SBI Invests $30M in B2C2, Largest Proclaimed Market Maker in XRP

SBI invests $30 million in major crypto liquidity startup soon after revealing Japan’s first digital fund comprising 50% XRP.

SBI Financial Services, a subsidiary of Japanese financial giant SBI Holdings, has bought a $30 million minority stake in British crypto liquidity startup, B2C2.

The investment marks the beginning of a strategic partnership between the firms as B2C2 is set to become SBI’s main liquidity provider. As announced on July 1, the collaboration is aimed to expand SBI’s crypto offering to millions of customers. B2C2 is intended to benefit from SBI’s distribution network as the London-based startup launches an electronic prime brokerage.

A spokesperson at B2C2 told Cointelegraph that the investment is “one of the largest in the digital asset industry this year,” declining to disclose more details about the deal.

The representative continued:

“Ultimately, bringing together B2C2’s sophisticated asset liability management framework, valuable client base and deep expertise in trading and prime brokerage with SBI’s balance sheet strength will be a game changer, uniquely positioning us to tap the $20bn-a-year prime brokerage market.”

SBI to launch Japan’s first digital asset fund focused on XRP

The news comes shortly after SBI revealed plans to launch a crypto investment fund. SBI CEO, Yoshitaka Kitao, announced the plans in a June 26 investor presentation, claiming that the fund will become Japan's first digital asset fund.

As reported, SBI’s new crypto fund will mostly operate XRP, which is planned to account for 50% of the fund’s portfolio. Other digital assets include Bitcoin (BTC) and Ether (ETH), comprising 30% and 20%, respectively, based on a chart from SBI’s presentation.

B2C2 claims to be the “largest market maker in XRP”

The latest minority stake acquisition is the first time SBI invested in B2C2, a spokesperson at the company told Cointelegraph. B2C2 is primarily self-funded with the majority owned by B2C2’s founders, the representative said. Co-founded in 2015 by Max Boonen, a former Goldman Sachs trader, B2C2 is a major over-the-counter, or OTC, trading platform. In an email to Cointelegraph, a B2C2 spokesperson claimed to be the “largest market maker in XRP.”

SBI has been actively involved in a number of crypto projects, paying special attention to XRP. As reported, Ripple has been a major crypto partner of SBI Holdings, providing solutions for their joint venture SBI Ripple Asia, which was formed to promote XRP usage in Asian financial markets in 2016. On June 18, Adam Traidman, CEO of SBI Ripple Asia, said that Ripple has started to roll out its On-Demand Liquidity in Asia.

European Innovation Council Awards $5M to Six Blockchain Projects

A Dutch project fighting fake news with blockchain wins European Commission’s “Blockchains for Social Good” prize.

A tech unit at the European Commission has awarded millions of dollars to several blockchain projects in an effort to support the use of blockchains in socially beneficial ways.

The European Innovation Council, or EIC, has awarded 5 million euro ($5.6 million) to six blockchain initiatives within its “Blockchains for Social Good” program.

Announcing the news on Tuesday, the EIC noted that the prize intends to promote blockchain development in areas of traceability, fair trade, financial inclusion, and decentralized circular economy.

The awarded startups include Dutch content authenticity firm WordProof, British startup PPP, finnish GMeRitS, Oxfam’s UnBlocked Cash Project OXBBU, French e-commerce platform CKH2020, and an Italy-based digital marketplace project, PROSUME.

All of the winners have presented their projects in open source. The EIC noted:

“It is worth pointing out that one of the requirements of the Prize was to submit solutions developed in Open Source. This will enable more innovators to benefit from the advanced technological solutions developed by the prize winners and the other participants in the Prize.”

Areas of blockchain applications turned out to be wider than the EIC expected

According to the announcement, a total of 176 participants have applied for the award program since it was opened in May 2018. Applications came from 43 countries, with 19 of them arriving from outside the European Union, the EIC said.

Closed on 3 Sept. 2019, the program originally sought to award 1 million euro to five projects in five different social innovation areas, the organization noted. However, the EIC eventually decided to fund six projects, extending the scope of the Prize to six different areas and splitting equally the fifth prize, the organization explained.

The winner specializes in blockchain use against fake news

WordProof, the first project on the EIC’ winner list, tweeted that the project received a $1 million euro prize. “The European Commission has just rewarded WordProof with 1,000,000 euro by winning the ‘Blockchains for Social Good’ contest,” the Amsterdam-based startup wrote.

Committed to fighting plagiarism and fake news with help of blockchain, WordProof recently received € 275,000 ($308,700) financing from Noord-Holland Innovation Fund for the development of technologies to better protect data on the Internet.

The European Innovation Council was launched by the European Commission to support “high-risk, high-impact ideas, turning science into new business” and accelerating innovation. Launched in 2017, the EIC is currently at the pilot stage and is expected to be fully implemented in 2021. Recently, EC’s head of the digital innovation and blockchain unit, Pēteris Zilgalvis, highlighted uses of blockchain tech in communication between member states and fostering crypto innovation.

US Investor Backs up Telegram’s Claim of Completing $1.2B Refund

Documents shared with Cointelegraph confirm that Telegram refunded some American TON investors 72% of their investments about a month ago.

Telegram, the creator of the failed Gram (GRM) token and the Telegram Open Network, or TON, was well into investor reimbursement weeks before a court in the United States ruled that the firm had to return $1.2 billion.

A U.S.-based TON investor tells Cointelegraph that he got his 72% refund from Telegram in late May 2020. According to a bank statement seen by Cointelegraph, the investor received $7.2 million out of the original $10 million investment through a wire transfer.

Telegram CEO says that the firm has repaid over $1.2 billion already

The investor’s statement backs up Telegram’s recent announcement that the firm already paid out more than $1.2 billion to investors that participated in its $1.7 billion initial coin offering, or ICO, back in 2018. Soon after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commision (SEC) proposed a $1.2 billion settlement to the case on June 25, Telegram CEO Pavel Durov claimed that the firm has already repaid more than $1.2 billion.

In his June 25 Telegram post, Durov specified that the amount was paid to investors either directly or in the form of loans. He wrote:

“Today’s proposed settlement reconfirms our commitment to repay the remaining funds to purchasers under the Purchase Agreements. We’ve already repaid more than 1.2bn to the purchasers either directly or in the form of loans.”

Are investors really satisfied with a 72% refund?

As previously reported, Durov first introduced a reimbursement scheme for TON investors on April 30, weeks before the TON project was officially terminated. At the time, the Telegram CEO offered two options — an immediate 72% refund, or a 110% refund in 12 months. While the majority of investors apparently decided to get the 72%, some TON investors voiced concerns over potential lawsuits from investors unsatisfied with the refund plan.

American TON investors were only offered a 72% refund instead of a choice between the two options. Accounting for about $420 million of TON’s $1.7 billion ICO, U.S. investors were not eligible for the 110% reimbursement option due to Telegram’s apprehension about further dealings with U.S. regulators.

In an April 29 investor note seen by Cointelegraph, Telegram wrote:

“Unfortunately, in light of the recent US district court decision, we are unable to issue Grams to you by the 30 April Deadline Date. Accordingly, under the terms of the Purchase Agreement, we owe you the Termination Amount. We are hereby honouring our plan communicated to you in October 2019 to repay 72% of your original investment.”

It’s still unclear why the SEC asked for $1.2 billion instead of $1.7 billion

It remains unclear whether Telegram has reimbursed all of TON investors so far. It is also unclear why the SEC came up with a $1.2 billion settlement instead of $1.7 billion originally raised in the TON ICO.

Philip Moustakis, attorney at Seward & Kissel LLP and former SEC counsel, believes that it is not clear exactly how the parties reached the $1.2 billion settlement. Moustakis said:

“It is difficult to know what offsets to disgorgement, if any, the SEC credited in arriving at a settlement with Telegram, or the degree to which the final number reflects compromise between the parties.”

Iota Enters First Phase to Become ‘Fully Decentralized Network’ by 2021

Iota Foundation expects to remove network Coordinator and become a “fully decentralized network” by Q1 2021.

Iota, a major blockchain project designed for the Internet of Things, or IOT, has entered the first phase in its roadmap for upgrading the network to IOTA 2.0.

According to a June 30 blog post, users can now download the new Pollen release in the first fully decentralized IOTA test network.

The release is the first phase in Iota’s IOTA 2.0 transition roadmap, released on June 29. In the roadmap, Iota Foundation laid out three phases to reach the so-called “Coordicide”, an event that will envision the permanent removal of Iota’s Coordinator. Coordinator has been a basic part of IOTA’s network, representing an application run by the IOTA Foundation to digitally confirm valid transactions.

Pollen marks the beginning of IOTA 2.0

By releasing Pollen, the Iota project marks its first milestone leading up to Coordicide. Dominik Schiener, co-founder of Iota Foundation, outlined that the release is aimed to culminate in a coordinator-less, production-ready network.

Schiener continued:

“After years of intensive research, rigorous testing, and tireless efforts by our engineers, we are proud to finally be able to invite everyone to participate in this momentous milestone for the IOTA project. Pollen marks the beginning of the world's first truly decentralized, scalable, and fee-less Distributed Ledger, which has been IOTA's promise since day one.”

Three phases to get rid of Iota’s Coordinator

Alongside other phases, the name of the official testnet of the IOTA 2.0 network release goes in analogy to three stages for the creation of honey: Pollen, Nectar, and Honey. As such, Pollen is set to mainly serve as a research base to validate Coordicide concepts as well as simulate certain attack vectors. According to the foundation, the Pollen phase is expected to finalize Coordicide specifications, providing the “final blueprint of IOTA 2.0.”

The second phase, Nectar, is expected to provide a full implementation of Coordicide modules on an incentivized testnet. The Nectar stage is aimed to test the network for bugs or issues before finally releasing the mainnet. Expected for release by early Q4 2020, the phase will allow network participants to generate “nectar,” or rewards for finding bugs or potential attack vectors.

Honey, the final release candidate for IOTA 2.0, will incorporate all final Coordicide modules, representing the first version of IOTA 2.0, or fully decentralized IOTA mainnet. Schiener says that the foundation expects the network to enter the Honey phase in the first quarter of 2021.

In February 2020, Iota introduced Chrysalis, or IOTA 1.5, an intermediate upgrade. Chrysalis added major features to the network, such as reusable addresses and IOTA-based tokens. As reported, Iota Foundation has shut down the Coordinator multiple times in order to tackle major breaches and hacks on its platform. Following criticism on lack of decentralization, Iota released the Coordicide solution in 2019 to replace the Coordinator.

Cointelegraph Hosts Online Meetup to Talk LGBTQ+ and Blockchain

Cointelegraph hosts a discussion on LGBTQ+ and blockchain. Join live at 1 pm EST as LGBTTech and LGBT Foundation co-founders discuss the topic.

As Pride month comes to an end, Cointelegraph hosts an online meetup to discuss LGBTQ+ issues in the crypto and blockchain community.

Called “LGBTQ+ and Blockchain: Community-Powered Tech and Tech-Powered Community,” the new session of Cointelegraph Talks features community members like LGBTTech’s Christopher Wood and UNAIDS’ Eric Lamontagne. Other speakers include Hornet’s Christof Wittig, BitBull Capital CEO Joe DiPasquale, LGBT Foundation’s Sean Howell, Muckr AI’s Susan Oh, and Fintech.TV’s Dr Jane Thomason.

Hosted by Cointelegraph's opinion editor, Max Yakubowski, the upcoming session is less than an hour away, scheduled to start at 1 pm EST and ending at 2 pm EST. Sign up for the event via the Eventbrite page or watch the live discussion on Youtube and take part by sending in questions.

Launched in April 2020, Cointelegraph Talks is a series of online events featuring top blockchain and cryptocurrency experts and executives. Earlier in May, Cointelegraph hosted an online meetup devoted to Bitcoin halving, with the event featuring John Todaro, Alejandro De La Torre, and Paolo Ardoino.

Join Cointelegraph Talks on Zoom or YouTube

Switzerland Won’t Amend Tax Law in Regard to Blockchain in Near Future

Switzerland does not need to amend its current tax legislation to cover blockchain-based arrangements, the Federal Council believes.

Switzerland’s existing tax law is applicable to developments in the blockchain industry, the Swiss Federal Council said.

According to the federal authority, Switzerland does not need to amend its existing tax legislation in regard to blockchain and distributed ledger technology.

No legislative action is necessary regarding the blockchain industry

In a June 19 meeting, the Federal Council addressed a report on the need to amend Switzerland’s tax law in response to DLT and blockchain developments. According to the official statement, the existing legislation including income, profit, wealth, capital gains taxes, as well as VAT, “has proved its worth” regarding arrangements based on DLT and blockchain.

“Therefore, no legislative action is necessary as regards special tax provisions for the new instruments,” the Federal Council wrote. Additionally, the authority recommended that withholding tax coverage should not be expanded in terms of income from equity and participation tokens.

Cointelegraph reached out to the Federal Tax Administration of Switzerland with additional queries on the matter. This article will be updated if new comments come in.

The Swiss Federal Council has been paying a lot of attention to blockchain

The Federal Council’s latest decision follows the authority’s initial call to evaluate the need for blockchain-related amendments to Swiss tax law back in 2018. In December 2018, the authority said Switzerland's legal framework was well suited to dealing with new technologies such as blockchain.

The Federal Council of Switzerland — the country’s executive governing body — has been paying a lot of attention to blockchain development, initiating multiple measures to increase legal certainty around blockchain use in the country. In March 2019, the Federal Council launched a consultation on the adaptation of federal law for blockchain development. In November 2019, the Council called for a better regulatory framework for blockchain.

Switzerland has emerged as one of the most crypto-friendly countries and is often referred to as a “crypto nation.” As reported by Cointelegraph, major crypto-related practices such as trading and mining are subject to federal taxes in Switzerland. As such, individuals paid in crypto need to declare their assets for income tax purposes.

LocalBitcoins Says Its Transactions From Darknet Markets Dropped 70%

LocalBitcoins claims that darknet-related transactions on the platforum dropped 70% after it adopted AML and KYC regulations in September 2019.

LocalBitcoins, a major peer-to-peer (P2P) cryptocurrency exchange, has purportedly managed to significantly cut the amount of criminal funds on its platform in 2020.

The P2P platform has seen a decline of over 70% in transactions from darknet markets between September 2019 and May 2020, LocalBitcoins claims.

Jukka Blomberg, chief marketing officer at LocalBitcoins, told Cointelegraph that the drop comes in response to Anti-Money Laundering and Know Your Customer regulations adopted by the platform in September 2019.

The calculations are based on blockchain analysis by major crypto analytics firm Elliptic as well as LocalBitcoins’ own “clustering tools,” the firm said.

The drop is still notable despite Bitcoin trading collapse in 2019

A 70% drop in darknet-associated transactions might appear insignificant as LocalBitcoins experienced a massive decline in the amount of traded Bitcoin (BTC) in 2019. As such, weekly Bitcoin trading volumes on the exchange collapsed from nearly 14,000 BTC in January 2019 to about 4,000 BTC in January 2020, according to data from Coin Dance.

However, between September 2019 and May 2020, LocalBitcoins saw just a 20% decline in BTC trading volumes, down from an average of 5,000 BTC to 4,000 BTC in weekly trading.

Global BTC trading volumes on LocalBitcoins

Global BTC trading volumes on LocalBitcoins. Source: Coin Dance

LocalBitcoins says it is seeing healthy growth in recent months

Alongside the apparent progress in tackling illicit transactions on its platform, LocalBitcoins has been seeing some uptick in performance, Blomberg said. “Looking at the last 2-3 months, we can already see a healthy growth trend and it is happening across all regions once again indicating a wide demand,” the exec added.

LocalBitcoins said that their new customer registrations have surged over 50% since early 2020 — from around 4,000 new daily sign-ups to over 6,000. “The rapidly growing new customer numbers naturally are a sign of a healthy demand and great future potential for LocalBitcoins,” Blomberg noted. 

Analysts say that LocalBitcoins is a major spot for illicit transactions

Some crypto analysts maintain that the LocalBitcoins facilitates a large number of illicit financial transactions.

According to a recent report by CipherTrace, LocalBitcoins received over 99% of criminal funds among Finnish exchanges in the first five months of 2020. The firm also says that Finnish exchanges have the highest share of criminal BTC received for the third year in a row, with 12% of all BTC coming directly from criminal sources.

Earlier in 2020, threat intelligence firm IntSights released another report claiming that P2P platforms like LocalBitcoins are contributing to money laundering. The startup elaborated that such illicit activities are often associated with significant lack of regulations.

As a Finnish company, LocalBitcoins only works with Finnish authorities in regard to cryptocurrency regulations, Blomberg said. Last year, LocalBitcoins said that Finland was actively working with new legislation amending its Anti-Money Laundering act in accordance with the European Union’s AML regulations.

Oops. Roger Ver Says Bitcoin.com’s Forum Closure Post Was Premature

Roger Ver says that Bitcoin.com’s forum closure announcement was premature, but the closure alert is still on the website.

Roger Ver, executive chairman of major cryptocurrency website, Bitcoin.com, now says that Bitcoin.com’s forum closure announcement was premature.

Yesterday, Bitcoin.com’s forum abruptly dropped an alert about the upcoming closure of the forum on July 23. Posted by a forum administrator, the announcement did not specify the reasons behind the action.

Subsequently, Bitcoin.com’s exec, Ver, said that the forum will soon make a reversal announcement.

In a June 26 email to Cointelegraph, Ver wrote:

“This caught me by surprise too, and I think the announcement was premature. I suspect there will be a reversal announcement soon.”

Despite Ver’s response, the closure alert remains on Bitcoin.com’s forum website.

Bitcoin.com’s forum closure alert

Bitcoin.com’s forum closure alert. Source: Bitcoin.com

Roger Ver is an early Bitcoin (BTC) adopter and investor who is now a major proponent of Bitcoin Cash (BCH) — a cryptocurrency born of a Bitcoin hard fork in August 2017. In November, Ver said that Bitcoin Cash is the real bitcoin, predicting that it will have a bigger market cap, trade volume, and user base in the future.

Though he stepped down as CEO of Bitcoin.com in August 2019, Ver recently expressed an interest in buying the Bitcoin.org domain in May 2020.

JPMorgan’s Blockchain Offshoot Kadena Gets First Ever Token Listing

Kadena preps its first ever listing on Bittrex Global, with initial trading pairs including Bitcoin and Tether.

Bittrex Global, one of the world’s most popular platforms for trading cryptocurrencies, is about to become the first crypto exchange to list a token by JPMorgan’s blockchain spin-off Kadena.

Kadena token (KDA), is finally getting its first official listing on June 25. While token deposits on KDA wallets on Bittrex are available immediately, the trading is set to open on June 26 at 10:00 a.m. EST.

At the initial launch, KDA will be trading against two cryptocurrencies — Bitcoin (BTC) and major USD stablecoin, Tether (USDT).

Trading on Bittrex Global isn’t available in the U.S. and some sanctioned countries

By introducing the KDA token on Bittrex Global, Kadena obtains significant exposure. Bittrex is one of the biggest crypto exchanges in the world, with an average daily trading volume of about $37 million as of press time.

However, KDA trades will not be open for all users worldwide. Bittrex Global is not available in the United States or other sanctioned countries like Egypt and Cambodia.

KDA to debut trading at a market cap of $13 million

Kadena’s KAD token is the native cryptocurrency for Kadena’s hybrid blockchain platform. This platform is based on traditional Proof of Work (PoW) consensus. After Kadena launched mining in November 2019, a total of 35 million KDA tokens have entered into circulation so far. Will Martino, co-founder and CEO at Kadena, says that about 100 million KDA tokens will be mined over the next year. The price of Kadena’s KDA token will depend on the demand and supply.

As of press time, major crypto tracking websites like CoinMarketCap and CoinGecko do not show KDA token’s statistics in full, while providing some information on historical price changes since early June 2020. Martino said that some “buggy integrations” could be a reason for the issue, noting that prior to Bittrex listing, KDA’s market cap stands at $13 million. He said:

“KDA has been primarily OTC-only since launch in January. Listing on Bittrex Global is the first for KDA. Some fly-by-night so-called exchanges, like Hotbit, have made rather buggy integrations that provide price data feeds from which CoinMarketCap and CoinGecko pull.”

Kadena introduces a HIPPA-compliant application for tracking COVID-19 test results

Alongside its first listing, Kadena is open-sourcing a decentralized application, or dApp, for tracking and validating COVID-19 test results. The dApp is designed to provide a safe way for results to get shared among medical teams and patients. Kadena’s COVID-19 dApp is immediately available on testnet and does not require onboarding KDA tokens or a crypto wallet, the firm said.

Additionally, Kadena plans to scale its sharded layer-1 PoW blockchain from 10 chains up to 20 chains. The scaling process will take place on July 31, Kadena noted.

Spun out of JPMorgan's Blockchain Center for Excellence, Kadena raised over $15 million via three token sales in 2019, Martino told Cointelegraph. “The results of the Nov 2019 token sale have not been publicly broken out,” the exec added.

SEC Asks Court to Order Telegram to Pay $1.2B Back for $1.7B ICO

Despite the original TON project being officially terminated, the U.S. SEC asks Telegram to return $1.2 billion.

The United States’s Securities and Exchange Commission, or SEC, has filed a proposal for final court judgement in regard of the terminated Telegram Open Network project.

In a document filed on June 25, the SEC has asked the New York Southern District Court to order million dollar penalties to multiple defendants related to the case.

“Defendants are jointly and severally liable for disgorgement of $1,224,000,000,” the SEC wrote in the proposed judgement. As of press time, the judgement has been received by the court. Although the court has “reviewed and approved as to form” the proposed judgment, it is not yet final.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

Galaxy Digital and Bitmain Lead AVA Project’s $12M Private Token Sale

In anticipation of AVA mainnet launch this summer, Emin Sirer’s AVA project raises $12 million from major industry investors.

The Avalanche Foundation, the organization behind the Emin Gün Sirer-founded blockchain protocol Avalanche, has raised $12 million in a new private token sale.

According to an announcement on June 25, the sale was led by major industry investors like Chinese mining giant Bitmain and Mike Novogratz's Galaxy Digital. The token sale comes ahead of the AVA mainet launch scheduled for summer 2020

Other prominent investors in AVA’s token sale included San Francisco-based venture capital firm Initialized Capital, NGC Ventures and Dragonfly Capital. Dozens of other individuals have participated in the private sale as well, AVA Labs said.

Public sale follows private round

Following the private sale, the Avalanche Foundation will also conduct a public sale in accordance with the United States’ federal financial regulations.

Within the sale, all investors must represent “accredited investors” as defined under Rule 501 of Regulation D. Otherwise, the investors must not be a “U.S. Person” as defined by Regulation S under the Securities Act and meet other suitability standards. The upcoming sale, which includes registration and Know Your Customer process, is scheduled to run for at least two weeks, starting from July 8, AVA Labs said.

AVA project’s native token is called the Avalanche token 

By participating in the token sales, the investors are purchasing the rights to own a certain amount of Avalanche tokens (AVAX) that will be issued at the mainnet launch in summer. At the launch, 50% of the fixed cap of 720 million AVAX will be issued, a spokesperson at AVA Labs told Cointelegraph.

The Avalanche token is the native token of the Avalanche platform and it’s not pegged to any asset. AVAX will be used to secure the AVA network through staking, provide a basic unit of account between AVA subnetworks as well as pay network fees, AVA Labs said.

The private sale is the second fund raise after February’s $6 million Series A round

The latest token sale follows the successful launch of AVA’s “Denali Testnet” that offered each validator to earn up to 2,000 AVAX. According to AVA Labs, the testnet had over 1,000 full block producing nodes actively staking and participating in the consensus protocol.

The new fundraise adds to AVA’s first $6 million funding round completed in February 2019. The Series A funding round involved investors like Andreessen Horowitz, Polychain and MetaStable. 

Sirer, a computer scientist and professor at Cornell University, initiated the AVA Labs project in 2019. Referred to as the “Internet of blockchains,” the Avalanche protocol is designed to provide an open-source platform and a layer 1 protocol for launching decentralized finance applications and enterprise blockchain solutions.

In recent news, Turkish lira stablecoin issuer BiLira said that its coin is being built on the AVA blockchain.

Beam to Make Its First Move Towards Private DeFi With June 2020 Hard Fork

Beam updates details on its June 28 hard fork, laying out foundations for the firm’s future DeFi offering.

Major privacy-oriented cryptocurrency, Beam (BEAM), is making its first official move towards decentralized finance, or DeFi.

In anticipation of Beam’s soon-to-come hard fork, the team behind the project updated a number of relevant specifications, paving the way to the so-called “Confidential Defi,” Beam announced to Cointelegraph on June 24.

Confidential Assets are at the core of Beam’s future DeFi offering

Scheduled for June 28, the hard fork will enable Confidential Assets, or Beam CA — independent tokens on the Beam network. Beam CA will be a key component in the future Beam’s DeFi offering, Beam advisor Guy Corem said.

Beam CAs are part of Eager Electron 5.0 — a network upgrade meant to provide the key infrastructure for building Confidential DeFi applications. CAs will enable a number of use cases and can be linked to anything from cryptos like Bitcoin (BTC) to traditional commodities like gold, stocks, and bonds, the firm said.

Beam CAs encompass major privacy features like the ability to unlink transaction history and send assets using non-interactive transactions. Beam CAs can be issued by anyone by locking 3,000 beams, or about $1,400 as of press time.

Alongside Confidential Assets, Beam’s upcoming hard fork will also expand the Beam DEX on the already available atomic swaps, which will come out of beta. CAs will be immediately swappable with cryptos like BTC, Litecoin (LTC), BEAM and QTUM.

Gus Sullivan, community lead at Beam, noted that the upcoming fork makes Beam both a privacy coin, and a private DeFi ecosystem.

Beam’s new DeFi plans move forward amid ecosystem surge

Beam announced the upcoming hard fork back in April. Though the company did not explicitly say that the hard fork would relate to DeFi, Beam CTO Alex Romanov had spoken about the firm’s progress with Beam back in February 2020.

Beam’s move to DeFi comes amid sharp growth in the DeFi ecosystem. Since mid-June, the value locked in DeFi skyrocketed nearly 80%, jumping from about $900 million to all-time high of $1.6 billion as of press time.

Total value locked in DeFi

Total value locked in DeFi. Source: defipulse.com

Earlier in April, Cointelegraph reported on another privacy-focused DeFi project. The Incognito privacy project promises to allow users to privately use DeFi platforms without ever touching Ethereum.

Bitcoin.com Forum Closes on July 23

Bitcoin.com’s forum will close in one month.

The Bitcoin.com forum, one of the most popular forums in the crypto community, has abruptly announced closure.

A place for the heated debates and thoughtful cryptocurrency-related discussions, Bitcoin.com’s forum will terminate its services on July 23, 2020. The news was reported by the forum’s administrator in a thread posted on June 24.

In the post, the forum admin provided few details about the upcoming closure. The post does not specify the reasons behind the action.

Bitcoin.com’s forum is associated with the Bitcoin.com website — one of the oldest and biggest cryptocurrency-related web portals in the world. Backed by early Bitcoin (BTC) adopter and investor, Roger Ver, the website provides a number of Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash (BCH) services, including a cryptocurrency exchange.

This story is currently developing.

Millions of Telegram Users’s Data Exposed on Darknet

Telegram’s built-in contact import feature was exploited to leak the personal data of millions of users onto the darknet.

Telegram, a major privacy-focused messaging app, has suffered a data leak that exposed some personal data of its users on the darknet.

A database containing the personal data of millions of Telegram users has been posted on a darknet forum. The issue was first reported by Russian-language tech publication Kod.ru on June 23.

According to the report, the database contains phone numbers and unique Telegram user IDs. It remains unclear exactly how many users' data was leaked while the database file is about 900 megabytes.

About 40% of entries in the database should be relevant

Telegram has reportedly acknowledged the existence of the leaked database to Kod.ru. The database was collected through exploiting Telegram’s built-in contacts’ import feature at registration, Telegram reportedly said.

Telegram noted that data in the leaked database is mostly outdated. According to the report, 84% of data entries in the database were collected before mid-2019. As such, at least 60% of the database is outdated, Telegram declared in the report. 

Additionally, 70% of leaked accounts came from Iran, while the remaining 30% were based in Russia.

At press time, Telegram has not responded to Cointelegraph's request for comment. This article will be updated should they respond.

Just the latest leak

This is not the first instance of Telegram users' phone numbers being leaked. In August 2019, Hong Kong activists reported on a vulnerability that exposed their phone numbers, allowing Chinese law enforcement agencies to track protesters’ identities.

In response to the vulnerability, Telegram expanded user privacy tools in September 2019. Specifically, Telegram introduced a feature allowing users to show their phone number to nobody at all. The feature’s description reads:

“If you set Who Can See My Phone Number to ‘Nobody’, a new option will appear below, allowing you to control your visibility for those who already have it. Setting Who Can Find Me By My Number to ‘My Contacts’ will ensure that random users who add your number as a contact are unable to match your profile to that number.”

The report comes soon after Russian authorities lifted the two-year ban on Telegram app in the country. Subsequently, some reports outlined certain anomalies on Telegram that purportedly compromised the security of its customers.

FC Barcelona’s $1.3M Token Sale Sold out in Less Than 2 Hours

Sales were expected to last 48 hours.

Spanish soccer giant FC Barcelona has sold out its first FC Barcelona Fan Tokens (BAR), which were sold via sports-focused token platforms Chiliz.net and Socios.com.

The $1.3 million sale ran its course in less than two hours. At its peak it sold $777,000 of tokens in less than 2 minutes. Chiliz and Socios CEO Alexandre Dreyfus announced the news in a June 22 tweet.

Chiliz and Socios saw a five-fold increase in demand during the sale

Dreyfus noted that the token sale saw more than 4,000 fans from 106 countries participate. He told us that the top buyers came from Turkey, Poland, Japan, France, Spain, the United Kingdom, and Italy. He added that Chiliz and Socios experienced a five-fold increase in demand during the sale.

Dreyfus said the companies originally planned for the flash sale to last 48 hours. Despite experiencing some delays on Socios.com during the sale, it ran its course much more quickly than that. “I guess that's why Barça is big and also why we are pushing hard with the cryptosphere,” Dreyfus suggested.

FC Barcelona’s BAR tokens are designed to bring more interaction with Barça fans, FC Barcelona said in a statement. BAR token holders can take part in community surveys and polls, as well as earn unique prizes like the chance to meet players before a game.

BAR token trading is scheduled for Wednesday

The latest token sale comes to celebrate the official launch of the BAR token. According to FC Barcelona, the flash sale involved 600,000 tokens at a set price of 2 euros each.

Following the flash sale, the BAR token is scheduled for trading launch on Chiliz and Socios on Wednesday, June 24. The tokens will be available only for purchase and for trading against Chiliz’s native token (CHZ) at a market price depending on demand and supply.. As of press time, the FC Barcelona Fan Token is featured as an “untracked listing” on major crypto prices website CoinMarketCap.

FC Barcelona’s BAR token is just one among numerous sport tokens handled by Chiliz and Socios platforms. Italian professional soccer club Juventus released its own fan token in late 2019. Previously, French soccer club Paris Saint-Germain also partnered Socios.com to launch a token ecosystem in 2018.

Telegram CEO Says Global Resistance to Tech Bans Is ‘Just Getting Started’

Telegram’s digital resistance in Russia will contribute to further anti-censorship efforts in countries like China and Iran, Pavel Durov says.

Russia’s decision to lift its two-year Telegram ban is going to mark the beginning of a broader movement to protect privacy-focused apps like Telegram, the company’s CEO says.

Pavel Durov, founder and CEO of Telegram, issued a statement in response to Russian authorities officially terminating the ban on the messaging app in the country last week.

Telegram’s progress in Russia to help other countries

In a June 21 Telegram post, Durov said that the company will not rest on its laurels, and is planning more efforts to support Telegram in other countries like China and Iran. According to Durov, the Telegram team has already started working on anti-censorship tools in some countries that have banned the application:

“We have decided to direct our anti-censorship resources into other places where Telegram is still banned by governments – places like Iran and China. We ask the admins of the former proxy servers for Russian users to focus their efforts on these countries.”

“To put it simply, the ban didn’t work”

Russia’s telecom watchdog Roskomnadzor started blocking Telegram in the country in April 2018. However, the app remained accessible for users in Russia due to the Telegram team actively resisting the ban through rotating proxy servers and using other anti-censorship tools.

“To put it simply, the ban didn’t work,” Telegram CEO noted, emphasizing that Telegram’s user base in Russia has actually doubled since 2018.

Telegram’s efforts to keep the app intact in Russia have marked the establishment of a decentralized movement called the “Digital Resistance.” It is thanks to the Digital Resistance that after May 2018, Telegram stayed largely accessible in Russia, Durov said, adding:

“The Digital Resistance movement doesn’t end with last week’s ceasefire in Russia. It is just getting started – and going global.”

China banned Telegram back in 2015

Durov’s digital resistance plans in countries like China and Iran might be more challenging than those in Russia. China, one of the world’s most-censored countries, banned Telegram on its territory back in 2015 as part of the country’s “great firewall” policy. The Telegram app is still reportedly accessible in China via VPN tools.

Iran, which is also highly censored, banned the messenger in May 2018 amid nationwide street protests. As reported, Telegram was estimated to have about 40 million users in the country at that time, which was roughly half its population. 

As the official Telegram is banned in Iran, local users created so-called “Telegram forks,” or unofficial Telegram applications. Often vulnerable to major attacks, such “forks” are not recommended for use by the official Telegram team.

SEC Halts Crypto Scam, Alleging Two Brothers Stole Millions From Investors

The U.S. SEC freezes assets of several alleged crypto scams run by Hvizdzaks brothers.

The United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has halted activity of another alleged cryptocurrency-related scam stealing millions of dollars from investors.

According to a SEC’s announcement on June 19, the authority has been granted a temporary restraining order and asset freeze against two Pennsylvania-based brothers allegedly running three crypto scam schemes. According to the SEC, Sean Hvizdzak and Shane Hvizdzak lied about their crypto fund performance by fabricating financial statements, instead redirecting investor funds to their own accounts with banks as well as crypto exchanges.

As ruled by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Hvizdzaks, Hvizdzak Capital Management, LLC, High Street Capital, LLC, and High Street Capital Partners, LLC, are temporarily halted from operation for violating the anti fraud provisions of federal securities laws.

Hvizdzaks collected over $30 million in less than one year

The ruling comes immediately after the SEC filed an emergency action with the court on June 16. According to the SEC’s complaint, the Hvizdzak brothers have been involved in crypto-related fraudulent activity since at least July 2019 and continuing until May 2020. After establishing a fund to invest “in a wide variety of cryptocurrency investments,” in March 2019, Hvizdzaks purportedly collected $31 million on one of the managed accounts.

According to the complaint, Hvizdzaks moved about $26 million from the fund’s account to personal accounts at banks as well as popular crypto exchanges like Binance, Winklevoss twins-founded Gemini, and Bittrex. In the filing, the SEC emphasized that it’s hard to trace stolen funds once they are converted into cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin (BTC).

The securities regulator wrote:

“Once this fiat currency, in this case U.S. dollars, is exchanged for a digital asset, Defendants can transfer the digital assets anywhere in the world with no bank and no government forms.”

According to the SEC, the court will consider the further asset freeze and the issuance of a preliminary injunction at a hearing on June 30, 2020.

As a major global financial regulator, the SEC is actively fighting fraudulent activity in the crypto industry. In March 2020, the authority froze assets of an alleged crypto scam backed by a former state senator.

Singapore to Explore Central Bank Digital Currency With China

Singapore’s central bank is looking to join forces with China in exploring central bank digital currencies.

Singapore's central bank and financial regulatory authority is looking to cooperate with China in the field of central bank digital money.

Ravi Menon, the managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, or MAS, has voiced the country’s readiness to enter into a close cooperation with China in relation to digital currencies.

Speaking at a financial forum in Shanghai, Menon highlighted China’s progress in the development of its central bank digital currency, or CBDC, known as the digital yuan. Singapore, which is also actively exploring blockchain-based CBDCs, is looking to exchange related knowledge and expertise with China, Sina Finance reports June 18.

Menon reportedly said that the CBDC is currently a very hot topic, noting that Singapore and China’s central bank are discussing various CBDC development scenarios. Outlining that the reasons for developing a CBDC vary by country, the official emphasized that the main goal of Singapore’s CBDC project is to cut cross-border payment and settlement costs, reduce settlement time, and ensure transaction security.

MAS official encourages more cooperation with Facebook’s Libra

At the event, Menon also mentioned Facebook’s troubled stablecoin project, Libra. The official reportedly noted that Libra is a big challenge for the global central bank system, but the project also has “great flexibility,” while the Libra team is committed to work closely with global regulators. “We should not reject the value of Libra, but should have more discussions with them,” Menon added. The official previously voiced a similar stance to Libra in summer 2019.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore has been working on its blockchain-powered interbank payment project since late 2016. Officially announced in 2018, the so-called “Project Ubin,” is a collaborative effort to explore the use of blockchain for clearing and settlement of payments and securities.

China has more digital currency plans to rival USD and Libra

In June 2019, China’s central bank was reportedly racing to launch its digital yuan ahead of Facebook’s Libra. While China’s CBDC is purportedly being tested in some cities already, experts are confident that China may launch its digital yuan without citizens noticing the change.

It was reported in mid-June that China is also planning an East Asia digital currency to gain more independence from the United States dollar. The planned digital currency would reportedly include a basket of regional currencies like the Chinese yuan, Japanese yen, South Korean won, and Hong Kong dollar.

F2Pool Returns $500K of Abnormal ETH Transaction Fee to Sender

F2Pool returns about $500,000 in abnormal ETH transaction fee to its sender after encountering the issue on June 11.

F2Pool, a Chinese mining pool that recently mined an Ether (ETH) transaction with an abnormal transaction fee of 2,310 ETH, has returned 90% of the fee to its sender.

Announcing the news on June 18, F2Pool said that the MiningPoolHub, the original owner of the address behind the transaction, has received back 2,079 ETH, or about $480,000. The mining pool specified the transaction ID showing that F2Pool has returned the amount to its original owner.

In order to complete the reimbursement transaction, the original address holder had to sign the new address using the private key of the original address. This is because the original address is now controlled by a hacker, F2Pool noted.

F2Pool wrote:

“Out of our humanitarian spirit, F2Pool has decided to return the transaction fee component of the transaction. It’s not feasible to return the fee back to the original sender address as the address is also now controlled by the hacker. Therefore, we agreed to send the fee to a new address provided by the original address owner after full verification of the address and owner.”

According to the statement from F2Pool, the rest 10% of the transaction fee, or 231 ETH ($53,000) will be distributed to miners. The amount will be used as compensation for zero-fee ETH mining during a seven day period from June 20 to June 26.

The transaction is part of a series of other abnormal ETH transactions

F2Pool’s decision to return 90% of the abnormal transaction fee comes soon after the mining pool reported on the troubled transaction on June 12. The suspicious transaction took place on June 11, involving an original 3,221 ETH transaction with an abnormal 2,310 transaction fee. On June 12, the original owner of the address behind the transaction reached out to F2Pool and explained that they became a victim of a malicious attack on their node wallet, causing them to lose combined 5,531 ETH, or $1.2 million.

The latest news is another twist in a series of recent abnormal ETH transactions involving two other mining pools — Etherchain and Sparkpool. As reported by Cointelegraph, the two mining pools consecutively encountered similar abnormal transactions, with both of them involving an incredible $2.6 million transaction fee.

In contrast to the recent F2Pool’s decision, Etherchain and Sparkpool decided to distribute the millions of dollars in gas fees they received from the strange transactions. Both pools emphasized that they have given sufficient time for the sender to get in touch with them. Sparkpool’s transaction took place on June 10, while Etherchain’s one followed on June 11.

This is not the first time when F2Pool returned the abnormal gas fee amount to the sender. In March 2019, the Chinese mining pool returned an abnormal transaction fee worth 2,100 ETH. The amount, worth around $300,000 at the time, was returned to the sender in full, F2Pool's global business director, Thomas Heller, tweeted on June 10.

Russia Officially Lifts Its Two-Year Telegram Ban

Russia’s Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media has officially lifted the ban on Telegram.

After years of unsuccessful efforts to ban Telegram in Russia, local authorities have finally decided to cancel the ban on the major encrypted messenger in the country.

Russia’s Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media, also known as Roskomnadzor, has officially lifted the two-year long ban on Telegram.

In an official statement on June 18, Roskomnadzor said that the authority has removed requirements restricting the access to the Telegram messenger in agreement with the Prosecutor General of Russia.

Announcing the news, Roskomnadzor outlined that the regulator commends Telegram CEO Pavel Durov’s willingness to confront terrorism and extremism. The announcement apparently comes in response to a recent statement from Durov, claiming that Telegram team has been actively combating terrorism and extremism on the messenger while ensuring user privacy.

In a June 4 Telegram post, Telegram CEO noted that Telegram is preventing thousands of public statements encouraging violence each month. Durov wrote:

“Each month, Telegram team is now preventing tens of thousands of attempts to distribute public incitement to violence and terror [...] Telegram has developed a system preventing global terrorist acts while ensuring privacy of correspondence in line with Telegram’s privacy policy.”

Ripple Touts XRP Use in New Crypto Framework Suggested for India

Major cryptocurrency firm Ripple released a set of recommendations for Indian lawmakers to legalize cryptocurrencies.

American fintech firm Ripple has proposed a policy framework for regulating crypto in India amid local crypto uncertainty.

In an effort to persuade Indian authorities to support fintech regulation and the growing crypto industry, Ripple issued a policy paper addressed to local legislators.

India as a dominant use-case for cross-border payments and remittances

Released on June 18, Ripple’s policy paper provides a number of recommendations for Indian policymakers, offering an overview of the global digital assets landscape and measures to adopt a new digital currency policy in the country.

Titled “The Path Forward for Digital Assets Adoption in India,” the 36 page-long document promotes XRP and calls on India to provide regulatory clarity for cryptocurrencies.

In the policy paper, Ripple specifically outlines XRP’s potential to become a key solution for cross-border payments in India, which is considered to be the “dominant use-case for cross-border payments and remittances.”

Highlighting that existing methods of cross-border transactions can take four or eight days, Ripple states that it can handle a transaction from an Uzbek bank to its Indian counterpart “at near real time,” adding:

“This route minimizes costs, time and risks that the prevalent models of cross-border banking retain. As a corollary, many friction points like minimum account balances and different time zones as also operational and settlement risks, are avoided in cross-border payments using XRP.”

In a comparative analysis of XRP's characteristics and performance metrics to those of other notable digital assets like Bitcoin (BTC) and Ether (ETH), Ripple outlined the major benefits of XRP.

Comparison of XRP characteristics to those of BTC, ETH, BCH, and LTC. Source: Ripple

Comparison of XRP characteristics to those of BTC, ETH, BCH, and LTC. Source: Ripple

India's uncertain environment for cryptocurrency regulation

Ripple’s crypto policy paper comes amid long-running uncertainty for digital assets in the country. After India's central bank banned local banks from servicing crypto firms in 2018, the legal status of crypto was unclear as the Reserve Bank of India simultaneously claimed that there was no prohibition on crypto in the country.

After India’s Supreme Court lifted the RBI banking ban in March 2020, the Ministry of Finance reportedly proposed a blanket moratorium on June 12.

India is not the only country that has been engaged in “regulatory ping pong” with the crypto industry. Russia has also offered little certainty for crypto-related business as local authorities still disagree on the legal status of digital assets.

Cointelegraph reached out to Ripple to find out whether the firm is planning to assist other countries in adopting crypto regulation, but has not received a response as of press time.

Ripple approaching the Indian market as XRP is beat out by Tether

Ripple’s proposal for crypto regulation in India comes soon after XRP lost its long-running position of the third-largest cryptocurrency by market capitalization. As reported on May 25, major stablecoin Tether (USDT) outstripped XRP to become the third largest crypto by market cap.

As of press time, XRP’s market cap accounts for $8.5 billion, while Tether’s market share amounts to $9.2 billion.

Blockchain Voting Will Determine Vladimir Putin’s Presidential Fate

Moscow citizens will be able to vote on Vladimir Putin’s Constitutional amendments via a blockchain-powered system.

Russia’s upcoming e-voting on the Constitutional amendments will be implemented using blockchain technology.

Moscow citizens will be able to cast their votes on Vladimir Putin’s Constitutional amendments online via blockchain-powered e-voting. As announced on the Moscow government’s official website, Moscow voters can sign up for the upcoming e-voting starting from June 5.

Blockchain makes voting “almost impossible to hack”

Scheduled to take place from June 25 to June 30, the e-voting will be implementing blockchain technology to “ensure security and transparency.” As officially announced, blockchain will help to anonymize and encrypt each vote to provide safety and immutability of data.

As a blockchain network “does not have a single server,” the chain is “almost impossible to hack,” the official announcement says.

The statement reads:

“The safety and transparency of electronic voting will be ensured by blockchain technology. Such a network does not have a single server: in order to change the information regarding bulletins, it is necessary to obtain the approval of most network participants, so the chain is almost impossible to hack. The vote itself is anonymized and encrypted.”

In the announcement, the Moscow government did not specify what kind of blockchain technology exactly is going to be deployed during the vote. The authority also did not mention any company assisting in implementing the technology for the voting process. Cointelegraph reached out to the e-voting customer support to find out more details on the matter. This article will be updated should they respond.

The vote could extend Putin’s term by other 12 years

During the vote, Russian citizens will choose whether they support the Constitutional amendments.

First introduced on Jan. 15, 2020, the Constitutional amendments proposal aims to allow Putin to serve two more six-year terms — until 2036. If Russian people vote against the amendments, Putin will finally have to leave his Presidential post in 2024. Putin has been serving in office either as President or prime minister since 1999.

During his long-running rule, Putin has failed to introduce legislation for the cryptocurrency industry in Russia despite issuing multiple deadlines to adopt one. The Russian President may rule the fate of one of the biggest cryptocurrency and blockchain markets worldwide. As reported by Cointelegraph, Russia has been leading the world in 2020 by its share in global Bitcoin (BTC) trading on peer-to-peer exchange LocalBitcoins.

In late 2019, Changpeng Zhao, CEO of the world’s largest crypto exchange, Binance, called Russian President Putin “the most influential person in the blockchain space.”

Coincheck Halts Crypto Remittance to Investigate Latest Data Breach

Coincheck suffered a data breach that may have leaked users’ emails and personal information, including date of birth and phone number.

Major Japanese cryptocurrency exchange Coincheck has suffered a data breach involving unauthorized access to the platform’s domain registration service.

Coincheck is one of the world’s oldest crypto exchanges. They suffered a $500 million hack in 2018, which is considered to be the biggest crypto theft in history. The exchange has now encountered another apparent attack that could lead to customers’ personal data and emails being leaked, Cointelegraph Japan reports June 2.

Deposits and withdrawals operate while remittances are halted

Announcing the incident on Tuesday, Coincheck said that the breach had “no impact on the customer's assets” this time. However, Coincheck still had to halt its crypto remittance service in order to investigate the problem, the firm said.

Coincheck elaborated:

“Although there is no impact on your assets at this time, we will stop crypto remittance service again, considering the progress of the investigation by the domain registration service operator. Services such as depositing/withdrawing Japanese Yen and receiving/purchasing/selling crypto assets can be used as usual.”

Potentially leaked data include birth date, phone numbers and selfie ID

According to the announcement, the breach took place on May 31 and June 1. It purportedly affected roughly 200 customers, all of whom had sent in email inquiries during that period. The severity of the breach is apparently significant. Attackers may have stolen Coincheck clients’ email addresses, as well as information like full name, date of birth, phone number, registration address, and selfie ID.

Data breaches at crypto-related businesses are becoming increasingly frequent. On May 24, Cointelegraph reported on a major data breach involving databases for crypto hardwallets like Ledger, Trezor, and KeepKey. As a result of the breach, attackers were allegedly selling databases of 80,000 users, with data including name, address, phone number, and email.

In mid-May 2020, crypto lending provider BlockFi suffered a similar data breach. Despite the attack not including non-public identification information like bank accounts or passwords, the incident still poses significant risks like SIM swapping attacks.

Nike Unlocks Up to 3% in Crypto Rewards With Plutus Partnership

The U.S. footwear giant Nike entered a new affiliate partnership allowing customers to earn up to 3% from online purchases with crypto.

The United States footwear giant Nike continues to explore the blockchain and cryptocurrency industry by introducing cash backs in crypto.

The famous footwear and clothing company has just entered an affiliate partnership with London-based fintech startup Plutus​ to unlock up to 3% in crypto and 9% cash rewards for making purchases on Nike’s online store.

Rewards are available for GBP and EUR only

In order to receive the rewards, customers should use the Plutus Visa Card while shopping online. As Plutus operates within the United Kingdom and the European Economic Area to date, the service is now available for purchase in euro (EUR) and the British pound (GBP), a spokesperson at the firm told Cointelegraph.

The rewards are generated in Plutus’ native token, Pluton (PLU), a decentralized loyalty token running on the Ethereum network. Apart from 12% in total rewards available, Plutus users can also earn more rewards by staking the PLU token via Plutus’ app, the firm said. As of press time, the token is trading at $1.75, with a market capitalization of about $1.5 million.

Plutus is an affiliate partner for Airbnb and Skyscanner

By introducing Nike crypto rewards, Plutus is making another step in its mission to bring cryptocurrencies into everyday life. Nike’s affiliate partnership comes months after Plutus introduced a similar feature on major travel websites, Airbnb and Skyscanner, earlier this year. Unfortunately, development had to be paused due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Danial Daychopan, Plutus CEO and founder, said:

“Plutus was approved as an affiliate partner for both Airbnb and Skyscanner at the start of the year, however all programs in the travel category have been temporarily paused by the company due to travel restrictions caused by COVID-19. Both of these partners were included to offer cash back to qualified Plutus members.”

Crypto-linked features are nothing new to Nike brand so far. In late 2019, Nike patented the so-called “CryptoKicks,” shoes that are tokenized as a non-fungible token on the Ethereum blockchain. Nike has also participated in a blockchain-based supply chain pilot backed by Alabama’s Auburn University.

Russia Leads Global BTC Trading on LocalBitcoins for 2nd Month in a Row

Russia tops global Bitcoin trading on P2P exchange LocalBitcoins amid local crypto regulation uncertainty.

Despite local cryptocurrency uncertainty, Russia is strengthening its leadership on major peer-to-peer exchange LocalBitcoins in the share of Bitcoin (BTC) trading volumes.

Russia has traded the most Bitcoin on LocalBitcoins exchange for two consecutive months, April and May 2020, according to an analysis by crypto media startup CryptoDiffer.

Russia trades nearly twice as much BTC on LocalBitcoins as Venezuela and the U.S.

According to the data, Russia was responsible for 19% of total BTC trading volumes on LocalBitcoins this May, leaving Venezuela and the United States trailing. LocalBitcoins’ BTC trading in Venezuela and the U.S. reportedly accounted for 11% and 10%, respectively. Total Bitcoin trading volumes on LocalBitcoins in May 2020 amounted to 17,867 bitcoins, the firm found.

The information provided by CryptoDiffer apparently coincides with data from major Bitcoin statistics website, Coin Dance. According to Coin Dance’s website, Russia’s weekly BTC trading volumes on LocalBitcoins accounted for about 800 BTC in May 2020. Meanwhile, Venezuela and the U.S. were trading around 400 BTC per week during the same month.

LocalBitcoins expands its push into Russian market

A spokesperson for LocalBitcoins confirmed to Cointelegraph that Russia has been one of the leading markets on the platform. Citing an internal LocalBitcoins’ report, the representative said that Russia was responsible for 17,9% of the total trade volume on the exchange in May 2020.

Finland-based LocalBitcoins has been providing Bitcoin trading services against the Russian ruble since 2013, the person said. After hitting all-time highs in weekly BTC trading in 2017, Russian market has remained an important market to date, the LocalBitcoins’ representative noted.

Russia’s Bitcoin trading leadership on LocalBitcoins comes amid the firm’s apparent push into the Russian market. In mid-April 2020, LocalBitcoins introduced a dedicated Russian-language blog, debuting with an article featuring a Russian community manager, Vladislav Alimpiev. LocalBitcoins has been also promoting its service for Russian users, tweeting that the platform is among key crypto exchanges for Russia.

Overall trading volumes on LocalBitcoins has declined in recent years

Russia became the largest trader of Bitcoin on LocalBitcoins amid a general decline of Bitcoin trading activity on the platform. According to data from Coin Dance, weekly Bitcoin trading volumes on the exchange collapsed from around 10,000 BTC in May 2019 to about 4,500 BTC in May 2020.

Bitcoin trading volumes on LocalBitcoins dropped significantly after the platform abruptly terminated some local cash trades in June 2019. The volumes continued to decline as the exchange was tightening Anti-Money Laundering measures and suspending accounts in multiple regions.

Global BTC trading volumes on LocalBitcoins. Source: Coin Dance

Global BTC trading volumes on LocalBitcoins. Source: Coin Dance

The drop on LocalBitcoins’ global markets comes in line with a significant decline in its Russian market. As such, weekly BTC trading volumes in Russia dropped roughly 60% from about 2,000 BTC in May 2019 to 800 BTC in May 2020, according to data from Coin Dance.

While Russia is apparently the top market for LocalBitcoins so far, the country has seen some issues in terms of crypto regulation. On May 21, Russian lawmakers suggested criminalizing crypto violations with fines up to $28,240 and imprisonment for up to seven years.

Addressing the issue, the LocalBitcoins’ representative said:

“We are following the legal situation in Russia and we hope that Russian people will continue to have access to Bitcoin and its benefits in the future too.”

Swiss Bank Maerki Baumann Launches Crypto Custody and Trading

Swiss private bank Maerki Baumann deepens crypto push by adding crypto custody and trading services.

Maerki Baumann, an unlisted family-owned bank in Switzerland, is expanding its cryptocurrency services by introducing crypto custody and trading.

Following regulatory approval from the Swiss Financial Market Advisory Authority, or FINMA, Maerki Baumann will be offering its clients the trading and custody of crypto starting from June 2020.

Five crypto assets will be available at the launch

Announcing the news on May 29, the Zurich-based private bank said that the launch of new crypto features comes in line with Maerki Baumann’s crypto strategy initiated in early 2019. As part of the strategy, Maerki Baumann has been offering business accounts for blockchain firms as well as providing advice for startups dealing with initial coin offerings and security token offerings.

At the initial launch, Maerki Baumann clients will be able to trade five major cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin (BTC), Ether (ETH), XRP, Bitcoin Cash (BCH) and Litecoin (LTC). Traders will be also offered to trade other ERC-20-based digital assets, the firm said.

The new crypto push to bring more investment opportunities

In order to handle cryptocurrency trading, Maerki Baumann will be collaborating with some of its established partners. Specifically, the trading orders placed with the bank will be processed via companies like the transaction bank InCore Bank AG to professional crypto brokers and liquid crypto exchanges, the bank elaborated. “This will ensure that transactions can be rapidly executed and with a narrow trading spread,” Maerki Baumann added.

The new crypto push is intended to build a bridge between traditional private banking and the crypto industry. Maerki Baumann CEO Stephan Zwahlen outlined that the new feature will enable new investment opportunities for institutional investors. He said:

“With the trading and custody of digital assets, not only are we tapping into a new business area, we are also creating additional investment possibilities for our core business. This will benefit younger, tech-savvy client segments as well as private and institutional clients who would like to seek out new sources of return in the digital sphere or further diversify their portfolios.”

Cointelegraph reached out to Maerki Baumann with additional queries and will update as soon as we hear back.

Maerki Baumann is among early adopters of the crypto and blockchain technology in Switzerland. In August 2018, the bank reportedly became the second Swiss bank to accept crypto assets. Last year, the company’s CEO suggested that blockchain tech and crypto assets might outstrip traditional banking business.

Emin Gün Sirer’s AVA Labs to Distribute 2M Tokens Ahead of Full Launch

A new DeFi and enterprise blockchain app protocol, AVA Labs, will distribute 2 million tokens in a final testnet before mainnet launch in summer.

AVA Labs, a blockchain protocol founded by Cornell’s Emin Gün Sirer, is planning to distribute 2 million tokens in its final testnet before the project’s full launch in summer.

The so-called “Denali Testnet” will serve as the final stage of the AVA network testing before AVA’s mainnet launch. The new testnet will allow each validator to earn up to 2,000 AVA network’s native tokens, AVA Labs announced on May 29.

AVA Labs tokens are not yet listed on any cryptocurrency exchange and are not available for public purchase, a spokesperson at AVA Labs told Cointelegraph.

The testnet to run from June 1 to June 15

While testnet registration starts immediately on May 29, the first phase of the testnet launch will start on June 1. At that time, participants are expected to set up live nodes, an AVA Labs representative explained. The Denali testnet consists of three core challenges, which run until June 15. While AVA Labs expects to move to its mainnet in summer 2020, there is no specific date for the full launch of the project, an AVA Labs’ spokesperson said.

The Denali testnet follows AVA’s first successful testnet known as “Cascade.” Launched in mid-April 2020, AVA’s Cascade testnet amassed 300 developers setting up and running validator nodes.

AVA network is purportedly going to be the “Internet of blockchains” once launched

Initiated by Sirer in 2019, AVA Labs is an open-source platform and a layer 1 protocol for launching decentralized finance, or DeFi, applications and enterprise blockchain solutions. The platform is designed to unify DeFi applications and blockchain deployments in one scalable and interoperable ecosystem. According to AVA co-founder, Kevin Sekniqi, the best way to describe the new protocol is the “Internet of blockchains.”

In late April 2020, AVA Labs’ Sirer said that as much as 95% of all existing cryptocurrencies do not represent any tech advancement and should be regarded as nothing but scams.

AVA network’s token is not to be confused with Travala.com’s proprietary token, AVA. Backed by the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, Binance, Travala.com is a blockchain-based travel booking platform that features payments and loyalty rewards in its native crypto, AVA token.

China’s TON Community to Launch Their Own Blockchain Network

As the official TON team transfers the TON development to “free source community,” the Chinese TON Community launches their own TON network.

Telegram’s terminated blockchain project, Telegram Open Network, or TON, keeps spawning new community-led TON networks. 

While there are at least two global TON-based initiatives so far, namely Free TON and NewTON, the Chinese TON Community has opted to launch their own TON network.

In a May 29 blog post, the Chinese TON Community voiced its intention to launch a separate TON-based network. The new effort comes in response to Telegram CEO Pavel Durov officially shutting down the firm’s involvement in the project, the post notes.

Blockchain testnet is a first step

The community plans to launch their own TON blockchain testnet as well as roll out a project website. Similarly to initiatives like Free TON, the Chinese TON Community will be seeking to recruit more participants to develop the network. The blog post reads:

“We plan to start the TON Blockchain testnet in the first step, recruit more nodes and developers to join the network and test the network, and then redesign network rules that are more adapted to the current context, and invite more people to experience and use TON.”

The announcement also points out some major problems associated with community-led TON initiatives, including problems of initial allocation, lack of integration with Telegram messenger as well as lack of developer incentives.

Tooz Wu founded the Chinese TON Community in May 2019

The post is authored by Tooz Wu, a Beijing-based blockchain researcher and founder of the Chinese TON Community. According to Wu’s LinkedIn page, the Chinese TON Community is the most active TON community in China. 

After initiating the community in May 2019, Wu started a Telegram community group in October 2019. Speaking to Cointelegraph, Wu said that he is also a member of the TON Community Foundation, an independent global community of TON developers.

Alongside being a key figure behind the Chinese TON Community, Wu is also a creator of TONbus.com, a website that brings together major TON-related sources. Wu is also known for translating Telegram's TON white paper into Chinese.

TON officially passes the torch to the “free source community”

As the Chinese TON Community is preparing to launch their own TON network, there are at least three TON-based blockchain successors to date. 

Apparently, these communities are not getting along too well. In a May 7 tweet, the Chinese TON Community explicitly criticized Free TON, claiming that the initiative does not represent the actual TON community:

“Free TON is a shitcoin by TON Labs Company. Does not represent the TON Community. Who is the TON Labs Company BOSS ?”

Earlier this week, the original TON development team announced that their efforts have been “redirected to other projects.” In a May 24 statement, they noted that the “principal development of the TON code is transferred to the free source community.”

Telegram CEO Donates 10 BTC to Charity Project in Russia

Telegram CEO Pavel Durov donates 10 BTC to a Russian charity project backed by a local political activist.

Pavel Durov, founder and CEO of popular messaging app Telegram, has purportedly resumed his charity activity soon after terminating Telegram’s blockchain project.

Known for philanthropic activity, including a $1 million donation to Wikipedia, Durov has donated 10 bitcoins (BTC) to a charity project in Russia. The coins are worth around $96,000 at time of publication.

Donation will help people facing financial difficulties due to coronavirus

The new donation intends to support a project backed by political activist, Yegor Zhukov — who established himself as a symbol of anti-Kremlin protests. The donated Bitcoin will be spent to help people facing financial difficulties due to the coronavirus pandemic, including distributing free food packages, Zhukov’s team announced on Instagram on May 28.

Dubbed “Mutual Aid,” the Zhukov’s team-led project was launched in early April and has reportedly provided support to almost 3,000 people to date. The project was initiated in response to the coronavirus-fueled crisis, aiming to bring people together to help each other independently from the government.

Durov uses public Bitcoin address for donation

A spokesperson for the project told Cointelegraph that Durov reached out to Zhukov on Telegram before making the donation. The person said that Durov expressed his willingness to support the project.

According to the representative, Telegram CEO completed the donation in a series of five transactions on May 24 and May 25. Durov used the Bitcoin address set aside for general donations by the project, the person said. As of press time, the address holds 12.7 BTC, or about $120,000, according to public data from Blockchain.com.

“Main goal of both crypto and Telegram is independence from the government”

The donation comes amid years of legal uncertainty toward cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin in Russia. While Russia has not yet adopted any crypto-related laws, the government is now considering fines and prison terms of up to 7 years for illegal issuance and use of crypto. Alongside crypto uncertainty, Russia is also facing disagreement over lifting the Telegram ban in the country. In the meantime, both Telegram and crypto continue operating in Russia.

Addressing the issue, Zhukov emphasized that Telegram and crypto basically share the same objectives. Particularly, they are designed to bring freedom from the government and cannot be regulated, Zhukov told Cointelegraph. Expressing gratitude to Durov’s support, Zhukov said:

“The main purpose of both crypto and Telegram is independence from the government. Thus, neither of the two should basically be regulated.” 

By expressing his libertarian stance, Zhukov echoed some words of Durov. “In the 21st century, the best legislative initiative is the absence of one,” Durov argued in a manifesto published in Russian publication Afisha back in 2012.

Celsius Users Can Now Buy Tether Gold via Debit and Credit Cards

Celsius users can now purchase Tether Gold via credit and debit cards with a minimum purchase amount of $50.

Celsius Network is expanding its partnership with fiat-to-crypto payments provider, Simplex, by enabling its users to buy more crypto with credit and debit cards.

Celsius, a major crypto lending startup, now allows its users to purchase gold-backed stablecoin Tether Gold (XAUT) using debit and credit cards. Announcing the news on May 28, Celsius said that the minimum purchase amount for XAUT is $50, while the annual interest rate accounts for 4%.

Tether Gold was rolled out for depositing on Celsius app earlier in May

Alongside Tether Gold, the new integration with Simplex also unlocks credit and debit card purchases for the firm’s native token, Celsius (CEL). According to the firm, Celsius users can earn interest in CEL on 25 different virtual cryptocurrencies at a rate of up to 30%.

The new feature comes shortly after Celsius first listed Tether Gold on its mobile app. On May 5, Celsius rolled out XAUT for depositing on the Celsius app, allowing users to earn 3% of the annual percentage yield. Apparently, Celsius is one of few global companies that offer to earn interest on Tether Gold deposits via credit and debit card purchases.

Cointelegraph reached out to Celsius and Simplex for additional queries and will update if we hear back.

Celsius users can also buy BTC and ETH via credit and debit cards

Tether Gold and CEL are not the only cryptos that can be bought via credit and debit cards on Celsius network. In February 2020, Celsius launched in-app crypto purchases through a partnership with Simplex, unlocking Bitcoin (BTC) and Ether (ETH) via credit or debit cards. Similar to other Simplex integrations with major crypto firms like Binance and Huobi, the feature supports credit card issuers, including Visa and MasterCard.

Tether Gold is one of the stablecoins launched by major cryptocurrency firm Tether alongside the controversial stablecoin USDT. Launched in January 2020, the gold-backed stablecoin was subsequently listed by Tether’s affiliate exchange Bitfinex. In March, Bitfinex introduced Tether Gold for futures trading.