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.” 

The Central Bank of the UAE (CBUAE) in a press release announced that it has issued a new guidance on anti-money laundering and combatting the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) for Licensed Financial Institutions (LFIs),  banks, finance companies, exchange houses, payment service providers, registered hawala providers and insurance companies, agents and brokers as well as setting clear descriptions of virtual assets and Virtual asset service providers business models. 

His Excellency Khaled Mohamed Balama, Governor of the CBUAE, stated, “The new guidance related to the virtual assets sector contribute to strengthening the supervisory and regulatory frameworks of the Central Bank to combat money laundering and the financing of terrorism. We are constantly working to enhance efforts and strengthen the awareness of licensed financial institutions to prevent all kinds of financial crime activities, and reduce potential risks to protect the financial and monetary system and maintain its soundness and stability, in line with the Financial Action Task Force standards.”

The new guidance will assist LFIs’ understanding of risks and effective implementation of their statutory AML/CFT obligations, and takes Financial Action Task Force (FATF) standards into account. It will come into effect within one month.

The new guidance discusses the risks arising from dealing with virtual assets (VA) and virtual asset service providers (VASP) and sets out clear descriptions of VAs, VASPs and VASP business models. The guidance describes various channels and mechanisms of interaction between LFIs and VASPs.

The guidance outlines the customer due diligence (CDD) and enhanced due diligence (EDD) for LFIs towards potential VASP customers and counterparties, with the aim of de- risking, supporting them with training programmes, a governance system and record- keeping mechanisms.

This comes after MENA FATF adopted several recommendations proposed by Abu Dhabi including those pertaining to virtual assets.  

The Central Bank of the United Arab Emirates and the Hong Kong Monetary Authority in a bilateral meeting in Abu Dhabi on 29 May, have agreed to enhance collaboration between the two jurisdictions on virtual asset regulations and development.  

In addition, the two central banks facilitated discussions between their respective innovation hubs on joint fintech development initiatives and knowledge sharing efforts. A joint working group led by the CBUAE and HKMA, with support from the relevant stakeholders of the two jurisdictions’ banking sectors, will be formed to take forward the agreed initiatives.

Following the bilateral meeting, the two central banks, joined by senior executives from the UAE and Hong Kong banks, conducted a seminar on key opportunities to pursue between Hong Kong and the UAE. The seminar covered discussions on possible arrangements to facilitate better cross-border trade settlement, how UAE corporates can better utilize the Hong Kong financial infrastructure platforms to access Asia and the Mainland markets, as well as financial and investment solutions and capital markets opportunities in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area (Greater Bay Area).

Banks operating in the UAE that participated in the seminar included First Abu Dhabi Bank, Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank, Emirates NBD, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, Bank of China, HSBC and Standard Chartered, whilst participation from banks operating in Hong Kong included Bank of China, Citi, HSBC and Standard Chartered.

H.E. Khaled Mohamed Balama, Governor of the CBUAE, stated, “We are pleased to have welcomed the Hong Kong Monetary Authority and its delegation to the UAE as we look to build on our central banks’ existing and robust relations. During the day’s discussions, we explored deepening collaboration across several important areas including financial market infrastructure development and mutual opportunities for growth in digitization and technological advancement.”

Eddie Yue, Chief Executive of the HKMA, added, “These events enhanced the collaboration between the central banks of Hong Kong and the UAE in a number of important areas, and provided a platform for financial institutions and corporates from Hong Kong and the UAE to step up exchange and collaboration.  Hong Kong and the UAE are two financial centers sharing many complementary strengths and mutual interests, and there is much room for market participants from these two places to work together and build up the connectivity.”

This is not the first time the Central Bank of UAE has cooperated with Hong Kong Monetary Authority, prior to this they worked on the mBridge CBDC project. 

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

The virtual regulatory environment is heating up in Dubai and across the UAE as both UAE’s Securities and Commodities Authority and VARA race towards regulating virtual asset entities both across UAE as well as in Dubai. The UAE Securities and Commodities Authority in a recent press release announced that it has opened up registration for those seeking licenses as virtual asset providers across UAE and has added new licensing virtual asset sectors, while Dubai’s VARA is working with both the Dubai’s Department of Economy and Dubai’s free zones to ensure the set deadline of 30th April for all initial disclosure questionnaires (IDQs).

As stated in the release all virtual asset providers who have a presence in the UAE with exception to those who are licensed in financial free zones are required to apply for a license from UAE SCA authority while entities in Dubai should apply through the unified requirement of both Dubai’s Virtual Asset Authority and SCA enabling them to quickly and easily received their virtual asset service provider licenses.

As per the recent regulations set forth by UAE SCA regarding the operation of virtual asset platforms under Article 3, virtual asset providers in the UAE are not allowed to trade virtual assets until after they have been listed as official licensed virtual asset service providers by the regulatory bodies.

As per article 6 SCA can request documents from virtual asset providers and has the right to oversee, regulate and review the activities of virtual asset platforms. UAE SCA will also have the right to approve virtual assets traded on these platforms as part of the officially accepted virtual asset list.

UAE SCA added that as per recent amendments, SCA has also added other regulated activities to its list of licenses, including virtual asset brokerage services, virtual asset custodians, virtual asset operators, and virtual asset service providers as well as virtual asset wallets.

But this is not all, Dubai’s Virtual Asset Regulatory Authority also announced it is working with Dubai’s Department of Economy and Tourism (DET) and Free Zone Authorities (FZAs), towards meeting the set deadline of 30th April for all initial disclosure questionnaires (IDQs) across the sector to be received as the first step towards the migration of the market to a regulated regime.

Under Cabinet resolution No. 111 of 2022 concerning the regulation of virtual assets and their service providers, which came into effect on 15th January 2023, all companies operating in or seeking to operate in this sector in or from the emirate of Dubai must be licensed by VARA. VARA has been actively engaged, with DET and Dubai’s numerous FZAs to facilitate the seamless transition of existing Virtual Asset Service Providers (VASPs) into the VARA regulatory regime as well as formalize the application process for new regulated licenses.

Helal Saeed Almarri, Director-General of DET, said, “Under the directive of H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of Dubai Executive Council, we are making progress with Dubai’s D33 Agenda which outlines our mission to establish the Emirate as the capital of the Future Economy anchored by Metaverse, AI, Web3.0 and Blockchain. The virtual assets sector that spans all these pillars is integral to the strategy presenting a dynamically evolving ecosystem that fuels all aspects of sustainable economic growth. Ensuring that our marketplace is secure, participants are responsible, and investors and consumers are effectively protected is our top priority. With key stakeholders responsible for commercial licensing across the Emirate working closely to deploy VARA’s full market regulatory construct, we aim to set a benchmark that positions the Emirate of Dubai as a global role model for VA sector development”.

Legacy market operators carrying out VA activities in Dubai (excluding DIFC) are required to declare their desire to undertake regulated activities by submitting an IDQ to their current licensing authority – DET or any of FZAs, by the final deadline of 30th April 2023. Upon subsequent receipt of an Application Acknowledgement Notice (AAN), operating VASPs will commence the appropriate course of action for those requiring regulation or registration under VARA by 31st August 2023.

Dr. Mohammed Al Zarooni, Secretary-General of the Dubai Free Zones Council, added, “Dubai’s Free Zones have been an integral part of the business landscape for decades, providing start-ups, entrepreneurs and overseas companies looking to establish regional headquarters with access to a geographically strategic, multicultural, dynamic and bureaucracy-free environment. We have witnessed growing interest from virtual assets-focused entities who are keen to adhere to the VARA licensing regime. Adopting the new regulations, provides a safe and sustainable operating environment for VA companies and further establishes Dubai as a credible destination for this sector”.

A total of seven distinct types of regulated VA activity licenses can be applied for: Advisory Services, Broker-Dealer Services, Custody Services, Exchange Services, Lending and Borrowing Services, Transfer and Settlement Services and Management and Investment Services.

Commenting on the imminent April deadline to receive all legacy operator IDQs as the first phase of the migration plans, Henson Orser, Chief Executive Officer, VARA, said, “VARA has been working closely with both DET and the emirate’s Free Zone Authorities in order to ensure a smooth transition for legacy VASPs in Dubai, many of whom were at the forefront of innovation in this space. This transition was further supported by VARA’s Minimum Viable Product (MVP) program, a time bound initiative that enabled new applicants to set up operations and become market ready until official release of our full suite of regulations on 7th February 2023. The introduction of the Virtual Assets and Related Activities Regulations gives the existing companies, a clear timeline to ensure that they submit their initial disclosures by the end of April.”

During a discussion panel at the Youth Center in Muscat Oman, the Oman Central Bank governor Tahir Bin Salim Al Amri stated that the Central Bank of Oman along with many other central banks globally do not recognize crypto as currencies. He stated, “It is not a means of payment it is a commodity or an asset of some sort that is being traded mainly for capital gains.”

He also noted that while the Central Bank of Oman is keeping an open mind while maintaining caution because of the risky nature of crypto assets.

This month the Oman Capital Authority announced that it would be launching its virtual asset framework. Commenting on this the governor Al Amri stated that they were part of the creation of the framework.  He also noted that the Central Bank of Oman was in the process of developing its CBDC ( Central Bank Digital Currency), with a final decision expected to be announced at the end of 2023.

The proposed new regulatory framework is envisaged to cover activities such as crypto assets, tokens, crypto exchanges, and initial coin offerings, among others. The regulation for virtual assets in Oman is important, as it will provide a clear and secure framework for the growth of the virtual assets industry. The move towards digitalization and the adoption of virtual assets aligns with the Sultanate’s Vision 2040 of a digitally transformed economy and financial sector, while attracting foreign investments into Oman.

The Oman Capital Market Authority has announced that it will  establish the Virtual Assets Regulatory Framework to regulate and develop the market in the Sultanate of Oman.

The Capital Market Authority (CMA), which regulates and develops the Sultanate’s financial markets for the capital market and insurance sectors, is planning to establish the new proposed regulatory framework for Virtual Assets (VA) and Virtual Asset Service Providers (VASP). 

As per the press release, this move highlights the Sultanate’s growing recognition and the CMA’s proactive approach to develop the digital assets and fintech industry in Oman.

This important initiative in Oman was announced during a public stakeholders engagement session held at the CMA recently and being led by the CMA. By regulating and developing the virtual assets industry, the CMA aims to provide an alternative financing and investment platform for issuers and investors, while mitigating the risks associated with this asset class.

The CMA is in the process of defining a comprehensive and facilitative regulatory framework, which will include a new regulation to cover all virtual assets activities, a licensing framework for all VASP categories and a supervisory framework to identify, assess, and mitigate ongoing risks. The aim of this new regulation is to establish a market regime for virtual assets that includes rules to prevent market abuse, including through surveillance and enforcement mechanisms.

The proposed new regulatory framework is envisaged to cover activities such as crypto assets, tokens, crypto exchanges, and initial coin offerings, among others. The regulation for virtual assets in Oman is important, as it will provide a clear and secure framework for the growth of the virtual assets industry. The move towards digitalization and the adoption of virtual assets aligns with the Sultanate’s Vision 2040 of a digitally transformed economy and financial sector, while attracting foreign investments into Oman.

The CMA has also appointed XReg Consulting Limited, an international policy and regulatory consultancy specializing in virtual assets, and Said Al-Shahry and Partners, Advocates & Legal Consultants (SASLO), an Omani law firm, to advise and assist the CMA. This collaboration brings together expertise in policy, law and technology to assist in the creation of a comprehensive regulatory framework for virtual assets in Oman.

Back in  June 2022 Oman Capital Market Authority  issued its new Securities Law (46/2022) which  stipulates that the authority can “Agree to application of technologies, virtual digital investments or any products or services in the areas related to the provisions of this law, as set out in the Regulation.”

Oman was only one of the first countries in the region to allow crypto mining , mining its first Bitcoin in December 2022.    While The Oman Water and Waste Water Services Company ( OWWSC), member of Nama Group, trialed a stablecoin linked to the Oman Riyal. The company signed an MOU with Oman based Digital Digits, the creators of Easy coins and Connected Chains to trial “ Hasalah” a stablecoin Wallet.   

The UAE Cabinet recently updated some of its legislation which  included those pertaining to virtual businesses and virtual assets. The UAE is considering the provision of services and the conduct of business and activities related to virtual assets and virtual businesses based on its new commercial law.  As such businesses dealing either virtually or with virtual assets are considered commercial businesses within the UAE as on shore businesses. This comes after the UAE Cabinet of Ministers issued its decision on virtual assets regulation in December 2022 and which will come into effect in January.

As per UAE’s Undersecretary of the Ministry of Economy, Abdullah Al Saleh, developing the business sector is a strategic goal for the state, and providing a legislative environment that stimulates its growth is a top priority.

His comments were made during a media briefing, organized by the Ministry of Economy, to introduce Federal Decree Law No. 50 of 2022 regarding commercial transactions in the country, with the participation of Ibrahim Al Zaabi, Assistant Governor of the Central Bank for Monetary Policy and Financial Stability, and Dr. Maryam Al Suwaidi, CEO of the Securities and Commodities Authority.

As such the UAE Ministry of Economy has issued a new commercial transactions where the most prominent features include reduction of the age of legal capacity to practice business to 18 years, establishment of a legal  reference for commercial transactions for banking institutions to stimulate investment,  support to Islamic banking, amends the provisions related to establishment, regulation of financial markets, and finally support to businesses in tech sector especially digital field.

Al Saleh stated, “ The new law aims to support the commercial interests of the state and comply more with international trade,  strengthen the position of the UAE on the global trade map, keep abreast of international best practices in commercial transactions, and ensure the principles of transparency and clarity in them, as well as raise the country’s classification on relevant economic competitiveness indicators, including the Global Competitiveness Report, and the Ease of Doing Business Report. In addition the new law aims at accelerating the transformation of digital applications further in the business sector in the country, and strengthening the position of the UAE as a center for business activities in the areas of technology, innovation and sectors of the new economy, and reviewed the most prominent provisions and outputs of the new law, which confirms State’s proactive approach.”

The UAE will be creating a virtual business system, the commercial store and commercial transactions, through the means of modern technology, and those that take place in virtual environments, in addition to those provided in realistic standard ways, as well as considering the provision of services and the conduct of business and activities related to virtual assets as virtual businesses in accordance to UAE’s Council of Ministers Legislation regulating virtual assets and their service providers.

This includes

• Giving authenticity to the virtual business so that the same provisions applied to it with respect to similar ones presented realistically.

• Giving legitimacy and authenticity to real and virtual commercial books.

• Selling by public auction of movables instead of used movables and making bids available through a licensed electronic platform or hall or through various modern technology means.

 Dr. Mariam Al-Suwaidi, CEO of the Securities and Commodities Authority, added, “The most noteworthy provisions presented by the new law deal with the securities sector in addition to the fact that the Authority is to consider the business of virtual assets as a commercial business, and this provision gives a privilege to the virtual assets sector. With the issuance of the new law it has been confirmed that businesses related to virtual assets are considered commercial businesses. Therefore, the provisions of this law and other related laws will apply to those who will deal in the activities of this sector, and benefit from the privileges included in the new law, such as the provisions regulating the trader and allowing new age groups to practice business, noting that the Cabinet of Ministers already issued its regulating decision last December for virtual assets, and will enter into force mid-January.” ( Note no public information is available on the Cabinet of Ministers decision for virtual assets.)

The announcement comes in parallel with the recent announcement by the Abu Dhabi based crypto and Blockchain associate to set up a Regulators Committee to help drive change and learn lessons in the wake of last year’s FTX exchange collapse. Jehanzeb Awan of the Middle East, Africa and Asia CBA (MEAACBA) states, “It is pivotal for the industry to help the investing public understand the opportunity and corresponding risks that come with investing in cryptocurrencies. The importance of holistic regulation to minimize regulatory arbitrage is key to reducing the impact of the recent events as well as bringing confidence back to the industry.”

The MEAACBS said its board is setting up a Regulators Committee which aims to bring together the key regulators in the regions covered by the association, to work together in building regulatory regimes that allow for effective oversight of the crypto industry.

Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM), the International Financial Centre in Abu Dhabi, announced that its financial regulator, the Financial Services Regulatory Authority (FSRA), has published Guiding Principles on its approach to virtual asset regulation and supervision as a way to outline its expectations for the asset class and service providers in the sector.

The principles state the FSRA’s risk appetite and priorities for the sector, with each principle covering one of the key pillars of ADGM’s holistic approach, which includes a robust and transparent regulatory framework; high standards of authorization; preventing money laundering and other financial crimes; risk-sensitive supervision; enforcement powers for regulatory breaches; and its commitment to international cooperation. They will therefore be of particular relevance to potential applicants to ADGM and other regulators with an interest in this area.

As per the document, The FSRA’s risk appetite for VA activities is such that it will only admit operators to its jurisdiction who at the outset can unequivocally meet the transparent, high standards outlined in its framework. This will maintain the best-in-class reputation of the ADGM ecosystem and instil market confidence to promote growth and investment. 

In addition the document discusses stablecoins, ADGM will only permit those tokens where price stability is maintained by the issuer holding the same fiat currency it purports to be tokenising on a fully backed 1:1 basis. This therefore currently prevents the use within ADGM of other types of stablecoins, such as algorithmic stablecoins.

Emmanuel Givanakis, CEO of the FSRA, said, “These guiding principles will provide greater clarity to investors, other regulators, industry and the wider public of our approach to regulation in this area and key expectations we have set on current virtual asset service providers in ADGM and potential applicants. They also outline the tools we have at our disposal to mitigate the material risks that are born from these activities and the regulatory powers to identify and act upon any misconduct. Consistent with the FSRA’s broader strategy to align with international best practices, these principles make clear the high standards of our framework at a time of increased volatility and regulatory focus.”

Dubai’s Virtual Asset Regulatory Authority (VARA), with the commencement of its Minimum Viable Product (MVP) Phase, has announced Regulatory Guidelines on Marketing, Advertising and Promotions of VA across the Emirate of Dubai.

The new VARA regulations specifically address marketing and communications activities, ahead of operationalizing the MVP licensees so that any mass-market information dissemination and consumer solicitation are designed to safeguard community interests.

Regulations on Marketing, Advertising and Promotions of Virtual Assets cover all forms of outreach, communications and advertising, including publication of information, awareness building, customer engagement, and/or investor solicitation.

VARA rules extend to VA related communications by any entity leveraging Dubai-based media sites, search platforms, and online or off-line publishing channels that explicitly target customers within the Dubai market, establishing guardrails on permissible audience segments, in addition to content obligations.

Equally all content dissemination channels operating from Dubai are obligated to act responsibly, and ensure compliance with prevailing Guidance as it pertains to VA communications facilitated via their platforms.

VARA guidelines further detail the obligations of Dubai licensed VASPs and any advertising platforms that are positioning VA content across traditional and new-age media channels for the Dubai market, to ensure factual accuracy, explicitly demonstrate any promotional intent, and in no way mislead on the guaranteed nature of their returns.

The principles are supplemented by rigid enforcement standards and penalties for non-compliance that collectively provide market confidence ahead of MVP operations, as it augments marketing, data protection and consumer protection laws that have been well embedded across the UAE.