The Dubai based entity of WadzPay, WPME Technology, which specializes in blockchain based technology for virtual assets has been granted a Virtual Assets Service Provider (VASP) Licence for Virtual Asset Broker-Dealer service activities, better known as crypto broker license, by Dubai’s Virtual Assets Regulatory Authority (VARA).

The crypto broker licence remains non-operational until the company fully satisfies all remaining conditions and select localisation requirements defined by VARA, following which it will be able to commence operations, subject to regulatory reverification and approval.

As per the press release, WadzPay is excited to deliver its innovative and industry-leading solutions to customers across Middle East while working closely with regulators in contributing to build a compliant and robust fintech ecosystem.

Mr. Anish Jain, Founder & CEO, WadzPay stated “This licence showcases WadzPay’s dedication in promoting innovation in the field of virtual assets domain and blockchain technology bringing us a step closer to delivering world class solutions to businesses in Middle East.”

WadzPay aims to revolutionise the way people in the Middle East transact and manage virtual assets. WadzPay’s commitment to compliance ensures that financial institutions and their customers can confidently embrace the benefits of blockchain technology while adhering to regulatory standards, ultimately contributing to the growth and sustainability of the fintech ecosystem in the Middle East.

Mr. Ram Chari, Board Member and Group Director, WadzPay quoted “This will further solidify WadzPay’s position as a trusted and reliable blockchain technology based financial service provider in the region. With the broker-dealer services, WadzPay will provide the technology to its clients to enhance the experience of their customers by enabling virtual assets transactions in a seamless and secure manner. “

To which Mr. Khaled Moharem, President – MENA & Europe at WadzPay, emphasised, “This cements our hard work and sets the stage for transformative blockchain solutions, promoting compliance and customer confidence in the Virtual Assets Industry.”

WadzPay received its initial approval for a license back in October 2023.

In 2022, KSA based Geidea, a leading fintech company in Saudi Arabia and Blockchain based payments solutions, WadzPay Middle East Technology forged a new strategic partnership to power the transformation of pilgrimage payments.

WadzPay had been strivign to obtain a Blockchain settlement and payment license from VARA in Dubai, yet this will need further framework and direction from the Central Bank of UAE.

As the woes pack up on Binance crypto exchange, first with the guilty plea from CZ, and then Ronaldo being sued because he promoted Binance products, the Dubai Virtual asset regulator VARA has made a statement that it is continuing to asses and monitor Binance activities to strict regulatory requirements, rigorous KYC and due diligence.

As per VARA, Binance FZE crypto exchange currently only holds a Minimum Viable Product [MVP] Operational License with VARA, which allows them access to a restricted client base. As such to date, Binance have on boarded approximately 180 qualified investors and institutional clients.

VARA notes that it  cannot comment on regulatory and enforcement actions taken on business conducted in other jurisdictions, but does assure, “ We have been, and will continue to be, closely monitoring ongoing developments and specifically how they relate to Binance FZE operations in accordance with our commitment to uphold market integrity, consumer protection, and the security of the domestic ecosystem.”

Binance while being one of the first to apply for a license in the UAE, has been late in receiving a license while others such as M2 in Abu Dhabi, RAIN crypto broker, CoinMENA, Fasset,  and many others have been able to become fully licensed.

It seems that Richard Teng, the new CEO of Binance will have a lot on his plate in the coming months.

In a market notice issued November 17th 2023, the Dubai Virtual Assets Regulatory Authority (VARA), confirmed that the deadline for VA sector to engage in the regulatory license elapsed today and that eighteen virtual asset service providers commercially licensed on mainland under Dubai’s Department of Economy and Tourism (DET) have thus far, been issued fines for failing to comply with VARA’s directives and regulatory guidance.

A VARA spokesperson declined to name the eighteen entities in question.

As per the notice, in line with VARA’s commitment to protect consumers, maintain market integrity, and manage security of the Virtual Economy being enabled in and from Dubai, these enforcement actions are a pre-requisite to remedy compliance breaches and assure global markets that VARA’s regime can be trusted to have consistency and resilience in deployment.

The Dubai virtual asset regulator stated that this would be an ongoing process, with additional fines, enforcement actions, and closure of unlicensed VASPs expected. VASPs have until year end to address any regulatory gaps.

Entities seeking to continue to offer virtual asset services in Dubai are urged to contact VARA immediately to avoid further penalties. Consumers are advised to check the VARA website for advice on approved VASPs in Dubai. For further information, please contact VARA via our website or via

This comes a day after CEO Henson Orser stepped down, and 10 days after VARA issued a notice asking all VASPs to finalize their license registrations and requirements.

But there have also been positive news in the VASP licensing arena, with entities such as Fuze Finance receiving a license as well as HexTrust and BackBack in the past 10 days.

In a recent LinkedIn post, Soham Panchamiya, Associate for tech companies and regulatory disputes at Reed Smith, one of the leading global law firms with more than 1,500 lawyers in 30 offices throughout the United States, Europe, the Middle East and Asia, announced that they are expecting Dubai Virtual Asset Regulatory Authority (VARA) will fully license 15 entities before the end of 2023.

According to Panchamiya, “New developments continue to come forward in the UAE VARA in Dubai is making great strides to earn its stripes as the premier regulator for crypto and Web3 companies in the world.”

He also expects major announcements and change for game-fi, DeFi and crypto derivatives.

So far Dubai VARA has already fully licensed four crypto exchange, brokerage, and custodial firms. Most recently is BackPack exchange, TOKO, received full crypto exchange licenses, while Komainu received full crypto custodial and custody staking services. VARA was one of the first regulators globally to issue crypto staking regulations.  The fifth license was given to Laser Digital for crypto broker and investment services.

On VARA’s register listing are 11 entities that have either received a full license or at the MVP preparatory or operational phase. These include names such as Bybit crypto exchange, Binance, OKX, crypto.com, GCX exchange, as well as Hextrust crypto custodian. Meanwhile, BitOasis license is still inactive, after it had received MVP operational license.

There are others who have received preliminary approval not listed on VARA website.

Given the current numbers, VARA will be licensing 11 more entities before the end of the year.

In August 2023, the Dubai Department of Economy and Tourism and Dubai VARA signed an MOU to unify VASP (virtual asset service provider) offering in the city. The two entities are collaborating to offer a synchronized VA market assurance across the Emirate of Dubai –spanning Customer Care + Complaints; [Business] On-Site Inspection + Enforcement; [Business] VASP Registration + Licensing; [G2G + G2B + G2C] Education-Training-Knowledge Sharing.

During DACOM (The Digital Asset Compliance and Market Integrity Summit) hosted by Solidus Labs, a crypto-native market surveillance and risk monitoring hub tailored for digital assets, in Abu Dhabi in May  2023, Henson Orser CEO of VARA stated, that the future will include tokenization of real world assets, including real estate, as well as micro financing, royalty rights for creators and publishers, with smart contracts for movies /music, permissioned DeFi (Decentralized Finance), gaming and the metaverse. Here he sees, “A billion users will start to challenge the boundaries of title and value” and finally interoperability, transfers identity and more.

Furthermore in an exclusive LaraontheBlock interview with Henson Orser, discussing VARA stated that while the term DeFi is not specifically referenced in the 7 Rulebooks from VARA, DeFi lies very much at the core of Dubai’s Future Economy considerations. Orser explained that VARA’s Rulebooks have focused on facilitating borderless ‘value-exchange’ both in the traditional and new economy contexts, by leveraging a full spectrum of cross-cutting ‘activities’, which should not in any way be construed as TradFi specific.

He stated, “We are well aware that in this sector new technologies and products will be continually emerging, and constructively challenging traditional financial systems. It is exactly for this reason that VARA has been constructed as a technology agnostic and product-neutral framework that allows us to remain progressive and future-focused.  This means that our regime will provide for R&D sandboxes to test, learn and evolve prototypes across DeFis and DAOs today, to wider innovations across Metaverse and Web3.0. As we have maintained, the VARA Regulations will strike a measured balance between remaining agile so we benefit from future waves of technological innovations, yet being definitive in their ability to provide the required market certainty, FATF assurances, and cross-border security which are non-comprisable to us.”

In September 2023, VARA updated its virtual asset rulebook and added new regulations with regards to what it calls Fiat referenced virtual asset ( FRVA) better known to most as virtual assets pegged to a stable value, or stablecoins.

Prior to that VARA opened the door to regulate crypto staking services with its revised Custody Services Rulebook, allowing staking by virtual asset custody Service providers. As per the revised rule book, virtual asset service providers who carry out custody services can offer staking services as well without obtaining a separate license for VA Management and Investment Services. Additional licensing and supervision fees will be payable in connection with the provision of this additional service.

As per Panchamiya in his post, he states, “Not a bad start. It remains to be seen how viable the industry sector is going to be moving forward as the continuance of the bear market dampens spirits worldwide, but with the spot ETF movements in the US, the recent wins in courts and the continued regulatory developments, it seems that market players and UAE regulators are bullish.”

BackPack Web3 non custodial XNFT wallet has received a full license by Dubai Virtual asset regulatory authority allowing it to run a regulated crypto exchange in UAE. BackPack,which was considered one of top 30 best crypto wallets in 2023 was developed by Coral. It offers XNFTs built on Solana Blockchain.

Backpack Exchange is set to launch in private beta for its community members in November before going live to the public in Q1 2024. UAE based Trek Labs Ltd FZE, will launch under the name Backpack Exchange. This license only covers Backpack Exchange and not any of the other virtual asset products and services offered by Backpack.

xNFTs are a different type of non-fungible token, that combine use cases of NFTs and applications in one asset. xNFT stands for executable non-fungible token, meaning it is a unique digital item that can run code inside it.

The XNFT is new, programmable non-fungible token (NFT) standard that act as Web3 applications, built on Solana by the developers at Coral which is part of The WAO Company. xNFTs allowing users to interact with their NFTs and use them for more than just collectibles on the blockchain. Their unique feature is to enable applications to run natively inside the NFT. For example, an xNFT lets users play a game, listen to music, or access a DeFi protocol, all within one open, programmable system built for Web3. You can also have a xNFT that updates itself based on external data or events.

The combination of Backpack Exchange and Backpack Wallet (which is currently an unregulated product) is designed to provide the smoothest transition for users from fiat to on-chain applications. While Backpack Wallet users already have access to a variety of dApps and executable NFTs (xNFTs) unique to Backpack, they will now be able to conduct trades on the exchange directly in the app.

Coral is also the company behind Mad Lads which is the Number 1 NFT collection on Solana. Backpack’s CEO and founder, Armani Ferrante, managed to navigate the challenges posed by the collapse of FTX, after which Coral lost approximately $14.5 million of FTX’s investment in a $20 million funding round backed by FTX Ventures.

Over the past five months, Backpack Exchange has developed a next-generation exchange that incorporates a novel zero-knowledge proof of reserves (zk-proofs), Multi-Party Computation (MPC) for custody, and low latency order execution, while also securing licenses in several jurisdictions worldwide and establishing premium fiat on and off ramps for users.

A VARA Spokesperson noted, “Dubai’s VA sector is fully regulated and VARA’s founding principles have been anchored on the need to structure guardrails for market security while remaining progressive and responsive to innovation. To this end, the licensing process is rigorous in its evaluation of suitably qualified ‘responsible’ participants that can serve as the UAE’s bar for convergence across global jurisdictions. In keeping with Dubai’s repute as a preferred global hub for entrepreneurship, Backpack Exchange must be recognized for their commitment to prioritize investor protection and risk assurance, and VARA appreciates their readiness to fulfill necessary prerequisites that has made them among the first VA exchanges to secure a full market license within the VARA regime”.

Armani Ferrante, CEO and Founder of Backpack, stated: “It’s time to put an end to the days of opaque crypto exchanges representing everything our industry stands against. It shouldn’t be normal to use an exchange with a single point of failure, without proof of reserves, or without auditability. A verifiable, unforgeable ledger is the exact problem blockchains solve, and Backpack Exchange is taking full advantage of that. Using cryptographic techniques like zk-proofs, MPC, and state machine replication, Backpack Exchange hopes to raise the bar for transparency and compliance to demonstrate the best this technology has to offer. Don’t trust, verify.”

Backpack Exchange will launch in private beta for existing Backpack and MadLads community members this November. The beta will feature spot crypto trading functionality. The exchange is set to go live to the public in Q1 of 2024. The Backpack Exchange team will be working to add in various trading functionalities such as derivatives, margin, cross-collateral while its compliance team, with decades of experience from Barclays, State Street, HSBC, Coinbase, and other prominent financial institutions continues to secure additional licenses around the world.

In a blog announcement published by VALR, a South African based crypto exchange, they state that their subsidiary VALR FZE has won an initial approval from Dubai’s Virtual Asset Regulatory Authority (VARA), marking a pivotal moment in our journey towards global expansion.

As per the blog post, “The initial approval granted to VALR FZE does not allow it to undertake any virtual asset services yet, but is a critical step as it seeks to establish a virtual asset exchange in Dubai and affirms VALR’s position as a reputable player in the virtual asset industry, committed to upholding the highest standards of operational integrity, compliance and security. “

Co-founder and CEO, Farzam Ehsani, stated, “For the past 5 years, VALR has been working closely with regulators to inform regulatory frameworks that protect the public while allowing responsible innovation to flourish. This initial approval from VARA is a significant milestone for VALR to bring our products and services to a more global audience under the auspices of a world-leading regulator.”

Blake Player, Head of Growth at VALR highlighted the strategic importance of Dubai and the Middle East, adding, “We see Asia, the Middle East, and the UAE as attractive markets with significant crypto flows. Dubai is quickly gaining recognition as a forward-thinking and pragmatic jurisdiction for crypto businesses. Setting up in Dubai provides an excellent opportunity to serve the regional market and a global customer base from a crypto and business-friendly jurisdiction.”

VALR is not the first crypto exchange seeking a license in the UAE nor will it be the last. Many international crypto exchanges including Binance, crypto.com, Bybit, and CoinBase have all expressed their interest in the UAE.

Dubai’s virtual asset regulatory authority VARA opens the door to regulated crypto staking services with its  revised Custody Services Rulebook, allowing staking by virtual asset custody Service providers. 

As per the revised rule book, virtual asset service providers who carry out custody services can offer staking services as well withouth obtaining a separate licence for VA Management and Investment Services. Additional licensing and supervision fees will be payable in connection with the provision of this additional service.

As per the amendments,  VASPs Licensed by VARA to carry out Custody Services may only provide Staking from Custody Services, if explicitly authorised to do so by VARA, and such authorisation is expressly stipulated in their Licence.

There will be incremental fees for custody services.

VASPs who are authorized to offer staking services, will have to comply to all the rules related to custody services while they are offering their staking services as staking services is a subset of crypto or virtual asset custodial services. VASPs can only offer staking services to the clients they are providing custody services to. As per VARA,  “  For the avoidance of doubt, VASPs Licensed by VARA to carry out Custody Services that are also authorised to provide Staking from Custody Services, may only provide Staking from Custody Services for Virtual Assets for which they are providing Custody Services.”

As for client protection VASPs can only act on the explicit instructions received from their clients.

The first VASP to have both a custodial and staking license was Komainu which recently received its full license from VARA.

Further to Virtual Assets Regulatory Authority’s (VARA) previous notices dated 12 April 2023 and 27 April 2023 regarding the conduct of Open Technology Markets Ltd. known as OPNX and opnx.com, VARA has issued the following fines against OPNX including a $2,722,548 equivalent to AED 10,000,000 against OPNX for a Market Offence under Regulation VIII.A.3 of the Virtual Assets and Related Activities Regulations 2023 (Regulations)

As per VARA, this fine was issued on 2 May 2023 and remains unpaid at the time of publication of this notice. 

The VARA notice includes  $54,000 equivalent to AED 200,000 against each of the following 4 persons: OPNX founders Kyle Davies, Su Zhu and Mark Lamb and OPNX CEO Leslie Lamb.

The fines are for violations of Administrative Order No. 01/22 Relating to Regulation of Marketing, Advertising and Promotions Related to Virtual Assets, The fines were issued on 2 May 2023 and have been fully paid by the individuals in question.

All fines noted above were referred to VARA’s Grievance Committee [the Committee formed in accordance with Article 22 of Law No. (4) of 2022 Regulating Virtual Assets in the Emirate of Dubai] in accordance with due governance requirements. The Committee reviewed the referral of the grievance and determined that the enforcement actions taken be upheld in their entirety.

To date, the AED 10MM fine issued against Open Technology Markets Ltd remains unpaid, and VARA shall determine consequential actions warranted against OPNX, which may include further fines, penalties, and/or taking any actions necessary to recover payment in addition to possibly referring the matter to any law enforcement agency(ies) or competent courts.

The Dubai Virtual Assets Regulatory Authority [VARA] has announced a schedule of fees covering the issuance of no-objection certificates to proprietary traders, amendments or withdrawal of licence applications, and the submission of whitepapers for VARA review.

All proprietary traders will require a no-objection certificate to carry out the activity of proprietary trading in or from the Emirate of Dubai. VARA shall confirm its evaluation of a firm’s activity through the firm’s commercial licensor and firms assessed as carrying out the activity of proprietary trading will be required to pay an annual NOC fee of AED 1,000. For the avoidance of doubt, there is no additional fee payable in relation to the requirement for mandatory registration applicable to large proprietary traders (under Regulation IV.A.7).

Licensed firms wishing to amend details of their VARA licence will be charged a licence update fee of AED 500 per request. Licensed firms seeking to withdraw from Dubai and wind down their Virtual Asset operations will be charged a licence withdrawal fee of AED 10,000.

Issuers of Virtual Assets seeking VARA review under VARA’s Virtual Asset Issuance Rulebook will have to pay a whitepaper submission fee of AED 5,000. Firms will then be notified of the subsequent fee (of up to AED 50,000) to be charged for completion of a detailed review. The maximum amount payable for submission and review is therefore AED 55,000.

Submission of amendments to whitepapers (and the detailed review of such amendments) will also be subject to fees of AED 5,000 (for submission) and a further fee for completing a detailed review (of up to AED 50,000). The maximum amount payable for submission and review of an amendment is therefore AED 55,000.

Where legal opinions or memorandums are submitted to VARA for review and consideration of the regulatory perimeter applicable to a firm’s virtual asset activity, a legal review fee of up to AED 4,000 may be charged for a written confirmation to be provided by VARA.

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