Turkey bans crypto assets over illegal transaction fears

This new digital money is mostly used by the country’s tech-savvy younger population, which is seeking to protect its livelihood against Turkey’s recent economic troubles. (AFP/File)
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Updated 19 April 2021

Turkey bans crypto assets over illegal transaction fears

  • The much-criticized move against the digital currency will come into effect on April 30

ANKARA: Turkey’s Central Bank has banned the use of crypto assets in payments as part of the country’s efforts to regulate cryptocurrencies, which have gained huge popularity in recent months.

The government has been closely monitoring cryptocurrencies for some time, alleging that extremists might use them to fund illegal activities or facilitate money laundering.

“Their use in payments may cause irreparable damages for the parties to the transactions, and include elements that may undermine the confidence in methods and instruments used currently in payments,” the bank said.

The new regulation will come into effect by April 30, but the legislation’s announcement lowered the value of Bitcoin by more than 4 percent on Friday.

Besides forbidding crypto  payments for buying goods and services, the regulation also bans transferring money to cryptocurrency platforms via fintech systems. But many investors in Turkey view Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as a shelter against inflation, with the lira facing a significant devaluation against foreign currencies due to the country’s financial volatility.

The lira has lost about half of its value since the 2018 currency crisis.

Increasing inflation rates, which reached a six-month high last month of 16 percent, as well as official unemployment rates hitting 13.4 percent are making people turn to cryptocurrency to gain money and compensate their losses with stable assets.

The booming business of cryptocurrencies has replaced Turks’ rush for gold and real estate as a hedge against the struggling lira and rising interest rates. This new digital money is mostly used by the country’s tech savvy younger population, which is seeking to protect its livelihood against Turkey’s recent economic troubles.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Turkey bans crypto payments for buying goods and services.

• The regulation also forbids transferring money to cryptocurrency platforms via fintech systems.

• Many investors in Turkey view Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as a shelter against inflation.

The government’s crypto asset ban drew anger from domestic investors. About 100,000 tweets were sent from Turkey-based social media accounts in one day criticizing the legislation.

The country’s main opposition Peoples’ Republican Party (CHP) also criticized the government’s midnight move against cryptocurrency use. 

“Rather than issuing a midnight legislation, you should have decided on such sensitive issues after consulting all relevant parties,” CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said.

Regulation in the field of cryptocurrencies was not a new debate for Turkey, where the government expected to achieve some political goals from blockchain technology, according to Dr. Mehmet Bedii Kaya, an expert of IT law at Istanbul Bilgi University.

The government, in line with its 11th Development Plan, was set to implement a digital central bank based on blockchain technologies.

“On the other hand, there is a significant number of Turkish citizens who use cryptocurrencies for short and long-term gains,” Kaya told Arab News. “I think that this latest regulation has been prepared with a quick reflex, without considering the potential financial losses it might generate with the wave of resulting misinformation.”

Kaya said that payment institutions were already under the close supervision of the Central Bank. “These fintech institutions, which are active in the cryptocurrency market, are very innovative and dynamic. Therefore the Turkish state considered this dynamism as a risk and source of complexity. However, these key players shouldn’t have been disqualified.”

After Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced it was now possible to buy Tesla vehicles in the US with Bitcoin, an Istanbul-based luxury car distributor called Royal Motors began accepting payments in cryptocurrencies last week.

Crypto trading volumes hit $27 billion between early February to March 24, according to data analyzed by Reuters, while trading gained momentum especially after the Central Bank governor was dismissed by presidential decree and further weakened the lira.

Last week, the Turkish government asked crypto trading platforms to provide it with user information.


Sudan PM hopes to settle $60bn foreign debt this year

Updated 13 May 2021

Sudan PM hopes to settle $60bn foreign debt this year

  • ADB arrears paid with $425 million loan from U.K., Sweden and Ireland
  • The Paris Club of major creditors make up around 38 percent of foreign debt

Khartoum: Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok hopes Sudan can wipe out its staggering $60 billion foreign debt bill this year by securing relief and deals at an upcoming Paris conference that could bring much-needed investment.
The seasoned UN economist-turned-premier took office at the head of a transitional government shortly after the 2019 ouster of president Omar Al-Bashir whose three-decade iron-fisted rule was marked by economic hardship, deep internal conflicts, and biting international sanctions.
In the past two years, Hamdok and his government have pushed to rebuild the crippled economy and end Sudan’s international isolation.
“We have already settled the World Bank arrears, those of the African Development Bank, and in Paris, we will be settling the International Monetary Fund arrears,” Hamdok told AFP at his office in Khartoum.
Arrears due to the African Development Bank were cleared through a bridging loan worth $425 million from Sweden, Britain and Ireland, while debts to the World Bank were paid off with a $1.1 billion bridging loan from the US.
“Paris also is home to the Paris Club, our biggest creditors... and we will be discussing debt relief with them,” Hamdok said.
Sudan’s debts to the Paris Club, which includes major creditor countries, is estimated to make up around 38 percent of its total $60 billion foreign debt.
Hamdok and top Sudanese officials will be attending Monday’s Paris conference along with by French President Emmanuel Macron, and World Bank and IMF representatives.
The aim is to draw investments to Sudan including in the energy, infrastructure, agriculture and telecommunications sectors.
“We are going to the Paris conference to let foreign investors explore the opportunities for investing in Sudan,” Hamdok said.
“We are not looking for grants or donations.”
Sudan was taken off Washington’s blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism in December, removing a major hurdle to foreign investment.
The government has also embarked on tough measures including subsidy cuts and introducing a managed currency float to qualify for an IMF debt relief program.
Though widely unpopular, the premier says the measures were necessary to move toward debt relief “by the end of the year.”
But many challenges still lie ahead.
His government has been pushing to forge peace with rebel groups to end conflicts in far-flung regions.
In October, it signed a landmark peace deal with rebels from the western region of Darfur as well the southern states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
Only two groups including one which wields substantial power in Darfur refused to sign the deal.
To Hamdok, the peace deal represents “50 percent on the road to peace.”
Efforts are underway to sign deals with the remaining groups, and talks with a faction of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) are slated for later this month.
Hamdok acknowledged the slow pace of implementing the peace deal, but said Sudan is “steadily moving forward.”
In February, Sudan appointed three ex-rebels to the ruling sovereign council and announced a new transitional cabinet including seven ex-rebels.
“We have come a long way... and in my view the second stage of talks will go much faster.”
Simmering tensions with neighboring Ethiopia over a fertile border region and a gigantic dam on the Blue Nile pose another challenge.

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UK medical tech firm reveals Saudi expansion plans

Updated 13 May 2021

UK medical tech firm reveals Saudi expansion plans

  • Nemaura Medical has developed a diabetes-tracking wearable device
  • Product launches are planned for Germany, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia

RIYADH: A British medical technology company behind an innovative diabetes monitoring system has identified Saudi Arabia as one of its key target markets.

Nemaura Medical has developed a wearables device which can help diabetics track their blood glucose levels, and the Kingdom is high on the firm’s international expansion plans list.

Its sugarBEAT continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) product was recently launched in the UK and is targeted at people suffering from conditions such as diabetes who want a needle-free alternative.

Initially the company recorded orders of 200,000 sugarBEAT sensors in the UK and has forecast total sales of 2.1 million this year.

Following positive feedback in the UK, it has announced plans to expand internationally and is lining up product launches in Germany, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia.

Dr. Faz Chowdhury, the chief executive officer of Nemaura Medical, said: “We believe our technology is ground-breaking and represents a paradigm shift in the way people with diabetes can manage their condition.

“We believe we have a critical first-mover advantage with a product that is easier to use, more flexible, and more cost-effective than existing technologies. We are not aware of any product of a similar nature in clinical studies or that has been submitted for regulatory approval.”

Nemaura Medical was founded in 2011 and recently expanded into the wearables market to develop and commercialize devices which can help to monitor chronic diseases and health conditions without the need for needles.

The CGM market is a growing sector and according to the Allied Market Research company will be worth around $9 billion by 2027.

The potential market for devices such as sugerBEAT in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is considered strong with data from the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) showing more than 39 million 20 to 79-year-olds in the region having the condition in 2019. The figure is expected to increase to 108 million by 2045.

The IDF has estimated that in Saudi Arabia 15 percent of the adult population has diabetes.


UAE, Seychelles create travel corridor for vaccinated travelers

Updated 13 May 2021

UAE, Seychelles create travel corridor for vaccinated travelers

ABU DHABI: The UAE and the Seychelles said that vaccinated people can travel freely between the two countries following the mutual recognition of vaccine certificates issued by their respective authorities.
Quarantine-free travel between the two nations is possible from May 13 as they look to boost tourism in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Travelers must show they have received both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine through a valid certificate from the relevant health authority.


UAE and Saudi Arabia among biggest sources of remittances in 2020

Updated 13 May 2021

UAE and Saudi Arabia among biggest sources of remittances in 2020

  • Remittances from Saudi Arabia have been slowly declining since 2015 as oil prices have moderated

DUBAI: The UAE was the second largest source of remittances globally in 2020, followed by Saudi Arabia, according to the latest report from the World Bank.

The US was the biggest source country, sending $68 billion abroad last year, while the foreign workers in the UAE sent home $43 billion and those in Saudi Arabia transferred $35 billion, said the report, published Thursday. Among middle-income countries, immigrants to Russia were the biggest remitters, sending $17 billion.

Remittances from Saudi Arabia have been slowly declining since 2015 as oil prices have moderated and the government has encouraged hiring of nationals. For instance, foreign workers sent $1.8 billion to the Philippines in 2020, down 36 percent from 2015.

Despite the large drop in foreign workers in the GCC, remittances from Saudi Arabia held up in 2020 thanks in part to the cancelation of travel to Saudi Arabia, which diverted funds set aside for the Haj pilgrimage to remittances to Bangladesh and Pakistan, according to the report. Both of those countries offered tax incentives last year to boost remittances from migrant workers abroad, while a devastating flood in July 2020 also led to an increase in payments.

Remittances to the Middle East and North Africa rose by 2.3 percent to about $56 billion in 2020, following a 3.4 percent increase in 2019, the report said. The gains came amid unexpectedly strong inflows to Egypt (up 11 percent to a record $30 billion), the fifth-largest recipient of remittances globally, and to Morocco (6.5 percent to $7.4 billion). Tunisia saw a 2.5 percent increase, while other countries, including Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, and West Bank and Gaza all experienced double-digit declines.

Globally, remittances to low- and middle-income countries fell 1.6 percent to $540 billion, a smaller decline than expected, the World Bank said. The figure is forecast to increase to $553 billion this year and to $565 billion in 2022.


Turkish lira falls to weakest level this year

Updated 13 May 2021

Turkish lira falls to weakest level this year

  • Turkish currency weakens on inflation data
  • Latest losses focus attention on forex reserves

BENGALURU:Turkey’s lira fell to a six-month low on Thursday as risks of tighter US monetary policy after strong inflation data weighed on most emerging market assets, with stocks set for their worst day since late March.
The lira fell around 0.8 percent to 8.4968 against the dollar, just a few points shy of its 8.5789 record low. The currency was likely subject to offshore selling on Thursday, given that Turkish markets were closed for a holiday.
Recent losses in the lira have brought the focus back to Turkey’s shrinking foreign exchange reserves, as well as its central bank, which is hesitant to tighten policy even as inflation surges.
Data on Wednesday showed US consumer prices increased the most in nearly 12 years in April, raising expectations that the US Federal Reserve will tighten its monetary policy sooner than signalled.
The MSCI’s index of emerging market currencies fell 0.2 percent, its third day of declines, as the dollar advanced and yields on 10-year Treasuries marked their biggest daily rise in two months.
The MSCI’s index of emerging market stocks plunged 1.3 percent to a seven-week low.
“With yields moving higher and inflation expectations becoming increasingly un-anchored from 2 percent, expectations grew that the Fed might have to start normalizing monetary policy earlier than previously expected,” said Marshall Gittler, Head of Investment Research at BDSwiss Holding.
“There’s going to be a real struggle for control of the narrative between the Fed and the market for the next few months,” added Gittler.
The Russian rouble strengthened on Thursday, up 0.2 percent, recovering some losses sustained on Wednesday. Bloomberg reported that the country was planning bond buybacks to fix its COVID-ravaged debt market. (https://bloom.bg/33BhvxY)
South Africa’s rand held steady as higher gold prices outweighed interest rate risks and a stronger dollar.
Most Central European currencies gained on Thursday with the Czech crown, Hungarian forint and Polish zloty gaining between 0.2 percent and 0.3 percent.
Still, JPMorgan reiterated its underweight position in Central and Eastern European local bonds and currencies, warning of “taper tantrum” risk as central banks tighten monetary policy.
Central bank bond purchase programs in Hungary and Poland — to support their economies through the coronavirus crisis — have been among the largest in emerging markets over the past year.
Asian currencies and stocks declined, while Taiwan stocks dropped 1.5 percent and the dollar eased 0.2 percent on fears of a COVID-19 resurgence and as the island started a rotational electricity blackout after a major outage at a coal plant.