Australia Cracks Down On Bitcoin Exchanges; Shrugs Off Banks’ “Systemic” Money-Laundering Violations

Australian Government Is Cracking Down On The Nonexistent Bitcoin Money-Laundering Epidemic

Australia’s largest banks can’t seem to go six months without a new scandal. In April, regulators accused Commonwealth Bank, one of the country’s largest financial institutions, of “systemic” money laundering violations, sparking an investigation into the broader banking sector, and the promise of heavy-handing civil penalties.

But instead of pursuing penalties that could lead to lasting reforms, Australia's regulators are cracking down on bitcoin, creating a new set of guidelines that will make it more difficult for customers to trade on local cryptocurrency exchanges by mandating needless anti-money laundering controls. They're prioritizing bitcoin over banks even though all relevant data suggest that organized criminal enterprises and terrorist groups overwhelmingly prefer to transact in cash.

According to Bitcoin.com, Australia’s Coalition Government has introduced a bill that would regulate digital currency exchanges, introducing “reforms” that will “strengthen the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act and increase the powers of the Australian Transactions and Reporting Analysis Centre (Austrac).”  

Here’s Bitcoin.com with more:

"Among other proposals, the bill will “strengthen Austrac’s investigation and enforcement powers” as well as “close a regulatory gap by bringing digital currency exchange providers under the remit of Austrac,” the announcement reads, adding that:

 

‘The bill provides a net regulatory relief to industry of $36 million annually, with the digital currency exchange sector being regulated for the first time, while deregulating low-risk industries such as cash-in-transit, which is already subject to state and territory licensing requirements.’”

As Bitcoin.com explains, Australia’s new AML rules resemble regulations adopted by Japan and China over the past 18 months. In China, the crackdown on intraday high frequency trading triggered a decline in trading volume that caused the country to surrender its position as the bitcoin market leader.

“Earlier this year, following investigations by the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), many Chinese bitcoin exchanges halted bitcoin withdrawals to extensively upgrade their systems for the purpose of AML and KYC compliance. Also the European Union has been discussing how to impose rules on bitcoin exchanges as part of its Fourth Anti-Money Laundering Directive.”

Meanwhile, in what looks like an effort to compensate bitcoin traders for the overly stringent new regulations, Australia ended the double taxation treatment of bitcoin in July.

To be sure, some of the country’s lawmakers have come out as vociferously pro-bitcoin. Two senators issued a proposal to make bitcoin an official currency in Australia, something they say would boost the country’s financial competitiveness. Indeed, this legal maneuver would bring Australia one step closer to recognizing bitcoin’s value as a reserve asset. Recently, a close aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin began building network of bitcoin miners with the aim of expanding the country’s hashing power to more than 30% of the network’s total. Any entity that controls more than 50% of the bitcoin network’s mining capabilities has de facto control of the network.

Here’s a quick summary of what the bill will do, courtesy of Australia’s Ministry of Justice:

Close a regulatory gap by bringing digital currency exchange providers under the remit of AUSTRAC:

Strengthen AUSTRAC's investigation and enforcement powers.

Increase police and customs officers' search and seizure powers at the border.

Provide regulatory relief to industry through the deregulation of low-risk industry sectors.

The crackdown comes amid another big week for bitcoin: The digital currency climbed 16.5% to new record highs at around $4400. This is the 5th weekly rise in a row (and BTC is up 86% since the fork).

The full press release is available below:

* * *
The Coalition Government has today announced the first stage of reforms to strengthen the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act and increase the powers of the Australian Transactions and Reporting Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC).

The reforms implement the first phase of the recommendations of the Statutory Review of the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act, following extensive consultation with industry and our national security agencies.

These reforms appropriately balance the threat of organised crime and terrorism financing to the Australian community with ensuring excessive regulation doesn't hinder our financial sectors.

The Bill provides net regulatory relief to industry of $36 million annually, with the digital currency exchange sector being regulated for the first time, while deregulating low-risk industries such as cash-in-transit, which is already subject to state and territory licensing requirements.

The threat of serious financial crime is constantly evolving, as new technologies emerge and criminals seek to nefariously exploit them. These measures ensure there is nowhere for criminals to hide.

Stopping the movement of money to criminals and terrorists is a vital part of our national security defences and we expect regulated businesses in Australia to comply with our comprehensive regime. AUSTRAC has a strong track record in ensuring our financial institutions comply with the law.

The private sector is an essential partner in ensuring Australian businesses are not exploited by criminals, and I thank industry for their constructive engagement during the development of this Bill. Engagement with industry is the bedrock of our money-laundering and terrorism-financing deterrence.

The AUSTRAC-hosted Fintel Alliance, launched by Minister Keenan in March 2017, is a world-first private-public partnership to combat money laundering and terrorism financing. Through the Fintel Alliance, industry and government agencies co-design solutions that will transform the fight against terrorism financing and organised crime.
 

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