In a blog post, BitOasis acknowledged that while it has resumed its acceptance of new clients onto the platform as a crypto broker operating under Dubai’s virtual asset regulatory authority (VARA), it is working “towards securing a full virtual asset service provider license under the supervision of VARA”.

In the blog post, BitOasis announced that the crypto broker would resume accepting new registrations retail and institutional customers starting 12 April 2024.  New users would be able to create accounts on the platform and enjoy a safe, secure and convenient way to buy, sell and trade over 60 tokens with multiple currencies, including AED, SAR, and USD.

The blog post adds,” The reopening of our platform to new retail and institutional customers is a testament to our continued dedication to serving our users in full compliance with the applicable regulatory requirements.”

BitOasis had been working since July 2023 to fulfill select conditions associated with its Operational MVP License with respect to serving Institutional and Qualified Retail Investors.

In August 2023, BitOais received an investment from Indian crypto exchange CoinDCX. At the time, Ola Doudin, Co-Founder and CEO of BitOasis said: “We are delighted to be working with CoinDCX, India’s leading crypto platform. The investment will allow us to sharpen our focus on perfecting our existing products and expanding across our markets. We are very excited about the opportunities the funding will unlock for us.”

With VARA granting renewed active operational status to BitOasis, as well as the license to crypto.com, the UAE crypto exchange regulatory landscape is now one of the most competitive in the world.

Kindly note that this article has been updated on April 14th 2024 based on VARA’s website page which noted that BitOasis hasnt received a VASP license but has now become actively operational once again.

The Dubai Virtual asset regulatory authority public register continues to have UAE based BitOasis, crypto exchange on a “non operational” MVP Operational license status after a server glitch which had removed BitOasis from the registry for sometime totally today. This comes after months of BitOasis being on an inactive status, yet within Abu Dhabi’s regulatory body ADGM and FSRA BitOasis has a withdrawn its license application.

BitOasis has been working since July 2023 to fulfill select conditions associated with its Operational MVP License with respect to serving Institutional and Qualified Retail Investors, yet it seems that this is still ongoing with no change in its status to date.

BitOasis license in ADGM Abu Dhabi UAE, under the registered company name BLEX Financial limited has been withdrawn as well. In 2021 BitOasis had announced in a press release that its ADGM registered entity “had been granted a Financial Services Permission (FSP) from the Financial Services Regulatory Authority (FSRA) in the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) and is currently working towards the migration of its operations towards launch in ADGM”, this seems to have been put to a halt.

In August, the Dubai based crypto exchange received a capital injection aimed at supporting BitOasis. The capital injection came from Indian crypto exchange CoinDCX. At the time, Ola Doudin, Co-Founder and CEO of BitOasis said: “We are delighted to be working with CoinDCX, India’s leading crypto platform. The investment will allow us to sharpen our focus on perfecting our existing products and expanding across our markets. We are very excited about the opportunities the funding will unlock for us.”

At the time of investment, BitOasis was undertaking mass layoffs.

Yet CoinDCX has not sought for a license in either ADGM or VARA.

Given that BitOasis is not licensed in ADGM and its license status is non active in Dubai’s VARA registry, does that make it an illegal VASP operating in the UAE, this is especially important after the Central Bank issued its recent guidance for combating the use of unlicensed virtual asset service providers.

As per BitOasis blog, in March 2022, BitOasis received a provisional approval from Dubai’s Virtual Assets Regulatory Authority [VARA] to continue its business operations in Dubai whilst it undertakes the [in-depth] process of applying for a license in accordance with the VARA requirements. It is on this basis that the exchange is still operating today notes BitOasis.

This article has been updated as VARA website has reinstated BitOasis on their registery.

UAE based BitOasis crypto broker exchange has announced that it has secured an investment from CoinDCX, India’s biggest crypt exchange. This comes after BitOasis’s license was suspended by VARA for not meeting requirements. The latest investment will give BitOasis a new life line.

As per the news, the new capital injection will help to support BitOasis’s vision to amplify its regional presence and secure further licenses in the region.

Commenting on the news, Ola Doudin, Co-Founder and CEO of BitOasis said: “We are delighted to be working with CoinDCX, India’s leading crypto platform. From our first conversations, it was clear we share a common vision and synergies across our markets that we look forward to building towards. The investment will allow us to sharpen our focus on perfecting our existing products and expanding across our markets. We are very excited about the opportunities the funding will unlock for us.”

Sumit Gupta, Co-Founder and CEO of CoinDCX stated: “We are immensely excited about investing in BitOasis, the largest crypto trading platform in the Mena region. We have been impressed by BitOasis’s excellent product offering, strong leadership and their persistence to serve customers in the most secure and compliant manner.”

The investment comes after news that CoinDCX was in talks to acquire BitOasis. BitOasis in the past month had let go of more than 30 employees.

Prior to that VARA had freezed BitOasis’s MVP operational license for non compliance to requirements set by the Dubai virtual asset regulator. 

With this an Indian crypto exchange now has a foothold in the MENA region with the investment in BitOasis. 

Sources in the know of BitOasis’s current conditions, some of which have been affected by the latest changes, have confirmed to LaraontheBlock that on August 15th 2023, 30-50 employees were fired from BitOasis both from their offices in Jordan as well as UAE out of a total of over 120 employees. This happens as sources confirm that BitOasis is in the midst of ongoing negotiations to be acquired by India’s CoinDCX after the UAE based crypto broker failed to receive a Full Market product license from Dubai’s virtual asset regulatory authority VARA.

Launched on April 7th, 2018, CoinDCX is a cryptocurrency exchange with its offices located in India. CoinDCX is backed by investors such as Polychain Capital, Coinbase Ventures, Bain Capital Ventures, and HDR Group, operator of BitMEX and Pantera Capital among others. According to recent figures from CoinMarketCap CoinDCX has a Spot Trading Volume (24h) of $2,023,145.62 and holds total assets of $103,283,813.20.

In April 2022, CoinDCX raised $135.9 million from investors led by Pantera Capital and Steadview Capital, doubling its valuation to $2.15 billion becoming the most valued crypto trading platform in India.

In parallel BitOasis was valued in 2021 at $120 million receiving total funding of $30 million in a series B round in October 2021 from Global Founders Capital, Pantera Capital, Wamda Capital, Digital Currency Group, Alameda Research, Jump Capital and NXMH.

Sources also confirm that given the tough situation at BitOasis with no financial license, the company valuation has decreased significantly from 120 million and a distressed deal is being discussed to ensure business continuity and a path towards licensing.

BitOasis’s buyout comes after its MVP Operational license was halted by Dubai’s virtual asset regulatory authority (VARA) for not meeting mandated conditions required to be satisfied within 30-60 day timeframes prior to being permitted to undertake any VARA regulated market activity, subsequent to the issuance of its License for Institutional and Qualified Retail Investors, on 12.April.2023. This meant that BitOasis had failed to meet the financial and operational conditions license obligations.

At the time BitOasis had replied that they were committed to remediate all outstanding post licensing conditions of their Operational MVP license as committed to the regulator, as well as working towards Full Market Product (FMP) licensing.  The clarification stated, “We remain committed to securing a broker-dealer license, and operating a compliant, regulated platform in and from Dubai under VARA’s supervision. Transparency has always been a key value of our business – we will continue to update our community as we address these requirements prior to applying for an FMP license.”

Given the market conditions, the high interest rate environment and low valuation multiples for public players like Coinbase, it is expected that BitOasis investors will be offered shares as part of the distressed acquisition deal.

The upcoming weeks will be the teller of all, but what is sure is that the crypto exchange ecosystem is going through a rough time not only globally but in the MENA region. With increased and stricter regulatory requirements by regulators such as Dubai’s VARA, only the strongest will survive.

A day after Dubai’s virtual asset regulatory authority issued a market notificiation stating that it had taken enforcement actions against BitOasis and advised investors and consumers that BitOasis’s MVP operational license is under review for not meeting mandated conditions, BitOasis replies back that this does not effect the services being offered to existing customers. 

BitOasis was supposed to satisfy certain requirements within 30-60 days of receiving their MVP operational license prior to being permitted to undertake any VARA regulated market activity. 

As such VARA is  exercising its authority to supervise and monitor compliance, assure fulfilment of prescribed conditions, impose remedial measures, and take necessary enforcement actions, including but not limited to holding BitOasis’ Licence status as non-operational.

In response to this BitOasis replied, “ BitOasis  ongoing work to fulfill select conditions associated with its Operational MVP License with respect to serving Institutional and Qualified Retail Investors. BitOasis is working closely with VARA on fulfilling the remaining conditions and is committed to providing a safe and secure service to its users.” 

BitOasis notes that the notification issued by Dubai’s VARA only covers institutional and qualified investors. BitOasis confirmed that it had not began offering thse services to these segments as they needed to fullfill all VARA mandated conditions under its Operational MVP license. 

As such according to the clarificiaiton by BitOasis, “This does not impact our ability to continue to provide broker dealer services to our existing retail users, although we undertake to not onboard any new clients until we have fully complied with VARA requirements.” 

BitOasis added that they are committed to remediate all outstanding post licensing conditions of their Operational MVP license as committed to the regulator, as well as working towards Full Market Product (FMP) licensing.  The clarification adds, “ We remain committed to securing a broker-dealer license, and operating a compliant, regulated platform in and from Dubai under VARA’s supervision. Transparency has always been a key value of our business – we will continue to update our community as we address these requirements prior to applying for an FMP license.” 

It s no surprise that global crypto exchanges are flocking to the UAE, first it was Binance, then Kraken which left, then crypto.com, coinbase, and now the second biggest global exchange OKX.

OKX announced unilaterally that it had received a minimal viable Preparatory license from Dubai’s virtual asset regulatory authority (VARA). In 2022 OKX had received its provisional license and opened offices at the Dubai World Trade Centre. 

In the announcement they stressed that the UAE is a key strategic growth and business hub for OKX global with the company planning ot hire 30 staff locals and senior management.

OKX also added that it plans to extend its nine-figure brand partnerships to the UAE with customer and fan-focused activations and activities.

As per the announcement, once licensed to be operational, OKX Middle East will be able to extend its approved suite of duly regulated virtual assets activities and will provide spot, derivatives, and fiat services, including USD and AED deposits, withdrawals and spot-pairs, to institutional and qualified retail customers.

OKX Global Chief Commercial Officer Lennix Lai said, “We’re thrilled to receive the MVP preparatory licence from VARA. Regulated entities are the future of digital assets and capital markets and Dubai and VARA have succeeded in creating a unique environment where VASPs can thrive. With the expansion into a new office this year, we are focused on hiring local staff and senior management. The MENA region has incredible potential as a centre of excellence for Web3 and virtual assets, we look forward to the opportunity to expand the already growing ecosystem across the region.”

OKX Chief Marketing Officer Haider Rafique  added “We’ve been waiting to enter the UAE and we want people here to experience our products first hand. We’re different – we do things in a measured and transparent manner. May was our seventh consecutive month of publishing our proof of reserves, making us the only crypto exchange globally with that commitment. This attitude is consistent with the brand partners who represent us, Manchester City Football Club, McLaren Racing, and the Tribeca Festival. We take our time, and do things the right way.”

But on VARA’s website OKX is not listed in its public register, while Crypto.com, Binance, and BitOasis are. This is despite the fact that both Crypto.com and Binance have the same license approval as OKX.

This is not the first crypto exchange or virtual asset service provider to unilaterally announce they have received a license yet have never been put on VARA’s public register. Examples include, AquanowMaskex crypto exchange, Fasset tokenized assets exchange, and many others.

The question that is puzzling is why? Why put some names and not others, why highlight some companies in VARA press releases, like for example BitOasis, Crypto.com, GCEX, Enjinstarter, Binance, Hextrust, , but not Maskex, OKX and many more?

It might seem to be a small discrepancy, but to those who look at the VARA website as a legitimate source for knowing the status of VASP entities regulated in Dubai, it is a significant slip-up or maybe not!

As an update to this article, OKX has now been listed on VARA’s registry page on its website, still waiting to see Maskex, Aquanow and others 

Over the past years and despite the continuous banning of crypto in Qatar by the Qatar Central Bank, crypto trading and investing in Qatar is flourishing reflected in various ways. 

The first reflection of the attractiveness of crypto trading in Qatar is the statement made by Qatar’s Ahli bank, at the end of May 2023. The bank warned customers against, trading, buying and selling virtual assets and currencies through accounts and banking services, citing the reasons as being associated with high risks.

Secondly Triple A report in January 2023 put Qatar’s crypto ownership at 0.9 percent of the population, around 24,000 people. Since then it could be the numbers have increased. Just over a year ago CoinMENA had announced that it was serving clients in Qatar. Even Bahrain’s RAIN crypto broker supports Qatar, as does UAE based BitOasis.

But the third and most significant reflection of the growth of crypto in Qatar is the recent MENA FATF report, where they mention that Qatar needs to work more on improving its risk understanding, implementation of TFS ( Targeted Financial Transactions) and NPO (Nonprofit organizations) preventive measures for virtual assets, and virtual asset service providers.

As mentioned in their report, “ Qatar has a very strong level of compliance with the FATF Standards, with only minor improvements needed in relation to risk understanding, implementation of TFS and NPO preventive measures, VAs and VASPs, wire transfers, transparency for legal persons and arrangements and cross-border movements of cash and BNIs.

So while Qatar has embraced blockchaindigital assets, and is studying the possibility of implementing CBDC, while shunning crypto, the population in Qatar seems to be moving forward with the crypto times.

Crypto.com, a global crypto exchange seems it will soon  become the second crypto exchange in Dubai UAE to receive MVP operational license after BitOasis.

VARA’s public register had listed CRO DAX Middle East better known as Crypto.com as having an MVP operational license authorized for specific activities and product types. As stated prior, Crypto.com is only authorized to serve qualified retail and institutional clients, but VARA website has since then removed it and now states it has an MVP preparatory license. 

Sources close to the matter state that this is a sign that an operational license is soon to come. This would make crypto.com the first global exchange to receive an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) operational license from VARA. 

This comes after the UAE Central Bank recently announced its AML (Anti Money Laundering) and FTC for financial institutions dealing with VASPs.

Binance has also yet to receive its operational license and still holds the status of MVP preparatory license.

More and more global crypto exchanges are seeking to set up regulated licenses in UAE.

As per Dubai VARA website, BitOasis, the crypto broker exchange has moved one step forward in its licensing process. It has become the first among VARA’s crypto broker dealers to receive MVP (Minimum Viable Product). operational license one step before the FMP ( Full Minimum Product) Operational License.  

CoinMENA, Scallops, and MidChains are still in the first stage as MVP provisional while GCEX has received an MVP preparatory license one step before MVP operational license.

BitOasis applied for VARA licensing in March 2022. At the time BitOasis had carried out crypto trades worth $4 billion. Ola Doudin Co-Founder and CEO of BitOasis has stated at the time, “  “We will continue to strive to offer our customers the most customized platform for their local needs in accordance with regulations that will best protect them both now and as the industry evolves.”

In April of 2021, BitOasis announced that it had been granted a a Financial Services Permission (FSP) from the Financial Services Regulatory Authority (FSRA) in the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), but is still awaiting additional launch approvals as well.

BitOasis has raised a total of $30 million in funding from investors such as Alameda Research, Digital Currency Group, Global Founders Capital, Jump Capital, NXMH, Pantera Capital, Wamda Capital and others.

In October 2022 UAE based crypto exchange BitOasis, and MasterCard launched crypto card programs across the MENA region to facilitate day to day usage of cryptocurrencies at points of sale and ecommerce websites.

On Monday May 1st, Bitoasis in its official announcement and VARA made the following statements,

 Henson Orser, Chief Executive Office, VARA stated “We are pleased to welcome BitOasis to the MVP Programme phase. The VARA ecosystem aims to strike a balance between value creation, risk mitigation and enhanced investment opportunities with consumer protection at its core. BitOasis has demonstrated a strong commitment to operating with a firm bias for regulation throughout the licensing process. One of VARA’s founding principles is creating an equal opportunity regime for responsible VASPs and being able to onboard credible home-grown companies, like BitOasis, in addition to leading global platforms, allowing us to bring the shared learnings of our licensees to build the foundation for our global future economy.”

Ola Doudin, co-founder and CEO of BitOasis added, “We are extremely proud to receive VARA’s MVP Operational License. Becoming the first virtual asset trading platform in the MVP programme to attain an operating license is an important milestone for us and the Emirate of Dubai.”

 Samir Satchu, Senior Vice-President of Public Policy & Expansion at BitOasis noted, “Our commitment and ambition at BitOasis is to serve the GCC and MENA region through a network of regulated platforms and on the ground infrastructure. VARA’s MVP Operational License, as well as our in-principle approval in Bahrain, are important building blocks for that strategy. “

BitOasis is following in the footsteps of HexTrust crypto custodian who also received MVP operational license earlier this year.

VARA and UAE’s Security Commodities Authority both announced the commencement of licensing of already existing and new crypto entities. 

Article was updated on May 1st 2023 with quotes from VARA and BitOasis

It all started with the FTX downfall and then Binance’s Co-Founder and CEO call for crypto exchanges to carry out proof of reserves. Since then crypto exchanges such as Binance and crypto.com have provided wallets addresses tied to company wallets while Nansen blockchain analytics firm is creating a display of crypto exchange proof of reserves dashboard that currently includes Binance, crypto.com, OkX, Kucoin, Deribit, Bitfinex, Github, and others.

But what are locally homegrown crypto exchanges in MENA doing. Will they carry out proof of reserves, do they see it as the solution to bring trust back to crypto exchanges, and who has exposure to FTX?  

MENA Crypto Exchanges and Proof of Reserves

Bahrain based CoinMENA Talal Tabbaa and Dina Sama’an when asked by LaraontheBlock about if they will be doing proof of reserves stated, “This FTX news is a major setback for our industry and highlights the importance of regulation. This is why CoinMENA was established under the Central Bank of Bahrain, with a robust regulatory framework and compliance requirements. We go through regular audits and have to submit periodic reports to the regulators. More importantly, we keep our user funds in segregated accounts and we don’t offer leverage or margin which severely increases the risk profile of an exchange. We see crypto as a long-term investment and will continue to manage our risk prudently to build a sustainable and profitable business.”

Tabbaa adds, “CoinMENA is also reaching out to Nansen who is heading this effort globally to see the best way for it to be done.”

UAE regulated BitOasis CEO Ola Doudin states, “We believe that locally regulated platforms that follow industry best practices with proper oversight and supervision by their local regulators is the best way to ensure consumer protection and proper risk management practices.”

Vasja Zupan, President of UAE based Matrix Exchange in a reply to the question of whether they will do proof of reserves states, “We simply hold 1:1 client assets in our custody that is literally reconciled daily and regularly reported and checked by regulator and external auditors.”

Basil Askari Co-Founder of UAE MidChains has a similar reply, “In terms of proof of reserves we are already doing this on a daily basis with our regulator by providing daily client account reconciliations.”

Ola Doudin in her reply to this question stated, “BitOasis holds client assets in segregated client money accounts and custody environments. We’re an audited company that maintains the highest level of security and industry practices in storing and maintaining client assets one to one backed. We do not engage in any fractional reserve practices, proprietary trading, lending, and borrowing and we do not have an exchange token.”

Christopher Flinos, Chief Executive Officer of Hayvn crypto exchange in UAE “We already do proof of reserves. Our client’s crypto stays in segregated client wallets and our clients have always had access to their reserves. The firm in addition keeps shareholder funds in USD We hold no treasury in any coins not even stablecoins.”

Will Proof of reserves bring trust back to crypto exchanges?

Zupan believes that proof of reserves is totally useless without “proof of liabilities”. As he explains, “Proof of reserves alone should not bring trust back without 3rd party reviews and regulatory oversight over centralized services. I believe that CeFi needs a strong regulatory overview in combination with strong transparency and DeFi needs total transparency with independent reviews (not everyone can evaluate complex software and framework).”

Basil Askari co-founder of MidChains believes it is not enough to publish numbers. He explains, “Regulation and strict supervision by regulators on how client funds are used, is and has always been critical, as in TradeFi.”

Talal Tabbaa believes that the way crypto exchanges are carrying out proof of reserves at the moment is missing an important element. He explains, “In accounting when you provide information on your assets, you also provide information on your liabilities. Crypto exchanges need to do both proof of reserves and proof of liabilities preferably on a blockchain in real-time.”

Flinos agrees that with the current behavior of crypto exchange leadership trust is continuing to be damaged and what is need is strong regulation, control and corporate governance.

Exposure to FTX

In the past both CoinMENA and BitOasis had in their investment rounds received investment from FTX Ventures through Alameda Research. As such CoinMENA in a joint statement from both Talal Tabbaa and Dina Sam’an, Co-Founders, to LaraontheBlock clarified the following:  “FTX’s Investment arm Alameda Research invested $1 million in CoinMENA’s $9.5m seed funding round in 2021. All the funds were received prior to the close of the seed round. Their stake is less than 3% and has no voting rights. In light of the recent news, we have offered to buy back their minority stake.”

BitOasis also made a public blog post where it stated the following: “BitOasis confirms that it has no commercial relationship or exposure with Alameda Research (Alameda) or any other FTX entity. Accordingly, recent events at FTX and Alameda do not have any bearing on our business, or our ability to provide our customers with a safe and secure trading experience. In 2021, Alameda participated in BitOasis’ Series B financing round. As a result of its investment Alameda holds a 2.2% shareholding in BitOasis through Alameda Ventures Limited. Alameda is not represented (nor has it ever been) on BitOasis’ board of directors or on any governance forum or committee in any capacity. The shareholding is small and hence creates no exposure to our business.”

Matrix, Hayvn and MidChains founders confirm that they have zero exposure to FTX. Zupan stated, “We don’t have any exposure to FTX or any related party or similar protocols.” Al Askari as well confirmed, “Both our client funds and corporate assets are not exposed. We keep our (and our clients) funds in a safe boring 1:1 holding.” Flinos confirmed that they do not deal with unregulated counterparts.

Two crypto exchanges, RAIN in Bahrain and Veromex in UAE have not yet replied to the queries posed, if and when they do reply, their responses will be added.

Take Away

While up until now international exchanges have always looked more attractive because of their liquidity and the amount of crypto they list as well as their geographic coverage, it seems that those regulated in the region whether in UAE or Bahrain are looking more attractive because of their adherence to strong regulatory bodies.

A lot of news is coming out that international exchanges undertaking so called proof of reserves are not being transparent. For example Crypto.com’s cold storage revealed a suspicious transfer of 320,000 Ether worth $404 million, to Gate.io.  Kris Marszalek, CEO of Crypto.com assured traders that the transfer was accidental; funds were to be moved to a new cold storage address. Experts allege that the transfer helped Gate.io show its proof of reserves of user funds shortly after the transfer. Even more so it seems that 20 percent of crypto.com reserves are in Meme Token SHBB.

This also happened with Huobi. It was noted that after Huobi released the asset snapshot of the asset reserve, 10,000 ETH was transferred from Huobi to Binance and OkX deposit wallets. (Etherscan.io)

Binance CEO CZ also made an interesting tweet today November 13th 2022 where he says Binance is not just a CEX (Centralized Exchange). This comes as the crypto mood globally moves towards DEX (Decentralized Exchanges). In his tweet he gives advice on how to store crypto in your own wallet, and refers to trustwallet while saying that Binance is not just a CEX but provides other options.

In the end, the future is in decentralized exchanges, smart contracts, and blockchain databases for proof of reserves such as Etherscan.io and others. Crypto was never the culprit, it was molding crypto into a traditional financial sector that was.