In the last week of March 2024, The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions against six entities based in Lebanon, Liberia, India, Vietnam, and Kuwait.

As per the OFAC announcement, among those targeted was a Syrian national money exchanger Tawfiq Muhammad Sa’id al-Law based out of Lebanon. The Treasury Department stated that Sa’id al-Law provided Hezbollah with digital wallets to receive funds from IRGC-QF commodity sales and conduct crypto transfers.

Sa’id al-Law was also accused of facilitating financial transactions for sanctioned Hezbollah officials and providing financial services to Sa’id al-Jamal and his network.

As per the announcement, the sanctioned entities were implicated in facilitating commodity shipments and financial transactions, including cryptocurrencies for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF), the Houthis, and Hezbollah.

Furthermore, two Kuwait-based companies, Orchidia Regional for General Trading and Contracting Company and Mass Com Group General Trading and Contracting Company WLL, were also implicated in transferring money to support Sa’id al-Jamal’s network.

Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson said, “Treasury remains resolute in our commitment to deploy our tools against those who seek to fund illicit activities. The United States will continue to take action to disrupt the abuse of international energy markets to facilitate terrorist activities.”

On June 27, 2023, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced that Israel’s National Bureau for Counter Terror Financing (NBCTF) seized cryptocurrency from Hezbollah, and from Iran’s Quds Force. In total, the agency seized roughly $1.7 million worth of cryptocurrency and disrupted crypto “terrorism financing” infrastructure jointly run by the two organizations.

As per Chainalysis article, The NBCTF seizure focused on wallets controlled by Tawfiq Muhammad Said Al-Law, who “supposedly” worked with senior Hezbollah operators like Muhammad Qasim Al-Bazzal and Muhammad Ja’far Qasir, both of whom are sanctioned by OFAC, to operate Hezbollah’s crypto funding infrastructure.

In March 2024 as well, OFAC sanctioned a UAE registered business entity and its subsidiary for helping to build or operate blockchain based services to facilitate potential sanctions evasion on behalf of Russian nationals.

U.S. based Web3Firewall founded by Lebanese born Dr. Samer Fayssal has raised $2.5 million pre-seed investment round led by Laser Digital, Nomura’s digital asset subsidiary, which is licensed in Dubai UAE, gumi Cryptos Capital (gCC), and SPEILLLP, a member of Susquehanna International Group.

We3Firewall has developed an intelligence-driven risk and compliance platform specifically to meet the evolving challenges of companies engaged in blockchain technology and digital assets.

The company was founded in 2023 by Dr. Samer Fayssal, who was previously CISO and Head of Security at digital asset custodian BitGo. Fayssal and team recognized that Web3 and blockchain technology companies require a next-generation cybersecurity product rather than the fragmented solutions currently available. The product, Web3Firewall Enterprise, addresses increasingly sophisticated risk and compliance demands in one seamless platform, which is equipped to handle the unique risk profiles of DeFi, NFTs, DAOs, and other emerging Web3 applications, providing a security layer that will be able to keep pace as the tokenized economy develops.

Web3Firewall Enterprise can be easily integrated with and tailored to security infrastructure through APIs, which can detect, protect, and respond to malicious transactions and AML/KYC-related incidents even before they occur. Furthermore, the platform simulates transaction outcomes with artificial intelligence to enhance actionable insights. Additional accuracy and precision are delivered by machine learning to self-correct false negative and false positive results. Web3Firewall Enterprise is currently in a beta testing phase and is due to launch onto the market in Q2 this year.

Dr. Samer Fayssal, CEO of Web3Firewall, commented, “We are grateful to have the support of our investors, who are aligned with our vision to bring intelligence-driven security to blockchain-enabled companies. As a proactive risk and compliance platform, Web3Firewall Enterprise provides actionable insights so that these companies can better protect themselves and stay compliant.”

Olivier Dang, Head of Ventures, Laser Digital, added “Laser Digital is delighted to support this exciting project — The uniquely heightened security and compliance of Web3Firewall’s product, which proactively protects against malicious transactions, will allow institutional engagement in tokenized and digital assets to grow and progress.”

Miko Matsumura; Managing Partner of gumi Cryptos Capital, said, “One of the greatest dissatisfactions with web3 is ensuring strong cybersecurity measures. Web3Firewall has the strongest team and vision for how to strengthen this key area”

Vir Anand, Investor, Susquehanna Private Equity Investments, said, “As the crypto industry matures AML, compliance, detection and prevention become paramount. Samer and his team have developed tools to assist companies in creating custom compliance parameters, which adhere to the regulatory framework in which the company operates, as well as cutting edge, self-learning solutions that promise to provide unparalleled protection against malicious transactions in real-time to ensure a protocol’s integrity.”

The Lebanese Ministry of Economy and Trade has signed an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) with DigiWeb LLC, a technology and Web3 company Choueh Law Firm, and the Lebanese Association for Digital transformation to introduce Blockchain training courses, develop Blockchain use cases and launch the upcoming Blockchain conference, “Blockchaining Lebanon Conference”

This MOU establishes collaboration between DigiWeb LLC, its partners, including the Lebanese Association for Digital Transformation (LADT) and   Choueh Law Firm, and the Ministry of Economy to support the Ministry’s digital transformation process.

The primary objective of the MOU is to provide training on Blockchain, and AI from various perspectives and organize a nationwide conference in collaboration with the Ministry of Economy, with the honorable presence of Minister Amin Salam.

Lebanese Minister of Economy and Trade, H.E. Mr. Amin Salam, commented, “This MOU is an important step towards the digitization efforts of the Lebanese government. We seek to advance Lebanon’s digital future utilizing Blockchain technology. One of the vital steps towards this is the education of our employees on technologies such as Blockchain, AI, and others. The culmination of our efforts will be with the use cases and the Blockchaining Lebanon Conference.”

Fady Al Sayah, Founder & CEO of Digi Web LLC stated, “We are proud to be supporting the Lebanese Ministry of Economy and trade with their digital transformation process encompassing technologies such as AI and Blockchain. We look forward to working on Blockchain and AI use cases that benefit Lebanese citizens and streamline government services in a transparent and trustworthy manner.”

Mrs. Randa Al-Rifai, Head of Lebanese Association for Digital Transformation (LADT) added, “By training government employees on the concepts of Blockchain, and artificial intelligence we are not only up skilling the skill sets of these employees but preparing them for Web3 digitization services.” 

In terms of the event, Choueh Law Firm, represented by lawyer Mr. Charbel Choueh noted, “The conference will set Lebanon on the course to embrace the latest internet technologies, fostering innovation and progress as well as open doors to fresh investment opportunities within the burgeoning Third Generation Internet sector.”

Technologies such as Blockchain, AI, will encourage Lebanese youth and enterprises to transition into the Third Generation of the Internet, ensuring they remain at the forefront of technological advancement.

In a recent survey carried out by Deel, a global HR platform within the GCC and MENA region, the findings found that 51% of employees being paid in crypto prefer Ethereum

Employee cryptocurrency withdrawals within the GCC highlighted a growing level of adoption among individuals, who are now using cryptocurrencies as a viable medium for receiving employer payments. Conducting an extensive survey, Deel engaged with over 1600 employees and over 700 organizations in the UAE to gather valuable insights.

Of the 700 organizations surveyed in the UAE, 87% of employees were using crypto for salary payments. Of the 1600 employees surveyed only 8% were being paid in crypto in KSA while in Qatar it was 4.8%.

Exploring the Deel data beyond the UAE, Egypt places itself in the spotlight by a substantial margin, witnessing over 25,000 employee withdrawals using crypto in the last 12 months. Tracking Egypt’s trajectory, the roster of pioneering nations also includes Morocco, and Lebanon, each carving its path towards cryptocurrency adoption.

Notably, Ethereum (ETH) claims the top spot as the preferred cryptocurrency for withdrawals, commanding 51.2%. The US Dollar backed stablecoin USDC follows suit at 24.5%, while Bitcoin (BTC) controls 20.2% of the landscape. Solana (SOL) and Dash wrap up the top five most used cryptocurrencies with 2.5% and 1.6%, respectively, contributing to the crypto withdrawals landscape.

Tarek Salam, Head of Expansion from Deel, stated, “The Deel research provides an interesting window on the latest trends within the employment sector. It is truly great to witness the rapid surge in cryptocurrency adoption within the UAE and the wider region. The regulators have played a commendable role in encouraging greater participation in the cryptocurrency ecosystem and it’s a trend that we will be watching with interest as adoption continues to grow.”

Deel is a leading global compliance and payroll solution that helps businesses hire anyone, anywhere. Deel’s technology offers unmatched payroll, HR, compliance, perks, benefits, and other capabilities needed to hire and manage a global team.

Chainalysis has completed its MENA section of its 2023 Geography of Cryptocurrency Report which will be out soon. In the report the MENA region is the 6th largest crypto economy of any region in 2023. There was an estimated $389.8 billion in on-chain value received between July 2022 and June 2023. This represents nearly 7.2% of global transaction volume during the period studied. However it is much lower that what was received in July 2021-July 2022.

MENA based crypto users had received $566 billion worth of cryptocurrency in one year from July 2021 to June 2022 which at that time was a 48 percent increase from 2020-2021.

MENA is also home to three of the top 30 countries in this year’s index: Turkey (12), Morocco (20), and Iran (28). However, Turkey dominates in terms of raw transaction volume, but interestingly Saudi Arabia comes in third in terms of crypto value received, with UAE coming in at number two and Turkey taking number one place.

Centralized exchanges and DeFi were the top services for receiving crypto value in the MENA region, with UAE receiving much higher share of crypto activity on DeFi protocols compared to other countries in MENA. In addition UAE crypto services were split almost equally between centralized exchanges and decentralized exchanges, while in KSA for example 48.6%went to centralized exchanges and 38.8% to decentralized exchanges.

According to the report no country has witnessed the growth of crypto transaction volume like Saudi Arabia has. KSA has witnessed year-over-year transaction volume growth of 12.0%. In fact, Saudi Arabia is one of only six countries to see any year-over-year transaction volume growth during the time period studied.

Chainalysis found that the crypto value received by the UAE was over US$34.9billion representing a decrease of 17% over the previous year. In Qatar there was a 26% decline, Oman 49% decline, Jordan 55% decline, and Lebanon 96% decline.

One of the most interesting findings was in the UAE where the majority of crypto transactions were for institutional investors. 67% of crypto transactions valued over $1 million were by institutional investors, while retail investors (up to $10,000) accounted for just 4.63%

“The fact that by far the larger portion of crypto investments in the UAE is for institutional and professional sized transactions, indicates an eagerness from organisations and high-net-worth individuals to add cryptocurrency to their investment portfolios. This market confidence is validation of the efforts being made by the country’s leadership to offer commendable regulatory clarity, and establish the nation as a global crypto hub,” said Kim Grauer, Director of Research at Chainalysis.

MENA based Flat6Labs, an early stageventure capital firm, has selected Jordanian blockchain startup Konn Technologies, a fintech company that offers blockchain-based solutions among the 24 tartups in its StartMashreq growth track program supported by the International Financial Corporation.

The program aims to help startups from Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq to scale their businesses.The selected startups operate in various sectors, such as fintech, healthtech, e-commerce and agritech. Five of them are co-founded by female entrepreneurs, working in edtech, energy tech and proptech. The startups collectively generate an annual recurring revenue of $20.8m and have raised a total of $38.5m. They also create around 700 direct jobs across the three countries.“We are delighted to partner with Flat6Labs to support these promising startups from the Mashreq region, especially those founded by women,” said Abeer Shalan, Senior Operations Officer at IFC. “Mashreq startups can demonstrate resilience and innovation in the face of challenging circumstances and prove their ability to create value for their stakeholders by venturing into new markets. By providing them with funding and resources, we hope to help them reach their full potential and contribute to the development of the regional startup ecosystem.”Ragia Amr, Programme Director of StartMashreq at Flat6Labs, said: “We are very excited to welcome the 24 startups to our Growth Track programme. We have been impressed by the quality and diversity of the applications we received and we are confident that they have what it takes to succeed in their markets. Through our programme, we will offer them tailored support and guidance to help them overcome their challenges and achieve their goals. We look forward to working with them over the next six months and beyond.” The StartMashreq Growth Track programme started in June 2023 and will run until December 2024. The programme will include workshops and mentorship by international experts, business networking events, investor mixers and participation in international events and roadshows. The 24 startups that joined the StartMashreq Growth Track programme  include fromLebanonCompost Baladi: A social enterprise that provides waste management solutions.Ecomz: An e-commerce platform that enables merchants to create online stores.KamKalima: An edtech platform that helps Arabic teachers and students.Moodfit: An online interior design service that connects clients with designers.Presentail: An online gift delivery service that connects expats with local shops.Purpl: A proptech platform that simplifies property management.Shelvz: A retail intelligence platform that helps brands optimize their shelf presence.IraqKESK: A fintech platform that provides digital banking services.Lezzoo: A super app that offers delivery, e-commerce and payment services.Midient/Padash: A cloud kitchen platform that enables food entrepreneurs to launch online brands.Orderii: An online marketplace that connects customers with local service providers.Toolmart: An e-commerce platform that sells tools and hardware products.Jordan Algebra Intelligence: A healthtech platform that provides AI-powered medical diagnosis.Arab Therapy: An online platform that connects users with licensed therapists.Dinarak: A fintech platform that offers mobile wallet and payment services.Hello World Kids: An edtech platform that teaches coding to children.InvoiceQ: A fintech platform that provides invoice financing solutions.Jordilight: An energy tech company that produces solar-powered street lights.Konn Technologies: A fintech company that offers blockchain-based solutions.Little Thinking Minds: An edtech company that creates digital learning products for children.Nestrom: An agritech company that provides farm management software.Palmear: An e-commerce platform that sells handmade products from local artisans.Repzo: A mobile CRM platform that helps sales teams manage their activities.Shop4Me: An e-commerce platform that delivers groceries and other products.

UAE based OasisX is raising funds for Lebanon’s Childrens Cancer Center leveraging NFTs.

As per the LinkedIn post, CCCL ( Childrens Cancer Center Lebanon) will utilize OasisX’s no-code Creator Studio and their creative production team to seamlessly bring the art created by these courageous young souls to the blockchain and the world.The post states, “ At Oasis X, we are committed to pushing the boundaries of what blockchain technology can achieve. This partnership exemplifies our dedication to using cutting-edge solutions to leave a lasting & positive impact, and bring expanded use cases to the NFT & Web3 space.”OasisX launched back in July 2022. Dubai-based OasisX, the first multi chain curated NFT Marketplace and Creator Studio launched to pave the way for MENA based creators, collectors, and brands to take part in this new digital era. The platform had at the time already on boarded more than 100 artists for its launch in addition to multiple regional brands for web3 activations.Najib Khanafer, Ramzi Mneimneh, and Jimi Ibrahim decided to take on the challenge of building secure and accessible tools to navigate the NFT and web3 world, bringing meaningful impact to artists, creators, collectors and brands from the region. All three have extensive knowledge in crypto, blockchain and technology and have been early adopters of this disruptive digital trend.According to the founders, Web3 is a more trustworthy foundation for achieving financial freedom; and NFTs represent a first, modest step towards solving one of the core problems of Web 2.0: digital applicability and ownership.

UAE Helion Ventures investment, is heading to Beirut Lebanon for a round table meeting on May 11th at Beirut Digital District. Helion launched its operations in Dubai’s DIFC in September 2022 focusing on four major sectors, banking 3.0, healthcare, tokenization of real world assets, green technology, gaming, and fintech in projects across the GCC and African region.

The founders, Oliver von Wolff and Bojan al Pinto Brkic, have long-term experience in venture capital and regulated products. Oliver von Wolff, Founder and CEO, at launch stated, “Our products and services perfectly complement the ecosystem for Dubai start-ups, we are a classic equity provider and venture builder with focus on institutional investors”, to which Bojan added “we intend to capitalize on our experience, bringing the investment management know-how to new industries, such are blockchain and fintech, and even gaming and crypto.”

It is not surprising to see Helion Ventures off to Beirut, given that they are one of the most active investment venture entities when it comes to partnerships and event participation. Just before Beirut, launched Helion has partnered with Crypto 306 event taking place on May 8th 2023 at the Ritz Carlton in Dubai UAE.

Partnerships are a key pillar for Helion. For example, They have partnered with Syndicate Capital Group incubator given Helion’ interest in investing in South East Asia. Earlier, they partnered with the African Chamber of Digital Commerce, and the Hong Kong Federation of e-commerce.

Their spirit of partnerships goes even further, as they have equally partnered with other venture builders such as UAE based Masary Capital, New Tribe Capital, and Uganda based CryptoSavannah.

When it comes to startups, their most well-known investments and partnerships include cryptobank, DeFi startup Yieldster, dOTC MarsBase, DeFi OTC desk as well as African Blockchain internet startup 3air.

The 3air ecosystem is built to make it easier for previously unconnected users to join the global blockchain community. Internet subscriptions are purchased which grant the user a Connectivity NFT that can be shared, transferred and used at any 3air-compatible location. Once connected, 3air’s blockchain platform offers users access to the world of blockchain and DeFi. Users can own a digital identity, create wallets, take micro-loans and participate in revenue-generating activities.

Helion has even partnered with UAE free zones such as IFZA International Free Zone Authority

LaraontheBlock spoke to Oliver earlier to understand why Helion Ventures chose to set up in UAE and focus on MENA and Africa. He stated, “Given my previous role at Swiss Based CV Labs and then at Dubai’s Crypto Oasis, I helped build UAE’s Web3 ecosystem. So when I ventured to launch Helion I thought of Dubai because it has three essential pillars, financial capital, infrastructure, and human capital as well as its entrepreneurial spirit.”

He adds, “Helion Venture stands in the middle on one side we have friends and family investors which is not regulated and on the other we offer family offices and high network individuals the opportunity to invest with us.”

Helion invests anywhere between $50,000 – $100,000 for early pre seed stage projects, and take equity stakes for anywhere between $250,000- $500,000. They invest both in tokens and equity.

According to Oliver, Helion has a steady good quality deal flow given his long term experience and his former work at CV Labs and as such there are always great projects being presented to Helion and not spam projects.

He explains, “ We carry out strong due diligence and make selected investments, but we are also venture builders which means we actively manage our investments by supporting them with marketing, networking, business cases and so forth. We are also always open to working with other VCs because we believe if one VC has a strong project it should be shared to support these projects even more.”

While Helion’s policy is not to lead investments they do like to be anchor investors. Oliver clarified, “Anchor investors give money and support while lead investors like to take a more strategic managerial influence which I believe is not the best choice. When we invest we have already done our due diligence and trust the technology but more importantly the team.”

Oliver is bullish for2023 and believes crypto markets will go up in mid-2023. He sees the biggest markets will come from NFTs that actually have customer uses cases, like ticketing, etc.. and also sees the metaverse growing with serious projects as well as early stage token market.

The TRIPLE A January 2023 crypto ownership country report noted that the number of cryptocurrency users has increased since January 2022. In January 2023 there were 420 million crypto owners globally; this is up from their previous report in January 2022 where they had stated there were 300 million crypto owners globally. In the Arab world biggest growth was seen in Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia, and even Iraq. 

More interesting is that if we compare the percentage of crypto owners in the Arab world between January 2022 and January 2023 in some countries the increase is exponential.

For example in Jan 2022 2.38% of Moroccan population owned crypto, by January 2023 this number had increased to 4.9% an increase of more than 2% in one year. The same goes for Egypt, Tunisia, and Lebanon were the increase was also significant.

CountryJan 2022 Crypto Ownership %Jan 2023 crypto ownership %Crypto Ownership Population 2023
Saudi Arabia1.31.6592,351

In another recent CoinGecko report, Lebanon placed first in the rankings as the country most interested in AI crypto, scoring the highest of 100 for almost all the search terms, resulting in a total score of 1,200. The 21.6% share in AI crypto search interest suggests that the Lebanese crypto community is keen to trade on trends like the pumping prices of AI tokens. Other Arab countries curious about crypto AI included UAE, followed by Kuwait and Qatar.

One can also go back to Chainalysis report in October 2022, where Middle East & North Africa (MENA) was the fastest growing region. MENA-based users received $566 billion in cryptocurrency from July 2021 to June 2022, 48% more than they received the year prior. The top three countries at that time were Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon and Turkey. This is once again mirrored in the stats showcased in this article. 

Born in the USA and raised in Beirut Lebanon until she was a teenager, Nadine Chakar, a US national of Lebanese origin, later attended university in the US. Her parent are both doctors yet Nadine is a well renowned financial and technology executive and is recognized as one of the most powerful women in finance. She has been a vocal champion for using tech to revolutionize financial services. 

Nadine Chakar will be joining Securrency, a leading developer of institutional-grade, blockchain-based financial and regulatory technology, as Chief Executive Officer effective January 9th, 2023.

Ms. Chakar brings over 30 years of experience in global wealth and asset management to Securrency. Most recently, she served as Executive Vice President and Head of State Street Digital, where she built and led the team that is helping State Street, institutional investors, and regulators successfully navigate the bank’s transition into a modern digital economy. Ms. Chakar also led State Street Global Markets, where she oversaw its trading, product, and operations platform, helping to drive successful client solutions. Prior to State Street, she served as global head of operations for Manulife’s Global Wealth and Asset Management Division and led the Global Asset Servicing teams for BNY Mellon.

In addition to her leadership at State Street Digital, Ms. Chakar has served as a member of the Board of Directors of Securrency since 2021. Her appointment as the CEO of Securrency highlights the growing importance of compliance aware tokenization, interoperability, and institutional DeFi to the future of global finance.

Ms. Chakar’s appointment will allow Dan Doney, Securrency’s founder, who has served as the company’s CEO and lead architect since its inception, to focus on innovation, technology delivery, and commercialization by continuing to serve as the Chief Technology Officer of Securrency. Mr. Doney is recognized as one of the preeminent thought leaders in the blockchain and decentralized finance space. This focus will accelerate the growth of Securrency’s blockchain-enabled financial services infrastructure market share.

Nadine Chakar, incoming CEO of Securrency stated,  “The financial services industry is at a critical tipping point as it tokenizes regulated real-world assets and automates legacy financial processes using the power of blockchain technology. The Securrency team has done a remarkable job of developing the most robust technology on the market. As the new CEO, my priority is to accelerate the commercialization of what is in essence the digital asset intelligence and interoperability foundation for major financial institutions and the global ecosystem. Dan Doney is a true visionary and innovator in the industry, and I look forward to working closely with him and the team to create the global digital assets marketplaces of the future.”

Jonathan Steinberg, CEO of WisdomTree, said: “The future of finance relies on regulation-forward and compliance-driven digital development and Nadine has long been a driver of this evolution. Working with Nadine as a client and industry leader, I have witnessed not only her tremendous expertise in the integration of RegTech and digital assets, but her steadfast belief that Securrency’s technology will pave the way for institutional DeFi. I congratulate Nadine, Dan, and the entire Securrency team on this bold move for the company.”

It is noteworthy that Securrency Capital, a blockchain-enabled brokerage that empowers global financial access received a license to operate in ADGM Abu Dhabi UAE in 2022. Securrency Capital is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Securrency, Inc., a US-based global financial markets infrastructure technology company. Securrency Capital is a full-service regulated institutional DeFi brokerage firm that offers both traditional and digital financial services to retail and institutional clients via a single, accessible marketplace.