Reffrence: GigaLaw.com Daily News
Banking Regulator Opens Bitcoin-Related Probe AUGUST 12, 2013
New York’s top banking regulator has issued subpoenas to roughly two dozen companies associated with bitcoin as part of a wide-ranging inquiry into the business practices of the fledgling virtual-currency industry, according to people familiar with the matter. The subpoenas, from the New York Department of Financial Services, seek information on a range of topics, including antimoney-laundering programs, consumer-protection measures and investment strategies, according to the people.
New York’s top banking regulator has issued subpoenas to roughly two dozen companies associated with bitcoin as part of a wide-ranging inquiry into the business practices of the fledgling virtual-currency industry, according to people familiar with the matter.
The subpoenas, from the New York Department of Financial Services, seek information on a range of topics, including antimoney-laundering programs, consumer-protection measures and investment strategies, according to the people.
The department, led by Benjamin Lawsky, also plans on Monday to issue a memo expressing concern that virtual-currency companies aren’t complying with the state’s money-transmission laws. As a result, the state is considering setting new guidelines that are specifically aimed at virtual currencies.
“We believe that—for a number of reasons—putting in place appropriate regulatory safeguards for virtual currencies will be beneficial to the long-term strength of the virtual-currency industry,” wrote Mr. Lawsky in a draft of the memo reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
Companies that received subpoenas include some of the best-known names in the nascent industry, including Coinbase Inc., BitInstant and Coinsetter.
Executives from Coinbase and BitInstant couldn’t be reached for comment on Sunday. Jaron Lukasiewicz, chief executive of Coinsetter, said in an email that the information request is “an opportunity for companies in our space to open up a much needed dialogue with regulators.”
He added, “They’ll quickly find that most companies are working to legitimize Bitcoin and want to build bridges that help regulators understand and support these financial innovations.”
The state agency also sent subpoenas to companies backed by high-profile Bitcoin investors, including venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, and twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, who are best known for battling Mark Zuckerberg over ownership of Facebook Inc. Mr. Andreessen and the Winklevoss brothers couldn’t be reached for comment on Sunday.
Bitcoin, the best-known of a crop of virtual currencies, are created in a computer process called “mining.” They also can be traded on a number of exchanges or swapped privately among users. Most bitcoin are traded on a Tokyo-based exchange called Mt. Gox, where one bitcoin was valued Friday at roughly $102.
A subpoena is a legal demand for information and doesn’t signal wrongdoing by the recipient. The New York banking department sent the subpoenas late last week, according to the people familiar with the matter.
Bits and Pieces
See a rough timeline of the Bitcoin evolution.
The subpoenas come amid heightened scrutiny from state and federal regulators into the world of virtual currencies. Because virtual currencies aren’t backed by a central government like traditional ones are, regulators are worried they can be used for illegal activity or can violate laws involving money transmission.
Federal regulators earlier this year issued guidelines placing virtual-currency exchanges under the same comprehensive antimoney-laundering requirements as traditional money-transmission businesses such as Western Union Co.
Although a growing number of bitcoin exchanges have registered their businesses with the U.S. Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, they have moved more slowly at the state level. In part, that is because the process of getting a license in each of the 48 states that require them is complicated and lengthy. In addition, states also typically require companies to put up a bond that could run as much as several million dollars.
New York has been one of a handful of states aggressively examining the industry. Mr. Lawsky has assembled a team to assess the issue and already sent a warning letter to BitInstant, a New York company that allows customers to buy and sell bitcoins.
“If virtual currencies remain a virtual Wild West for narcotraffickers and other criminals, that would not only threaten our country’s national security, but also the very existence of the virtual currency industry as a legitimate business enterprise,” according to the memo.
The round of subpoenas also are aimed at gleaning information about how the companies are dealing with individual investors who may be attracted to the novelty of virtual currencies, but may not be sophisticated enough to understand the risk associated with them.
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