decentralization and self-sovereignty but could help move blockchain technology to the back-end, potentially allowing billions of people to use it every day without noticing.

Speaking to Cointelegraph, Justin Hartzman, CEO of Toronto-based cryptocurrency exchange CoinSmart, said he believes the launch of Novi is “definitely a major step towards mainstream adoption” of cryptocurrencies, given Facebook’s massive user base.

Hartzman said that on the negative side of Novi’s launch, users won’t be holding their own coins directly, but will instead “keep track of your USDP balances while they are held in custody by Coinbase.”

Sergey Zhdanov, chief operating officer of United Kingdom-based cryptocurrency exchange EXMO, echoed Hartzman’s sentiment on the potential advantages of the Novi project, pointing out that stablecoins today are the “main bridge between traditional finance and the cryptocurrency market.” Zhdanov told Cointelegraph:

“Not to mention the fact that stablecoins are often the only possible option for receiving and sending money in countries with an undeveloped banking system.”

Zhdanov said that stablecoins can become the foundation for “faster and cheaper payments, making it easier for people to pay for goods or store their money.” This will only happen, however, if stablecoins are not “stifled by overly strong regulation.”

Regulators have notably cracked down on Facebook’s original cryptocurrency ambitions, which involved launching a coin backed by a basket of fiat currencies. The project ended up changing course over a year after it was originally announced, complete with a rebrand from Libra to Diem.

Regulatory woes

Soon after Facebook launched its Novi wallet pilot, five senators called for the immediate closure of the cryptocurrency wallet. In a letter sent to Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and CEO, the five senators wrote that given the “scope of the scandals surrounding” the company, they were voicing their “strongest opposition to Facebook’s revived effort to launch a cryptocurrency and digital wallet.”

The letter came from the office of Senator Brian Schatz and was co-signed by senators Tina Smith, Richard Blumenthal, Sherrod Brown — who also chairs the Banking Committee — and Elizabeth Warren. 

In response, Diem told regulators it’s an independent organization, stating, “Diem is not Facebook. We are an independent organization, and Facebook’s Novi is just one of more than two dozen members of the Diem Association. Novi’s pilot with Paxos is unrelated to Diem.”

To Zhdanov, Facebook may not have any other choice but to “accept the request and disconnect the wallet.” He said that global regulators cracked down on Libra because they saw it as a threat to their monetary sovereignty, adding:

“It would be strange to imagine that the United States would easily agree to redirect huge cash flows to a private company with a huge audience.”

The CEO concluded that he hopes large industry players will be “able to influence what is happening and will not let the largest part of the cryptocurrency market die,” referring to stablecoins.

To CoinSmart’s Hartzman, regulators have been pressuring Facebook because of the company’s past, and not because of its involvement with the cryptocurrency sector or stablecoins. To him, even if Facebook caves to the pressure and shelves Novi, it may not have a major effect on the wider crypto market.

Shift to the metaverse

Speaking to Cointelegraph, CEO of trading platform Spectre.ai Kay Khemani pointed to something bigger than Facebook’s plans initially revealed: the company’s rebrand to focus not on social media, but the metaverse.

The metaverse is loosely defined, but it’s often seen as a digital reality combining aspects of social media, augmented reality and online gaming and cryptocurrencies together. Sources at Facebook have been claiming the company is getting ready to announce a rebrand meant to reflect its shift in priorities to the metaverse.

As The Verge reported, the move is meant to signal the company’s focus on being known for something other than social media. Mark Zuckerberg has said the metaverse will be a “big focus” for Facebook as he believes it “is just going to be a big part of the next chapter for the way that the internet evolves after the mobile internet.”

Khemani said that Facebook is an innovator that “changes paradigms” and that it could corner the market by owning both premier virtual reality hardware producer Oculus and having the largest social media user base out there.

These two things combined could make Facebook a major player in the metaverse, one that U.S. regulators may be more lenient on to “prevent the social media conglomerate from potentially relocating its operations outside the USA.” That move, Khemani said, would trigger an exodus from tech giants that would “undoubtedly harm the U.S. economy.”

As it stands, Facebook appears to be moving forward with both its cryptocurrency wallet Novi and its stablecoin project Diem. If the company manages to make the use of blockchain technology imperceptible, it could launch a cryptocurrency application that would be adopted by billions.

As Facebook is already working with Coinbase and Paxos, it wouldn’t be a stretch to believe Novi could, in the future, offer its users seamless access to other cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin (BTC). Veteran crypto users may nevertheless choose to stay away, as controlling their private keys is paramount.

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Putting a cap on decentralization: How regulation impacts DeFi adoption

As legislation threatens to allow centralization to creep into the DeFi space, regulation could have complex effects on the adoption.

Decentralized finance (DeFi) is shaping up to be one of the most important sectors within the blockchain industry. In just the last two years, DeFi's total value locked (TVL) — the total value of assets locked into various DeFi platforms — has steadily increased from $21 billion at the start of the year to over $100 billion today.

DeFi represents a wide range of financial products and services, including the all too popular decentralized exchanges (DEX). Despite the explosive growth of DeFi's lending and borrowing products, insurance and even decentralized derivatives trading, however, regulation on a global scale still appears to be distant.

Through DeFi, blockchain technology is redesigning the world's financial systems, constructing markets that, ideally, will be more secure, transparent and accessible. Financial innovation is quite intuitively profitable, yet the most deep-pocketed institutions are still hesitant to enter the space due to the lack of regulations, and this could play a crucial part in its adoption.

Some believe compliance is the only way forward, and that while regulation could lead to the centralization of certain aspects of DeFi, the projects which comply will survive in the long term. Others claim DeFi should regulate itself and that the community must come to an understanding of what's best for its future. Regardless, there will always be unregulated platforms that evade inspection from authorities, but whether large-scale self-regulation would actually be healthy for the industry has yet to be determined.

Despite the large number of mid-cap funds seeing extreme gains from investing in digital assets, larger hedge funds aren't willing to take on the risk. This is partly due to the harsh scrutiny under which more prominent players are monitored for regulatory compliance, and this could also explain why some of the largest institutions have yet to touch the asset class.

Ruling out the unruly

The main problem with applying traditional regulatory frameworks to decentralized finance is that they were designed with different goals in mind. Traditional finance favors stability, investor protections, enforcing compliance and, above all, centralization. DeFi functions on a system of encouraging cooperation between distributed participants through the removal of economic incentives and, without any centralized intermediaries to blame, traditional frameworks don't translate well into decentralized assets.

Over the last few years, the effects of regulation on the cryptocurrency sector have been evident, providing a sense of certainty to private investors, boosting the amount of capital entering digital asset markets while supporting innovation and curbing fraudulent and illicit behavior. This could hold for DeFi as well, and though not everyone is entirely convinced, familiarity and education can be great drivers of adoption.

A former law enforcement official at the United States Department of Homeland Security's Illicit Finance and Proceeds of Crime unit and chief operating officer of Huobi Nevada, Robert Whitaker, told Cointelegraph:

“There will always be illegal sites that operate quietly in the background. The DeFi platforms that want to be regulated and believe regulation is the path to a strong viable alternative to traditional banking or finance will survive — and, in my opinion, do very well.”

Once the necessary infrastructure is crafted to meet the requirements of larger institutions, investments into decentralized finance could even become a lot more experimental to accelerate innovation. This year alone, several financial services giants have made considerable strides within the blockchain sphere.

JPMorgan is said to be developing a proprietary blockchain with its own token to facilitate instantaneous transfers for its clients. Further, after making plans to move over a third of its eligible assets to a blockchain-based custody platform, HSBC announced this year that they would support central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) through regulation. Morgan Stanley also recently announced that it would offer its clients exposure to digital assets.

From BNY Mellon confirming its support for digital asset custody to BlackRock's disclosure of its stealthy interactions studying the asset class, adoption is certainly on the rise. The question is: Can regulation keep up?

Innovative regulation to regulate innovation

Recently, leading blockchain technology solutions firm ConsenSys received over $65 million in funding from global financial services leaders like UBS, JPMorgan and Mastercard, which could provide them with better insight into the kinds of applications being built on Web 3.0. 

According to reports from PWC, nearly 50% of traditional hedge fund managers are looking into making cryptocurrency investments. While these firms will likely lead the way to adoption, this might not happen until the required regulatory infrastructure is built into the DeFi ecosystem.

Despite the countless warnings from reserve banks worldwide regarding the security, scalability and money laundering risks posed by digital assets, most of them agree on its potential to radically improve financial systems. However, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) believes that DeFi severely lacks investor protections and has requested setting up additional authorities to prevent DeFi products and platforms from slipping through cracks in regulation.

The last year has been peppered with news of international corporations and national regulatory bodies inching toward a better understanding of blockchain technology. In September 2020, the European Commission proposed a framework to improve consumer protections and establish more explicit conduct for players in the cryptocurrency industry, including introducing new licensing requirements.

Later in March, global terrorist financing and money laundering watchdog, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), announced that it would be updating its guidance regarding a risk-based approach to digital assets and companies dealing in virtual assets. In July, Japan's Financial Services Agency (FSA) emphasized the importance of regulatory rules for decentralized finance.

Back in February, SEC Commissioner Hester Pierce said that regulators would need to provide the DeFi space with both legal clarity and the freedom to experiment so it could compete toe-to-toe with centralized alternatives. However, the SEC has also reportedly taken action against certain entities associated with decentralized finance applications.

For instance, reports suggest that the regulator has opened an investigation into the lead developer behind the world's largest decentralized exchange, Uniswap Labs, primarily focusing on how investors utilize the platform and its marketing. Additionally, SEC Chairman Gary Gensler recently made some harsh comments about the DeFi industry, claiming only a tiny number of DeFi tokens weren't securities.

Though self-regulation may seem ideal to some, intervention from governments and financial authorities might just be an inevitability. 

Bending principles

The main challenge for regulators will be in assuring private players and mitigating investor risks. If legislation can somehow do this while ensuring DeFi platforms adhere to Anti-Money Laundering protocols, regulation could promote adoption and produce incredible growth for the space in a risk-controlled manner.

Still, regulating DeFi by force may not be the best way to go about it. Traditional regulations apply to transactions being made between people and applying those standards to human-written code, i.e., smart contracts, is a mind-numbingly complicated task. However, standards could be created through encoded principles.

This would involve setting capital limits and creating risk control frameworks for the industry's private actors. But, since this goes against the primary ethos of decentralized finance — decentralization — it will require a proactive and cooperative approach from the DeFi space and an innovation-first mindset from regulators.

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Dubai finance watchdog approves listing of Bitcoin fund

The DFSA is establishing itself as an innovative regulator for the region by focusing on fintech and innovative technology.

The Bitcoin Fund (QBTCu.TO), a closed-end investment vehicle based in Canada, has received regulatory approval from the Dubai Financial Services Authority. The fund debuted on Nasdaq on June 23, 2021 and became the first listed digital asset fund in the Middle East.

The fund's goal is to provide investors in the shares of the fund with exposure to Bitcoin (BTC) and the daily price changes of the U.S. dollar price of Bitcoin, as well as long-term capital appreciation. The fund is a diversified portfolio of digital assets that invests in Bitcoin and U.S. dollar-denominated money market instruments.

A report by Trade Arabia states that the Bitcoin Fund is now in a position to list up to $200 million worth of units on Nasdaq Dubai, following its approval by the DFSA. This allows the region's first crypto-based product, which is listed on a regulated platform, to satisfy growing demand from institutional investors. The Bitcoin Fund will be available to investors of all levels, from big banks to individual traders.

Over the last four months, Bitcoin has surged in value, breaking a new all-time high of $66,000 this week. The world's number one digital currency is continuing to outperform expectations thanks to growing institutional adoption and renewed enthusiasm among retail investors.

Nasdaq Dubai is the first official stock exchange in the Middle East to offer this new service, which is part of its commitment to embrace fintech. 

The DFSA is attempting to establish itself as an innovative regulator for the region by focusing on fresh technology and innovative financial solutions that may help drive economic growth. As reported by Cointelegraph, DFSA recently announced new rules for crypto-asset investments.

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Dubai regulator announces new regulations for investment tokens

The UAE continues to be one of the most friendly jurisdictions worldwide for the digital asset industry.

The Dubai Financial Services Authority (DFSA) has established a regulatory framework for investment tokens as part of its efforts to stimulate the digital financial and technological environment while also meeting market players' demands and requirements.

The DFSA is an independent regulatory body in Dubai that is in charge of monitoring and regulating financial services companies wanting to operate there. It also licenses and regulates their products and services.

According to a report by Emirates news agency WAM, the DFSA's regulatory framework defines investment tokens as either "a Security Token or Derivative Token."

The report notes that the creation of a new regulatory structure is the first step in DFSA's Digital Assets Regime, which reflects the suggestions made in Consultation Paper 138 published in March 2021. The consultation paper sought public input on DFSA's plans for regulating Security Tokens. 

As reported by Cointelegraph in March, the financial regulator in Dubai called on members of the public to submit comments on its proposed rules for cryptocurrencies considered to be security tokens.

The investment token framework is designed to safeguard investors and provide legal certainty for market operators. 

Related: UAE regulators approve crypto trading in Dubai free zone

It specifies the sort of investment tokens that are permitted and which may be listed on a Digital Asset Exchange in the Dubai International Financial Centre, as well as other pertinent information.

The DFSA is also working on plans for unlisted securities not covered by the investment tokens regulatory framework. These are anticipated to include cryptocurrencies, utility tokens, and certain stablecoins. The DFSA is expected to publish a follow-up consultation paper in the fourth quarter of this year.

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UK FCA grants registration to crypto startup Crypterium

Crypterium’s cryptocurrency wallet application is available in more than 170 countries, the company says.

British cryptocurrency services provider Crypterium is the latest crypto firm to secure registration from the United Kingdom’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

Crypterium officially announced on Oct. 25 that it has recently been registered by the FCA to provide cryptocurrency services to local citizens and companies, becoming one of few companies to have passed the registration process.

According to data on the FCA’s official website, Crypterium has been registered to operate “certain crypto asset activities” in compliance with the country’s Anti-Money Laundering (AML) regulations since Oct. 11.

The registration officially authorized Crypterium to continue providing its crypto wallet services, including crypto trading and payment services, to “practically everybody” in the United Kingdom, the announcement notes. The registration is particularly important amid the upcoming Brexit measures, allowing Crypterium to provide the same level of functionality to U.K. businesses as in other supported countries.

According to the announcement, Crypterium’s crypto wallet application is available in more than 170 countries and has amassed over 400,000 clients since its launch.

“Becoming an FCA-registered firm is a fantastic opportunity. From now on, interested parties will view Crypterium in a new light, a company that puts user security and accessibility first. Not only do we provide an excellent set of services, but now we can show that these are done with full compliance of some of the toughest assessment criteria,” Crypterium CEO Steven Parker said.

The firm noted that the FCA registration is extensive, taking “18 months of policies and processes assessment before approval is granted.” The firm did not immediately respond to Cointelegraph’s request for comment.

Related: Competition drives young traders’ crypto investments, says UK watchdog

By obtaining the FCA registration, Crypterium joins a handful of companies that the U.K. authority has registered so far, including two firms affiliated with Winklevoss twins’ crypto exchange Gemini, Australian exchange CoinJar, crypto-friendly bank Ziglu, Archax, Diginex’s Digivault and others. Earlier this year, the FCA warned against 111 unregistered crypto companies. Previously, 51 companies reportedly withdrew their licensing applications with the FCA amid strict local AML regulations.

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Colombian Government Might Take Unused Funds From Bank Accounts Inactive for a Year

Colombian Government Might Take Unused Funds From Bank Accounts Inactive for a YearThe budget law for the next year, which was recently approved by the Colombian representative’s chamber, includes a controversial article that allows the state to confiscate a bank customer’s funds to be used for budgetary purposes. Under certain circumstances defined by the law, these could funds may be retrieved if the account holders’ prove their […]

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Law Decoded: Post-ETF policy landscape and Novi fears, Oct. 18–25

The Bitcoin ETF approval has been the biggest, but by no means the only, policy-related story of the last week.

The biggest regulatory story of the week, if not the year, has been the United States Security and Exchange Commission’s lack of opposition to the launch of the first-ever Bitcoin (BTC) exchange-traded funds, which took eight long years to materialize. While the first ETFs are tracking CME-traded Bitcoin futures rather than the asset’s spot price, the crypto space is already anticipating a pure-Bitcoin ETF as a logical next step. This bar might prove to be immensely difficult to clear, however, as SEC Chair Gary Gensler seems far less convinced of the stringency of investor protections that such products offer.

Below is the concise version of the latest “Law Decoded” newsletter. For the full breakdown of policy developments over the last week, register for the full newsletter below.

Crypto and the national security game

The U.S. Treasury Department revealed last week that the increasing use of digital assets poses a growing threat to the nation’s sanctions program. Adversaries can now use these alternative financial rails to mitigate the effects of U.S.-imposed sanctions within the dollar-denominated realm. Just a few days later, a high-ranking Treasury official reiterated the department’s heightened focus on targeting crypto infrastructure used by bad actors. The official also made it clear that there is an understanding within the department that most crypto transactions serve perfectly legitimate purposes.

Novi anxiety

It took mere hours for a group of Senate Democrats to get extremely nervous about Facebook’s limited pilot of its digital wallet, Novi, run in partnership with Coinbase and Paxos. The test saw a remittances corridor opening between the U.S. and Guatemala for a small number of users, whereby they could send and receive Pax Dollar (USDP), a dollar-backed stablecoin.

A group of five senators, including vocal crypto critic Elizabeth Warren and Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown, responded with a letter condemning Facebook’s “revived effort to launch a cryptocurrency and digital wallet,” citing numerous scandals surrounding the company as a justification for why it cannot be trusted to come anywhere near launching private money.

The thunder from down under

Big news from Australia captured the crypto crowd’s attention as an Australian Senate committee tasked with devising measures to make the nation a leading technology and financial center rolled out a far-reaching report on the state and prospects of crypto regulation. The report, which was met favorably by the industry, could lay the groundwork for Australia to join the ranks of the world’s more crypto-friendly jurisdictions.

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Nigerian president to unveil eNaira central bank digital currency

The Nigerian central bank digital currency was originally slated for launch earlier this month, but it has been delayed.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari is set to officially introduce the country’s central bank digital currency (CBDC), the eNaira.

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has published a document in which it reaffirmed its intention to introduce the eNaira after previously attempting but failing to do so on Oct. 1. According to the design paper for the eNaira, the CBN now considers itself prepared to implement Nigeria’s CBDC. 

The CBN is working on a global cryptocurrency that will be used as a means of payment and a store of value in addition to replacing cash.

The CBN, in its own statement, downplayed the risks of missing a deadline. Rather, the bank emphasized the value of getting things right the first time and how doing so contributes to long-term success for digital currencies. The CBN stressed the need to get off on the right foot rather than rushing to release a digital currency that has not yet received all necessary approvals.

As previously reported by Cointelegraph, the Nigerian Federal High Court approved the rollout of a CBDC as a legal tender on Oct. 2.

Related: French central bank pilots blockchain-based CBDC for debt market

The CBN published the document containing its design principles for the eNaira together with an overview of what is expected of the Nigerian digital currency. The two documents are available on the bank’s website in English and were also provided in Hausa and Yoruba.

According to the CBN, rather than concentrating all of its efforts on launching the eNaira on time, it has spent its effort on designing and architecting the eNaira. It has also allocated a lot of time to educate potential users about the currency’s capabilities, risks, and how they will be mitigated.

The central bank stated that these key facts should reassure Nigerians that the eNaira, which will be accessible to offline users, has been carefully planned and prepared for launch.

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BNY Mellon Urges Ireland to Adopt Crypto Rules Before EU Regulations, Report Reveals

BNY Mellon Urges Ireland to Adopt Crypto Rules Before EU Regulations, Report RevealsAs authorities in the EU are still discussing union-wide cryptocurrency regulations, a major U.S. bank has reportedly lobbied the Irish government to adopt its own rules for the space. BNY Mellon launched its digital asset business in Ireland this year to provide custodian services to institutional investors. Banking Giant BNY Mellon Calls for Irish Crypto […]

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