Binance Temporarily Paused Bitcoin Transactions Over Network Congestion, Also Faces Government Scrutiny

CoinDesk reports that Binance “temporarily paused bitcoin withdrawals Sunday morning U.S. time as the Bitcoin blockchain became overwhelmed with pending transactions and sky-high fees.”
The company resumed withdrawals within two hours of its initial Twitter posting about the withdrawals.
On-chain data shows that there are nearly 400,000 unconfirmed Bitcoin transactions, which is higher than anything seen during the bull runs of 2018 and 2021. The average transaction fee has also doubled since March, pushing it to a two-year high. The current transaction fee is just over $8, a 309% change from a year ago.

In an earlier CoinDesk article, an executive at Luxor Technologies, a full-stack Bitcoin mining pool, blamed the rising fees on the adoption of the new BRC-20 token standard, a new way to “inscribe” additional data during transactions.

But meanwhile, an anonymous reader shared another report from Mashable about Binance:

Bloomberg reported that the crypto exchange (currently the world’s largest) is facing a U.S. Department of Justice probe over possibly allowing Russians to move money in a way that would violate U.S. sanctions… It’s worth noting that no formal accusation has been made against Binance, as this is just a probe. It may be some time before accusations manifest — if they manifest at all. In 2021, Binance was under a similar investigation related to possible money laundering.
But another Reuters article adds that Bloomberg’s sources “also said that Binance is discussing the possibility of settling with the Department of Justice regarding previous allegations that the exchange was also used to move money to circumvent U.S. sanctions against Iran.”
And elsewhere, Reuters reports:
Israel has seized around 190 crypto accounts at crypto exchange Binance since 2021 , including two it said were linked to Islamic State and dozens of others it said were owned by Palestinian firms connected to the Islamist Hamas group, documents released by the country’s counter-terror authorities show…
In a blog post after its publication, Binance said that Reuters was “deliberately leaving out critical facts.” The exchange has been “working closely with international counter-terrorism authorities” on the seizures, Binance said. “With regard to the specific organizations mentioned in the article, it’s important to clarify that bad actors don’t register accounts under the names of their criminal enterprises,” it said…
Under Israeli law, the country’s defense minister can order the seizure and confiscation of assets that the ministry deems related to terrorism… The seizures by Israel’s National Bureau for Counter Terror Financing highlight how governments are targeting crypto companies in their efforts to prevent illegal activity. Binance, founded in 2017 by CEO Changpeng Zhao, says on its website it reviews information requests from governments and law enforcement agencies on a case-by-case basis, disclosing information as legally required.

Binance has also said it checks users for connections to terrorism and has “continued to invest tremendous resources to enhance its compliance program,” it told U.S. senators in March in response to their requests for information on Binance’s regulatory compliance and finances.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

White House Proposes 30% Tax On Electricity Used For Crypto Mining

Longtime Slashdot reader SonicSpike shares a report from Engadget: The Biden administration wants to impose a 30 percent tax on the electricity used by cryptocurrency mining operations, and it has included the proposal in its budget for the fiscal year of 2024. In a blog post on the White House website, the administration has formally introduced the Digital Asset Mining Energy or DAME excise tax. It explained that it wants to tax cryptomining firms, because they aren’t paying for the “full cost they impose on others,” which include environmental pollution and high energy prices.

Crypto mining has “negative spillovers on the environment,” the White House continued, and the pollution it generates “falls disproportionately on low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.” It added that the operations’ “often volatile power consumption ” can raise electricity prices for the people around them and cause service interruptions. Further, local power companies are taking a risk if they decide to upgrade their equipment to make their service more stable, since miners can easily move away to another location, even abroad. As Yahoo News noted, there are other industries, such as steel manufacturing, that also use large amounts of electricity but aren’t taxed for their energy consumption. In its post, the administration said that cryptomining “does not generate the local and national economic benefits typically associated with businesses using similar amounts of electricity.”

Critics believe that the government made this proposal to go after and harm an industry it doesn’t support. A Forbes report also suggested that DAME may not be the best solution for the issue, and that taxing the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions might be a better alternative. That could encourage mining firms not just to minimize energy use, but also to find cleaner sources of power. It might be difficult to convince the administration to go down that route, though: In its blog post, it said that the “environmental impacts of cryptomining exist even when miners use existing clean power.” Apparently, mining operations in communities with hydropower have been observed to reduce the amount of clean power available for use by others. That leads to higher prices and to even higher consumption of electricity from non-clean sources. “If the proposal ever becomes a law, the government would impose the excise tax in phases,” adds Engadget. “It would start by adding a 10 percent tax on miners’ electricity use in the first year, 20 percent in the second and then 30 percent from the third year onwards.”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Crypto Bank Silvergate Capital To Shut Down

Silvergate Capital, the publicly-traded parent of Silvergate Bank, said Wednesday that it would liquidate the bank, just days after saying future operations would be uncertain. Axios reports: “In light of recent industry and regulatory developments, Silvergate believes that an orderly wind down of Bank operations and a voluntary liquidation of the Bank is the best path forward,” a press statement reads. While the bank’s demise had everything to do with its choice of industry — FTX’s collapse sent the entire crypto world in hunt of liquidity, causing a run on deposits at Silvergate — balance-sheet problems in today’s high-rate environment is not a crypto bank-specific stumbling block. Silvergate’s troubles were in plain sight in that respect.

When customers pulled more than $8 billion from its platform late last year, the bank got a $4.3 billion assist in home loan advances from the Federal Home Loan Bank (FHLB). It effectively benefited from an implicit government backstop. But between having to pay those loans back right away and other investment losses, its outlook was grim, even before the company filed a registration statement saying so.

The overwhelming majority of bank liquidations are announced on a Friday afternoon, to give the FDIC a full weekend to shore up the institution and reassure depositors before the next business day. The fact this happened on a Wednesday is an indication of just how quickly Silvergate imploded. “Crypto exchanges, platforms and stablecoin issuers at least have the excuse that they don’t have direct access to central bank liquidity,” Frances Coppola, an economist and writer of blog Coppola Comment, said in a recent post about the bank. “But Silvergate does — and yet it didn’t use it.” That would appear to be an oversight for the bank, but also its regulator.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Kraken Settles With SEC For $30 Million, Agrees To Shutter Crypto-Staking Operation

According to CoinDesk, Kraken has agreed to shut its cryptocurrency-staking operations to settle charges with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). From the report: The SEC will discuss and vote on the settlement during a closed-door commissioner meeting on Thursday afternoon, and an announcement may come later in the day, the industry person told CoinDesk. Kraken offers a number of services under its staking umbrella, including a crypto-lending product offering up to 24% yield. This is also expected to shut down under the settlement, the industry person said. Kraken’s staking service offered a 20% APY, promising to send customers staking rewards twice per week, according to its website. Bloomberg reported that Kraken was close to a settlement with the SEC over offering unregistered securities on Wednesday.

SEC Chair Gary Gensler has previously said he believes staking through intermediaries — like Kraken — may meet the requirements of the Howey Test, a decades-old U.S. Supreme Court case commonly used as one measure of whether something can be defined as a security under U.S. laws. Staking looks similar to lending, Gensler said at the time. The SEC has brought and settled charges with lending companies before, such as now-bankrupt lender BlockFi. A Kraken settlement would help Gensler’s mission, giving his agency a big win as it continues its efforts to police the broader crypto ecosystem. The majority of people staking on Ethereum, for example, use services, according to Dune Analytics. CNBC reports that the crypto exchange has also agreed to “pay a $30 million fine to settle an enforcement action alleging it sold unregistered securities.”

“The SEC claims Kraken failed to register the offer and sale of its crypto staking-as-a-service program. U.S. investors had crypto assets worth over $2.7 billion on Kraken’s platform, the SEC alleged, earning Kraken around $147 million in revenue, according to the SEC complaint (PDF).” The SEC announced the charges in a press release.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Binance To Suspend US Dollar Bank Transfers This Week

Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, will suspend U.S. dollar deposits and withdrawals, the company said Monday, without providing a reason for the decision. CNBC reports: Binance US, a unit of the company that’s regulated by the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, said in a tweet that it’s not affected by the suspension. Thus the move applies only to non-U.S. customers who transfer money to or from bank accounts in dollars. Data from Arkham Intelligence shows that following the announcement, there was a sharp spike in outflows from Binance’s crypto wallets, as millions of dollar-pegged stablecoins such as tether and USDC flowed to rival exchanges or individual wallets.

Binance’s net U.S. dollar outflow was over $172 million for the day, based on data from DefiLlama. That represents a tiny amount of money for a company that has $42.2 billion worth of crypto assets, according to Arkham. “We’re still overwhelmingly net-positive on net deposits,” the spokesperson said. “Outflows always tick up when prices start to level off following a bullish market swing like we saw last week as some users take profits.” Bitcoin rose more than 38% in January, its best month since October 2021.

Regarding Monday’s suspension, a Binance representative told CNBC in an email that “Binance.US has its own banking partners and does not have any issues.” The main Binance exchange does not serve U.S. users. Binance said customers can still use other fiat currencies or payment methods to purchase crypto. For the small number affected, “we’ll have a new partner to announce for those users in the next couple weeks,” the spokesperson said.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.