Table of Contents
On July 5, 2016, the European Commission presented a legislative proposal to amend the Fourth Anti-Money Laundering Directive (AMLD). It suggested, inter alia, bringing custodian wallet providers and virtual currency exchange platforms within the scope of the AMLD, meaning they would be obligated to fulfill due diligence requirements and have in place policies and procedures to detect, prevent, and report money laundering and terrorist financing. The proposal contains a definition of virtual currencies, which are described as “a digital representation of value that is neither issued by a central bank or a public authority, nor necessarily attached to a fiat currency, but is accepted by natural or legal persons as a means of payment and can be transferred, stored or traded electronically.” On January 29, 2018, the text agreed at the interinstitutional negotiations of the European Parliament and the Council was approved in committee. The European Parliament adopted the text in plenary session on April 19, 2018. The updated Directive will enter into force three days after its publication in the Official Journal of the European Union.
Furthermore, on March 8, 2018, the European Commission presented an Action Plan on how to take advantage of the opportunities presented by technology-enabled innovation in financial services (FinTech), like blockchain, artificial intelligence, and cloud services. The FinTech Action Plan includes the recently launched EU Blockchain Observatory and Forum, which will report on the challenges and opportunities of crypto assets later in 2018 and is working on a comprehensive strategy on distributed ledger technology and blockchain addressing all sectors of the economy.
On October 22, 2015, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) held in its decision Hedqvist that transactions to exchange a traditional currency for bitcoin or other virtual currencies and vice versa constitute the supply of services for consideration, but fall under the exemption from value-added-tax (VAT). Buying or selling bitcoin is therefore exempt from VAT in all EU Member States.
On February 12, 2018, the European Supervisory Authorities for securities (ESMA), banking (EBA), and insurance and pensions (EIOPA) jointly issued a warning to consumers regarding virtual currencies, stating that they are “highly risky and unregulated products and are unsuitable as investment, savings or retirement planning products.” The warning complements the earlier two statements by ESMA on initial coin offerings (ICOs) in November 2017 and a warning to consumers and two opinions on virtual currencies by EBA in December 2013, July 2014, and August 2016, respectively. EBA welcomes the decision of the European Commission to bring custodian wallet providers and virtual currency exchange platforms within the scope of the Fourth AMLD and not to extend the EU Payment Services Directive 2015/2366 to virtual currency transactions for the time being. EBA suggests a separate regulatory regime to mitigate all the risks arising from virtual currencies.
The President of the European Central Bank (ECB), Mario Draghi, warned that bitcoin and other digital currencies are “very risky assets” due to their high volatility and speculative prices. He stated that “digital currencies are not subject to a specific supervisory approach,” but that “work is under way in the Single Supervisory Mechanism to identify potential prudential risks that these digital assets could pose to supervised institutions.” In addition, in December 2016, the ECB and the Bank of Japan (BOJ) launched a joint research project named “Stella,” which looks at the possible use of distributed ledger technology for financial market infrastructures.
The Austrian Ministry of Finance (Bundesministerium der Finanzen, BMF) does not qualify cryptocurrencies as legal tender or as financial instruments. Instead, it classifies them as other (intangible) commodities. It stated that cryptocurrencies are treated like other business assets for income tax purposes. According to the Ministry, “mining” generally is a commercial activity and is therefore treated like any other production of goods. The same applies to the operation of online trading platforms and cryptocurrency ATMs.
With regard to VAT, the BMF follows the jurisprudence of the ECJ in Hedqvist. Transactions to exchange a traditional currency for bitcoin or other virtual currencies and vice versa are therefore exempt from VAT. Bitcoin or other virtual currencies that are used as a means of payment for services or goods are treated the same as traditional means of payment. Mining is not subject to VAT, because there is no identifiable recipient.
The Austrian National Bank (Oesterreichische Nationalbank, OeNB) does not qualify bitcoin as a currency, because it does not fulfill the typical functions of money due to a strict limitation on quantity and no stabilizing central authority. Bitcoin is currently not covered by the E-Money Act or the Payment Services Act. Ewald Nowotny, governor of the OeNB, has pointed out the risks of cryptocurrencies. He stated that “bitcoin & Co... are highly speculative investments which entail high risks for individuals.” He therefore welcomed the initiative of the Federal Minister of Finance, Hartwig Löger, to establish a Fintech Regulation Council to regulate cryptocurrencies. In addition, he voiced support for the amendment of the EU Money Laundering Directives, as well as the proposal of the Austrian Ministry of Finance to require prospectuses for ICOs and introduce licensing by the Financial Market Authority (FMA). Finally he added that any regulatory initiative should be complemented by improving the financial education of the public.
Like the OeNB, the FMA has warned investors of the risks of cryptocurrencies. It stated that virtual currencies like bitcoin and trading platforms are neither regulated nor supervised by the FMA. The FMA does not qualify them as legal tender payment instruments or as tradable foreign currencies. However, it pointed out that certain business models might require authorization from the FMA. The FMA decides on a case-by-case basis whether an ICO requires authorization.
Cryptocurrencies remain unregulated in Belgium, and there appear to have been very few official pronouncements on the subject.
In January 2014, the Belgian National Bank (Banque nationale de Belgique, BNB) and the Financial Services and Markets Authority (Autorité des services et marchés financiers, FSMA) issued a joint press release warning consumers about the risks of cryptocurrencies. Their main points were that cryptocurrencies are not legal tender, and that they are completely unregulated and do not fall within the purview of any monitoring or regulatory authority. More recently, in December 2017, the governor of the BNB, Jan Smets, repeated in an interview that bitcoin is not an actual currency, as it is not guaranteed by a central bank or a government as a means of payment.
The Belgian Finance Minister, in response to a question by a Belgian senator, stated in July 2013 that while bitcoin seems to be somewhat problematic as a tool for money laundering and other illegal activities, such problems should not be overstated. He also said that, based on studies by the BNB and the European Central Bank, bitcoin does not present any significant risks to price stability, to the financial system in general, or to its individual users. Finally, in this same statement, the Minister of Finance indicated that government intervention with regard to bitcoin does not appear necessary given how small the bitcoin market was at the time.
In April 2017, Belgian Minister of Justice Koen Geens announced that he plans to establish a legal framework for cryptocurrencies. One of the Minister’s main objectives is to set up a mechanism to verify the conversion and exchange rates of cryptocurrencies, similarly to what exists for traditional financial circuits. He also would like to better monitor those who promise unrealistic returns and conversion rates, as well as find ways around the anonymity of cryptocurrency payments so as to curtail their use as vehicles for money laundering. Additionally, Geens would like to establish a mechanism for the courts to properly evaluate cryptocurrencies when they are seized as part of criminal investigations. This plan seems to be mostly aspirational, and no action appears to have been taken in furtherance of it so far.
On February 14, 2018, the National Bank of Bulgaria announced that it joins the position of the European supervisory authorities on the risks inherent in buying virtual currencies. The Bank noted that such currencies show extreme price volatility and signs of a pricing bubble. According to the Bank, consumers buying virtual currencies should be aware that there is a high risk that they will lose a large amount, or even all, of the money invested.
Bulgarian tax authorities reportedly issued rulings in 2014 requiring individuals to pay taxes on gains from selling cryptocurrencies, similar to the sale of financial assets.
In 2015 a Bulgarian court reportedly concluded that activities associated with buying, selling, and paying with cryptocurrencies are not subject to licensing requirements.
On December 18, 2017, Croatia’s Financial Stability Council warned that individuals investing in virtual currencies bear sole responsibility for their losses and should be aware of possible taxation. It stated that Croatian regulators are not responsible for the oversight of the individuals who issue virtual currencies or trade in them. The Council noted that virtual currencies are associated with considerable risks, such as those of digital wallet theft and transaction misuse, fraud, etc. A similar warning was issued by the National Bank of Croatia on September 22, 2017.
The Central Bank of Cyprus has issued a warning stating that virtual currencies are not legal tender, that there are no specific regulatory protection measures to cover losses from their use, and that their prices are subject to volatility.
On February 27, 2018, Mojmír Hampl, the Vice-Governor of the Czech National Bank (CNB) made the following statement:
The fact that cryptocurrencies are . . . commodities [rather than currencies] also shapes our light-touch, liberal approach to regulation at the CNB. We do not want to ban them and we are not hindering their development, but we are also not actively helping or promoting them and we are not protecting them or the customers that use them. Like in a casino, everyone investing in a cryptocurrency must be prepared to lose the entire bet. And central banks do not regulate casino visits.
Amendments have been made to the Czech Republic’s anti-money laundering legislation, making it also applicable to persons providing services related to virtual currencies—i.e., those who buy, sell, store, manage, or mediate the purchase or sale of virtual currencies or provide other services related to such currencies as a business.
Denmark has no laws specifically addressing cryptocurrencies, and no regulatory proposals on cryptocurrencies are pending in the Danish Parliament. However, government agencies have issued a number of statements on cryptocurrencies.
Denmark’s Finanstilsynet (Financial Supervisory Authority) issued a statement in 2013 rejecting the bitcoin as a currency and stating that it will not regulate bitcoin use. In its statement the Financial Supervisory Authority emphasized that it has evaluated the use of the bitcoin system and found that it does not fall under any of the financial services categories, including the issuing of electronic money, payment for services, currency exchanges, or the issuing of mortgages; thus, bitcoin activity is not covered under current financial regulations. In 2017 the Financial Supervisory Authority released a report on ICOs (Initial Coin Offerings) in which it stated that cryptocurrencies that are solely used as a means of payment continue to not be regulated by the Authority. However, ICOs may be conducted in such a way as to fall under the purview of the Authority and thus would be subject to Danish regulation—for example, “legislation on alternative investment funds, prospectuses, and money laundering.”
The Danish Central Bank has been critical of cryptocurrencies. In 2014, it issued an initial statement declaring that bitcoin is not a currency. According to the statement, “bitcoin does not have any real trading value compared to gold and silver, and thus is more similar to glass beads.” The Danish Central Bank went on to point out that bitcoins are not protected by any national laws or guarantees, such as a deposit guarantee. Similarly, in a 2014 document the Danish Central Bank discussed virtual currencies, determining that virtual currencies are not regulated and therefore associated with high risks to consumers. In 2017 the Director of the Danish Central Bank issued warnings against the use of bitcoin. His critique of cryptocurrencies was reiterated in 2018. In addition, the Danish Central Bank has made it clear that it is not in favor of the creation of an official Danish e-currency (issued by the Central Bank), unlike neighboring Sweden.
SKAT (the Danish Tax Authority) has issued a number of statements on virtual and cryptocurrencies. For example in 2014 it published a binding reply (a response to a public question from a taxpayer that is binding on the interpretation of the Tax Authority) in which it declared that an invoice amount cannot be issued in bitcoins, but must be issued in Danish kroner or another recognized currency. The Authority went on to state that any bitcoin losses cannot be deducted as a cost of doing business when bitcoins are used as a means of payment. In 2016 the Authority discussed cryptocurrencies in relation to value-added tax (VAT) and found that cryptocurrencies are exempt from VAT. The determination is consistent with the decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union in 2015. The Authority has also commented on how the mining of bitcoins should be treated from a VAT tax perspective. The case involved a Danish person who wanted to sell hashing capacity on the electrical grid, an activity that was subject to VAT.
The Danish Tax Council in 2018 declared that losses on sales of bitcoins purchased as an investment are tax deductible and that profits are subject to income taxation.
On November 27, 2017, Estonia enacted amendments to its anti-money laundering legislation that define cryptocurrencies (virtual currencies) as value represented in digital form that is digitally transferable, preservable, or tradable and that natural persons or legal persons accept as a payment instrument, but that is not the legal tender of any country or funds (banknotes or coins, scriptural money held by banks, or electronic money). The anti-money laundering legislation now also applies to providers of a service for exchanging virtual currency with fiat currency and providers of a virtual currency wallet service, which is defined as a service in which keys are generated for customers or customers’ encrypted keys are kept, which can then be used for the purpose of keeping, storing, and transferring virtual currencies. Virtual currency service providers are required to have a license.
Finland does not have specific regulations that deal with cryptocurrencies and there is no proposed legislation on cryptocurrencies pending in the Finnish Parliament. However, a number of agencies have issued advisory statements on how they view cryptocurrencies.
The Finnish Financial Supervisory Authority issued an advisory in 2017 that cryptocurrencies are risk-filled investment alternatives. It also noted that, depending on the initial coin offering (ICO), there may be regulatory effects of the purchase—for instance, EU rules on alternative investment funds. In 2017 the Finnish Supervisory Authority also discussed the future of ICOs in a blog post.
The Central Bank of Finland issued a statement in 2014 declaring that cryptocurrencies, especially bitcoin, are inherently associated with risks, noting that “[t]he use of Bitcoin is not currently supervised or regulated in any way,” nor does it not amount to a payment service as defined in the Payment Services Act. In a 2017 report published by the Central Bank, Central Bank affiliates were more positive, reportedly calling bitcoin “revolutionary” and “apparently functional and useful.”
The Finnish Tax Authority (Vero Skatt) issued instructions for the income taxation of virtual currencies, including bitcoin, in 2013. When transferred to another currency, the rules on taxation of capital gains apply, the Tax Authority said. When the currency is used as a form of payment for goods and services it is treated as a trade and the increase in value that the currency might have gained after it was obtained is taxable. The sale of bitcoins at a loss in value compared to the original purchase price is not deductible under the Finish Income Taxation Act, because such a loss in value is not specifically described as deductible in the Act. In 2017 the Tax Authority issued additional recommendations, stating that the exchange rate is determined at the time of realization of the bitcoin (i.e., when it becomes cash), and that cryptocurrency records should be kept for six years.
Sales of bitcoins have reportedly resulted in millions in revenue for the Finnish Tax Authority.The Tax Authority has monitored both those who trade and those who use cryptocurrencies.
The Åbo Appeals Court is reported to have found that Finnish Customs may auction off bitcoins it has confiscated in relation to drug crimes, and as of February 2018 such bitcoins were estimated to be worth €19 million (approximately US$23.5 million). The Finnish government is said to have issued guidelines on how to store confiscated bitcoins.
Cryptocurrencies remain largely unregulated in France, with two ordinances on blockchain technology being the only legislative action taken so far. However, the French government is actively moving towards establishing a regulatory regime.
A 2016 ordinance included two provisions that allowed the use of blockchain technology for a specific type of zero-coupon bond called a “mini-bond” (minibon). The main impact of this ordinance was to provide the first definition of blockchain in French law, but otherwise these provisions only had a very narrow application. Another ordinance, from December 2017, went further and will make it possible to use blockchain technology for a broader range of financial instruments. This ordinance will come into force when the application decree is published, or on July 1, 2018, at the latest.
The French Financial Market Authority (Autorité des marchés financiers, AMF) and Prudential Supervisory Authority (Autorité de contrôle prudentiel et de resolution, ACPR) recently issued a joint notice to investors, warning about the current unregulated nature of cryptocurrencies. This document notes that bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are not considered financial instruments under French law, and therefore do not fall under the regulatory framework of actual currencies or under the AMF’s supervision. The AMF and ACPR recognize the potential benefits that blockchain technology can hold for companies but warn that cryptocurrencies are unregulated and particularly volatile investments. This document is reminiscent of a slightly longer report that the French Central Bank (Banque de France) published in December 2013. That report explained that bitcoin cannot be considered a real currency or means of payment under current French law and criticized it as a vehicle for speculation as well as an instrument for money laundering and other illegal activities. The 2013 report also suggested that the conversion between bitcoin and real currencies should be considered a payment service, which therefore could only be performed by payment service providers authorized and supervised by the ACPR. The ACPR acknowledged this position in a 2014 document in which it stated that entities that habitually engage in the activity of purchasing or selling cryptocurrencies in exchange for actual legal tender must be licensed as payment services providers by the ACPR. However, the AMF and ACPR’s 2017 joint notice recognizes that “the purchase/sale of and investments in bitcoin currently operate outside of any regulated market.”
In parallel to the independent regulatory institutions mentioned above, the French legislative and executive branches are actively investigating how best to regulate cryptocurrencies. To that purpose, the National Assembly (Assemblée nationale, one of the two houses of the French Parliament) has initiated a fact-finding mission on cryptocurrencies, and a separate fact-finding mission on “blockchains and other technologies for the certification of ledgers.” Additionally, the Minister of the Economy has recently tasked a former deputy governor of the Banque de France with researching how to best regulate cryptocurrencies to “better control their development and to prevent their use for tax evasion, money laundering, or the financing of criminal or terrorist activities.”
It is also worth noting that France and Germany have jointly requested that cryptocurrencies be discussed by the G-20, so that coordinated initiatives may be taken at the international level.
The German Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (Bundesanstalt für Finanzdienstleistungsaufsicht, BaFin) qualifies virtual currencies/cryptocurrencies as units of account and therefore financial instruments. Undertakings and persons that arrange the acquisition of tokens, sell or purchase tokens on a commercial basis, or carry out principal broking services in tokens via online trading platforms, among others, are generally required to obtain authorization from BaFin in advance.
In February 2018, the German BaFin published information on the regulatory assessment of ICOs and the tokens, coins, and cryptocurrencies they are based on. It stated that firms involved in ICOs need to assess on a case-by-case basis whether the ICOs qualify as financial instruments (transferable securities, units in collective investment undertakings, or investments) or as securities and therefore trigger the need to comply with the relevant financial legislation.
Also in February 2018, the German Federal Ministry of Finance published guidance on value-added-tax (VAT) treatment of bitcoin and other virtual currencies. It determined that transactions to exchange a traditional currency for bitcoin or other virtual currencies and vice versa constitute the taxable supply of other services for consideration, but fall under the exemption from VAT. It stated that bitcoin or other virtual currencies that are used simply as a means of payment are treated the same as traditional means of payment. Using bitcoin or other virtual currencies for no other purpose than as a means of payment is therefore not taxable. This guidance is in line with the European Court of Justice (ECJ) decision Hedqvist from October 22, 2015. Virtual gaming money, meaning in-game currencies, particularly in online games, is not exempt, because it does not constitute a means of payment within the meaning of VAT law. The Ministry also addressed several follow-up questions regarding the taxation of mining, digital wallets, and online trading platforms.
The German Bundesbank stated that bitcoin cannot be qualified as a virtual currency. According to Dirk Schrade, Bundesbank expert in the area of payments, bitcoin is neither a virtual currency nor digital money, because it does not fulfill the typical functions of a currency, nor is it part of the national monetary system. The Bundesbank recommends using the term “crypto token.”
In an article published in the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), Carl-Ludwig Thiele, a member of the executive board of the German Bundesbank, warned investors in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to beware of their riskiness, fluctuations in value, costliness, and high-energy-need for mining, among other concerns. However, he also pointed out that blockchain technology promises great potential for innovation and mentioned a joint project with the German stock exchange group (Deutsche Börse Gruppe) that tests the application and performance of blockchain technology in the settlement of securities transactions between banks.
The Bank of Greece on two occasions has issued announcements adopting the views of European supervisory authorities warning consumers of the risks of virtual currencies.
On December 20, 2016, the National Bank of Hungary warned consumers that using virtual currencies have many risks as they operate in a legally unregulated virtual system and there are no proper rules on liability, guarantee, and compensation that would protect the interests of consumers in the event of abuse. The Bank had made similar statements in 2014 and 2015.
Ireland does not appear to have any laws that specifically regulate cryptocurrencies. The Central Bank of Ireland noted in March 2018 that in cases of initial coin offerings (ICOs), if the token issued can be deemed a “transferable security,” which is determined on a case-by-case basis, then the existing financial services legislation in Ireland will apply to it. The Central Bank of Ireland also stated,
where the features of any given ICO match those of financial instrument issuance, then financial regulation applies, as of this moment, and issuers and others must, subject to legal penalty, ensure that they comply with the relevant rules.
Capital gains tax law applies to transactions involving cryptocurrencies, and this tax is chargeable if an individual makes a profit from buying and selling such currencies.
The Central Bank of Ireland has endorsed a statement by the European Banking Authority, warning consumers of risks when undertaking transactions with virtual currencies, and of the high risks of ICOs.
The Irish government continues to take a wait-and-see approach to the regulation of cryptocurrencies:
To the extent that virtual currencies, ICOs, or those involved in their issuance or trading, are not subject to existing regulation, then the question arises: has the regulation fallen behind developments and needs updating. Or is it the case that these activities are just new examples of old types of activity and there is no need for further regulatory intervention, beyond making consumers properly aware of the significant risks through consumer warnings? Or might it simply be too early to say?... At the Central Bank, we are actively engaged with other European and international policy makers as we all try to figure out a way forward, including for example, work at the ESAs [European Supervisory Authorities]. Given the cross-jurisdictional nature of virtual currencies and ICOs, we at the Central Bank welcome these efforts by the ESAs.
Ireland has harnessed the use of cryptocurrency to help its tourism industry, adopting the “Irishcoin,” a currency aimed predominantly at the tourism market that is accepted in some locations across Ireland.
A Ministerial Resolution of September 2016 issued by the Revenue Agency (Agenzia delle Entrate) addressed aspects of the tax treatment of bitcoin and other cybercurrencies. This Resolution implemented the decision issued by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in the case of Skatteverket v. David Hedqvist, which held that the value added tax (VAT) does not apply to transactions in which cybercurrencies are exchanged for traditional currencies or vice versa.
In addition, the Resolution of 2016 indicates that for purposes of the corporate income tax (Imposta sul Reddito sulle Società, IRES) and the Italian regional production tax (Imposta Regionale sulle Attività Produttive, IRAP), profits and losses on such transactions constitute corporate income or losses subject to taxation. The Resolution contains specific requirements for the registration of cybercurrency operations, including names, amounts, dates, and other information on transactions. Bitcoin operations performed by individuals who hold bitcoin for other than commercial or corporate purposes do not generate taxable income, according to the Resolution.
Legislative Decree No. 90 of 2017 subjected virtual currency providers to the regulations established for traditional money exchange operators. To that effect, Legislative Decree No. 90 charged the Ministry of the Economy and Finance to issue a ministerial decree setting forth the modalities and timelines for the legal performance of such activities throughout the country. Accordingly, the Ministry of Economy and Finance’s Treasury Department published a public notice requesting comments before February 17, 2018, on the proposed text of the ministerial decree. It is expected that the ministerial decree will be issued during the upcoming months.
The position of the Bank of Latvia and the State Revenue Service is that cryptocurrency is a contractual, not statutory, means of payment that can be used in transactions of exchange. Cryptocurrency cannot be considered as official currency or legal tender because the issuance and use of these instruments remains unregulated and they are not linked to any national currency.
In November of 2017 Latvia amended its anti-money laundering legislation and introduced monitoring requirements for virtual currency service providers, including providers of virtual currency exchange services. Virtual currency is now defined as the digital representation of a value that may be digitally transmitted, stored, or traded, and acts as an exchange instrument without being legal tender.
On October 11, 2017, the Bank of Lithuania stated that financial services must be clearly dissociated from activities related to virtual currencies and that financial market participants should not provide services associated with virtual currencies. In particular, they should not engage in the sale of virtual currencies, provide conditions for customers to pay in payment instruments issued by them (debit or credit cards), or exchange or execute any other operations in virtual currencies.
As to initial coin offerings (ICOs), the Bank clarified that depending on the nature of the offering, legal acts regulating crowdfunding, collective investment, provision of investment services, etc. must be applied.
On March 6, 2018, the Bank of Lithuania announced that it plans to issue the world’s first digital collector coin using blockchain or other equivalent technologies.
Cryptocurrencies remain largely unregulated in Luxembourg, although the Duchy’s government appears to display a more welcoming attitude towards the phenomenon than some of its European counterparts.
On March 14, 2018, the Financial Sector Monitoring Commission (Commission de Surveillance du Secteur Financier, CSSF) of Luxembourg issued a statement warning about the risks of investing in cryptocurrencies. The CSSF’s main objections are that cryptocurrencies are very volatile, offer no protection against theft and hacking, lack liquidity, are often the subject of misleading information, lack transparency, and are often used for fraud and money laundering. The statement also warned against the risks of Initial Coin Offerings. The CSSF, however, recognized the value of blockchain technology, noting that it could be used advantageously by the financial sector. Furthermore, the CSSF’s letter stated that while there is no legal framework that specifically applies to cryptocurrencies, the provision of any financial services—including those involving cryptocurrencies—requires an authorization from the Minister of Finance.
Despite this warning from its main financial services regulator, Luxembourg appears to see the development of cryptocurrencies in a positive light. In June 2017, the Luxembourger Minister of Finance, Pierre Gramegna, recognized before Parliament that cryptocurrencies are actual currencies, as “they are accepted as a means of payment for goods and services by a sufficiently large circle of people.” He also stated that there was currently no regulation “from a monetary perspective” regarding cryptocurrencies, but that cryptocurrency dealers in Luxembourg are bound by the same rules as any other financial service providers with regards to the fight against money laundering and the financing of terrorism. More recently, Gramegna publicly welcomed the establishment of BitFlyer, a major bitcoin trading platform, as a fully licensed payment service provider in Luxembourg. In an interview shortly thereafter, Gramegna stated that cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology were both an “unavoidable phenomenon that brings added value and efficient services to consumers.” Much work remains to be done to provide a legislative and regulatory framework for cryptocurrencies, however, as such a framework is largely inexistent at this time. During the welcoming ceremony for BitFlyer, the company’s founder noted that it had taken them two years to obtain their license and that “the regulation is unclear. There is no specific law and one must nevertheless protect the consumer.”
Malta currently does not have any legislation that specifically applies to cryptocurrency, but this will soon change. The Maltese government has actively encouraged the development of cryptocurrency and issuing many consultations and papers that discuss its regulation and development. The aim of these regulations is “to provide the necessary legal certainty to allow this industry to flourish.”
In October 2017, the government issued a consultation document that proposed a regulatory framework for collective investment schemes and investment in cryptocurrencies. As a result of the consultation, Malta Financial Services Authority (MFSA) published conditions that apply to professional investor funds that invest in cryptocurrencies on January 22 and 29, 2018.
In November 2017, the government published the Discussion Paper on Initial Coin Offerings, Virtual Currencies and Related Service Providers, which noted that while some cryptocurrencies might fall within the scope of existing financial services legislation, others would be outside the scope and thus unregulated. In January 2018, the government issued a further discussion paper that “present[ed]a conceptual framework through which DLT Platforms can be subject to certification in Malta.” The government has issued a statement that it intends to facilitate a regulatory framework for cryptocurrency-related activities and initial coin offerings (ICOs).
Malta is currently considering three bills that would provide a regulatory framework for cryptocurrency and is following a principles-oriented approach to this legislation to help prevent the laws from becoming rapidly obsolete, or from stifling technological development. The three bills are as follows:
- The Malta Digital Innovation Authority Bill (MDIA Bill) would establish the Malta Digital Innovation Authority (MDIA), which would “focus on innovative technology arrangements and their uses such that Malta can take the greatest advantage of new technology arrangements while at the same time protect[ing] the public interest.” One of the first objectives for the MDIA would be to promote government policies that favor technical innovation, particularly with reference to digital ledger technology and its adoption by the government in systems of public administration. Other objectives would include maintaining Malta’s reputation and protecting consumers. The MDIA would also bear responsibility for certifying technology arrangements and registering technology services providers under the “TAS Bill.”
- ·The “TAS Bill” would establish a regime for the registration of technology service providers and provide for the certification of certain technology arrangements. This regime will initially cover distributed ledger technology platforms and related contracts. The proposals would require technology service providers that provide services for any distributed ledger technology platform in or from Malta be certified by the MDIA. Those who provide these services in other specified cases may voluntarily register with the MDIA.
- The Virtual Currency Bill would establish a framework for ICOs and a regulatory regime that would apply to certain services relating to cryptocurrencies, such as brokers, wallet providers, and virtual currency exchanges. The Times of Malta has reported that the government is considering introducing its own cryptocurrency “within a ‘controlled framework,’ which would enable regulators to test possible controls and legislation for the technology.” The Virtual Currency Bill aims to regulate ICOs that relate to virtual currency not falling within the existing legislation. The bill will ensure that the offerings meet transparency requirements and will incorporate obligations that apply to initial public offerings that the issuer must follow.
The MFSA has also proposed a “financial instrument test” that would enable individuals to determine,
with regulatory certainty[,] . . . whether, based on its specific features, an ICO or a VC [virtual currency] falls within the scope of the existing legislative framework, reflecting EU law on the subject, or if not, whether this will be required to comply with the new regulatory framework being proposed by the MFSA.
The test proposed would be a two-stage test, the first of which would determine whether a cryptocurrency is a financial instrument within existing Maltese or European Union legislation. The second stage would determine if the cryptocurrency was an asset under the proposed Virtual Currency Bill.
The MFSA would be the regulator for the financial services contained in the Virtual Currency Bill, and would have regulatory and investigatory powers that reflect those contained in the country’s other financial services laws, including the authority to suspend an ICO or trading of a cryptocurrency.
The government has also established a National Blockchain Strategy Taskforce to advise the government on a framework for distributed ledger technologies.
After one of Malta’s largest banks, the Bank of Valletta, blocked cryptocurrency transfers, the government of Malta stated that it does not “interfere with individual banks’ operational policies, which are dictated by circumstances which they are best placed to assess.” Many residents of Malta expressed surprise at the actions of the Bank, particularly as the government of Malta is its largest shareholder, owning approximately 25% of the Bank’s shares.
The Malta Gaming Authority has also stated that it is “committed to allow[ing] the use of crypto-currencies by its licensees in the immediate future,” and a new Gaming Bill is currently being considered that includes virtual currencies under the definition of “money and, or money’s worth.”
The Central Bank of the Netherlands (De Nederlandsche Bank, DNB) has stated that it is studying the opportunities offered by blockchain and virtual currencies, but acknowledged that there are certain risks and drawbacks involved. Furthermore, in January 2018, it published a position paper on cryptocurrencies and ICOs in which it highlighted that cryptocurrencies “do not currently fulfill the role of money—in fact, they are hardly ever used for payment, and they are not a universally accepted and stable medium of exchange, a suitable unit of account or a reliable store of value. Accordingly, they do not have any implications in terms of monetary policy.”
The DNB supports the decision of the EU to extend the scope of the Fourth AMLD to include crypto exchanges and issuers of crypto wallets. It is looking into whether converting cryptocurrencies into euros or other currencies, and vice versa, qualifies as issuing electronic money or as providing a payment service. It does not currently support a ban on cryptocurrencies.
As a pilot project, the DNB has started the “DNBCoin” experiment for internal test purposes and focused on the blockchain as a vehicle for a virtual currency. They have developed several prototypes to study the way the bitcoin software can be adapted and used for financial market infrastructures.
The Dutch Authority for the Financial Markets (Autoriteit Financiële Markten, AFM) has issued a warning regarding serious risks associated with ICOs. It has advised consumers to avoid investing in ICOs, because they are vulnerable to misrepresentation, fraud, and manipulation and may also be structured in such a way that they are not subject to supervision by the AFM. The AFM assesses on a case-by-case basis whether the tokens in an ICO qualify as a security or a unit in a collective investment scheme as defined in the Financial Supervision Act and are therefore subject to authorization by the AFM.
The Dutch Minister of Finance, Wopke Hoekstra, stated in a letter to parliament that the Netherlands does not want to ban the cryptocurrency trade, but that it should be regulated on a European or international level. Any regulation, however, should not jeopardize the potential of the technique. He also supports the application of anti-money laundering legislation to custodian wallet providers and virtual currency exchange platforms.
On July 7, 2017, the Polish National Bank and the Financial Supervision Commission jointly issued a warning against investing in virtual currencies, citing price volatility and the risk of fraud. The regulators clarified that virtual currencies are not considered legal tender in Poland. At the same time, they noted that trading in virtual currencies is not an infringement of Polish or European law. The regulators consider that buying, holding, and selling of virtual currencies by financial institutions is not in line with the principles of stable and prudent management, and that having established relations with virtual currency traders could pose legal and reputational risk.
On January 24, 2018, Prime Minister Morawiecki stated that Poland will either ban cryptocurrency or introduce regulations to ensure that it does not turn into a pyramid scheme.
On April 4, 2018, the Ministry of Finance published guidance on the tax effects of trading in cryptocurrencies. Income from transactions on cryptocurrencies is subject to income tax with two brackets of 18% and 32%, while the act of selling or purchasing digital currencies is considered a transfer of property rights, which is subject to a 1% levy on the value of the transaction.
According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Portugal (Banco de Portugal), the activity of issuing and trading virtual currencies is neither regulated nor supervised by the Federal Reserve Bank of Portugal or any other authority of the financial system, national or European, in particular by the European Central Bank. The absence of regulations on operations with virtual currencies does not make these activities illegal or prohibited, the Bank noted. However, entities that issue and sell virtual currencies are not subject to any obligation of authorization or registration with the Federal Reserve Bank of Portugal, so their activity is not subject to any kind of prudential or behavioral supervision.
On February 6, 2018, Romania’s National Bank announced that it discourages any involvement of local credit institutions in the cryptocurrency sector because of reputational risks. The Bank reminded of its earlier warning issued in March of 2015 on the high risks of losing the money invested in cryptocurrencies. Following this announcement the local banks closed the accounts of several cryptocurrency exchanges.
In March of 2018 the National Agency for Fiscal Administration reportedly declared that income from transactions with cryptocurrencies are taxable.
On March 23, 2018, the Ministry of Finance published guidance explaining that revenues stemming from cryptocurrencies must be taxed, and that any type of exchange, such as an exchange of a virtual currency for an asset or a service rendered or for another virtual currency, must be considered to be a taxable transfer. The guidance says that virtual currencies must be treated as “short-term financial assets other than money” and priced at market value at the time of transaction, and that cryptocurrencies directly obtain from mining shall be kept off-balance sheet until they are sold or traded. Earlier the Finance Minister had noted that trade in cryptocurrencies, which is unregulated and anonymous, involves risks of terrorism and organized crime.
In 2013 the National Bank of Slovakia issued a warning to inform the general public that virtual currencies are not national currencies and that unauthorized currency production constitutes a criminal offense.
On January 18, 2018, the Bank of Slovenia warned citizens that virtual currencies are not a digital replacement for banknotes and coins and are not regulated. The Bank explained that entities purchasing, depositing, or trading virtual currencies in Slovenia are not systematically regulated and supervised. It advised citizens to inform themselves about virtual currencies before buying them and to be aware that they could lose their investments in those currencies. Following the Bank’s warning commercial banks reportedly stopped selling cryptocurrencies via ATMs.
Earlier on October 9, 2017, the Financial Stability Board recommended that investors in virtual currencies consider whether the risks are in line with their personal preferences and investment goals, and that investors in ICOs should invest in amounts that would not leave them too exposed.
Spain’s Comisión Nacional de Valores (National Securities Commission) and the Banco de España (Bank of Spain) issued a joint statement regarding the use of bitcoin in February 2018 noting that cryptocurrency is not issued, registered, authorized, or verified by any regulatory agency in Spain. Therefore, cryptocurrencies purchased or held in Spain are not backed by any of the guarantees or safeguards provided by regulations applicable to banking or investment products. The statement aimed to alert investors of the inherent risk of loss or fraud associated with these types of transactions.
Notwithstanding this warning, the government is considering the adoption of legislation friendly towards cryptocurrencies, which would include possible tax breaks to attract companies in the blockchain technology sector.
Profits derived from transactions with cryptocurrencies are taxable under the Law on Income Tax of Individuals. However, the Dirección General de Tributos (General Directorate on Taxation) has established that transactions with bitcoins are exempt from value added tax.
Sweden does not have any specific regulation that deals with cryptocurrencies. A number of agencies have issued statements, reports, and preliminary judgements on how they interpret cryptocurrencies and how such currencies relate to Swedish law.
The Swedish Financial Supervisory Authority (Finansinspektionen) has made the determination that bitcoins are subject to its authority, as trade in bitcoins (i.e., offering a site where bitcoins can be bought and sold similar to an exchange) is a financial service (annan finansiell verksamhet) and thus subject to mandatory reporting requirements. In 2017, the Authority issued a report titled The Authority’s Role in Innovation, which among other things described its role in relation to novel concepts such as bitcoin. The report described ICOs as investment projects and means of securing capital. The Authority has also issued warnings against the use of ICOs, noting that they are unregulated and not subject to its review. It referred to the European Supervisory Authority for its interpretation that ICOs may be regulated by the Prospectus Directive, the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID), the Alternative Investment Fund Managers Directive (AIFMD), and the Fourth Anti-Money Laundering Directive. The Authority’s 2017 report stated that it is unaware of any Swedish corporation that secures funding through ICOs.
In March of 2018 the Swedish Central Bank announced that “bitcoins are not money.” The announcement explained that cryptocurrencies are not seen as currencies, referencing a new financial report on cryptocurrencies written by the Central Bank of Sweden staff.The Central Bank of Sweden is considering launching an e-currency, but the project is still in the review stage.
In 2015 the Swedish Tax Authority published a guideline on how it will view and tax mined bitcoins for the 2014 tax year. Unless specific conditions are met the digital currency mined is considered income from a hobby, and generally tax exempt. The Tax Authority has not issued a determination on the applicability of the Income Tax Act with respect to potential capital gains from bitcoins.
The Swedish Skatterättsnämnden (Swedish Tax Board) issued a preliminary ruling in 2013 on value-added tax (VAT) and bitcoins, stating that trade in bitcoins is not subject to Swedish VAT, but is instead subject to Financial Supervisory Authority regulations and treated as a currency. The decision was appealed by the Swedish Tax Authority. The Swedish Administrative Supreme Court ruled that bitcoins and similar cryptocurrencies are not subject to VAT. That decision was rendered following a preliminary judgment from the Court of Justice of the European Union holding that cryptocurrencies are exempt from VAT.
In 2014 representatives of the Swedish Enforcement Authority announced to Swedish media outlets that it would start to investigate and seize bitcoin holdings when collecting funds from indebted individuals. The first seized bitcoins were auctioned off online in 2017.
In a response to a question from a member of Parliament the Swedish government has advised caution in the use of cryptocurrencies by citizens, as it is unregulated and carries risk.
On July 23, 2017, the Nasdaq Stockholm Disciplinary Committee rendered a decision that ordered the bitcoin company XBT Provider AB to pay a fine of SEK1,000,000 (approximately US$120,000) for failing to publish annual reports and make its prospectus available online.
The United Kingdom does not have any laws that specifically regulate cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin, ethereum, litecoin, etc. The governor of the Bank of England reportedly stated that regulation of cryptocurrencies is necessary:
A better path would be to regulate elements of the crypto-asset ecosystem to combat illicit activities, promote market integrity, and protect the safety and soundness of the financial system.
Section 2A of the Bank of England Act 1998 specifies that the Bank of England has responsibility to both protect and enhance the stability of the financial system of the UK. Pursuant to this objective, the Bank has considered the risk cryptocurrencies pose to the stability of the UK’s financial markets and determined that the size of the cryptocurrency market is currently not large enough to pose a “material risk to monetary or financial stability in the UK.”
Other concerns raised by the use of cryptocurrencies include ensuring consumers are protected when using this form of payment, money laundering, taxation, and the use of these systems to finance terrorism and other crimes.
With regard to taxation, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs notes that “cryptocurrencies have a unique identity and cannot therefore be directly compared to any other form of investment activity or payment mechanism.” The taxability of income received from cryptocurrencies is dependent upon the “activities and parties involved.” Value added tax (VAT) (approximately equivalent to US sales tax) is only chargeable from suppliers for any goods or services sold in the UK in exchange for cryptocurrency.
Corporate tax rules apply to businesses for the profits or losses in currency exchanges, which includes cryptocurrencies. HM Revenue and Customs has stated, “[f]or the tax treatment of virtual currencies, the general rules on foreign exchange and loan relationships apply. We have not at this stage identified any need to consider bespoke rules.” Any company that enters into transactions that involves cryptocurrencies are thus treated in the same manner as regular transactions under the current corporate tax rules, and any gains made are taxed accordingly.
For unincorporated businesses, income tax is chargeable to the profits and losses that can be attributed to cryptocurrency transactions.nThe UK also taxes the earnings of transactions in which a gain is realized after a transaction with cryptocurrencies if an individual user buys and sells coins as an investor. Such gains fall within capital gains tax, and this tax is chargeable to any gain made that involves a cryptocurrency.