During the Paris Blockchain Week, at the Global regulatory Landscape Panel session, Mathew White, CEO of Dubai’s VARA (Virtual Asset Regulatory Authority) discussed the cost of compliance for smaller crypto and Blockchain firms and the solution he is proposing where big players sponsor the cost of compliance for smaller ones.

White in his contribution during the panel made several points with regards to how he views VARA’s regulatory standpoint.

Firstly, VARA wants to regulate without damaging the presence of nearly 2000 Web3 and crypto companies already present in Dubai UAE. He states, “We seek to set a regulation that we feel anybody can be part of and is not exclusive by nature. We engage with the industry, governments, and continue to do that. While it is still not perfect, there are a number of things we are looking into to make the regime fit for everybody, one of which is how we deal with cost of compliance for small entities.”

According to White, compliance is a costly exercise and not many players have the resources to go and get regulated. His proposal is “looking towards a structure where larger market participants host smaller ones, where the cost of compliance can be borne by the large players.” He adds, “We are on this journey of allowing innovation whilst being able to regulate it.”

White explains that two years ago when he was part of the team building VARA, the Dubai government decided as part of their economic diversification project to prioritize technology and in specific virtual assets.

VARA was established to be able to position Dubai as a hub with financial stability and investor protection in mind.

When the topic of self-regulation through technology came up White acknowledge that he believes that this will one day be possible. He also stated he would be looking into piloting this idea at VARA.

He stated, “No doubt some point in the future it will be available. For the short to medium there will be regulation and it will be significant.”

Earlier this week, Crypto.com became the first international crypto exchange to receive a full license from VARA, while OKX is still awaiting final requirements to receive its full VASP operational license.

Fastex, a crypto exchange, payments gateway and ecommerce platform, has set up an office in Dubai World Trade Center, as it seeks a license from Dubai’s virtual asset regulatory authority (VARA). Fastex has already received initial approval from VARA.

As per the press release, Fastex chose the office because of its proximity to VARA. As stated, “This proximity enhances Fastex’s ability to work closely with the authority and expedite the licensing process as a Virtual Asset Service Provider (VASP). In addition to the office opening, Fastex has received initial approval from VARA to conduct Broker-Dealer and Exchange operations, highlighting its commitment to regulatory compliance.”

Vardan Khachatryan, the Chief Legal Officer and Member of the Board of Directors at Fastex, stated, “Opening our new Dubai World Trade Center office is a noteworthy step in Fastex’s growth strategy. This move underscores our commitment to adhering to industry standards and maintaining high-quality service in the digital asset field. Being located in the DWTC, close to VARA and other key industry participants, positions us well to offer reliable and regulated services to our clients.”

Fastex will be participating at the AIBC Summit in Dubai UAE. They announced on X platform that they were nominated for best exchange of the year award.

This comes as DKK Partners FZE, subsidiary of DKK Partners a fintech company also announced that it has been granted an initial approval by the Dubai Virtual Assets Regulatory Authority (VARA) for crypto brokerage dealer services.

So far more than 11 crypto exchanges have received licenses in UAE.

DKK Partners FZE, subsidiary of DKK Partners a fintech company, has announced that it has been granted an initial approval by the Dubai Virtual Assets Regulatory Authority (VARA) for crypto brokerage dealer services.

DKK Partners FZE will continue to work towards acquiring a full Virtual Asset Service Provider crypto broker license from VARA.

The VARA initial approval allows DKK FZE to move forward in the licensing process as they look to offer corporate and institutional customers in Dubai and the UAE access to stablecoin blockchain technology, utilizing USDT and USDC.

Khalid Talukder, Co-Founder and CEO of DKK Partners, stated, “It is an incredibly exciting time for DKK in the Middle East and securing the VARA Initial approval will enable us to continue making a splash in the region. Our expansion to Dubai last year was a huge success and we’re looking to extend our influence in the market by strengthening our compliance and innovation in the Virtual Asset space. This license is a game-changer for DKK and the digital asset landscape in Dubai empowering businesses to confidently engage in blockchain technology, benefiting from the stability of stablecoins and the regulatory framework.”

Victoria Albergini, Head of Partnerships for DKK Partners FZE in Dubai added, “Since our launch last year, DKK Dubai has gone from strength to strength and is now in a prime position in the rapidly evolving digital asset landscape. The VARA initial approval enhances our ability to serve the unique needs of corporate and institutional customers.”

Dubai’s virtual asset regulator (VARA) has not only entered the social media scene but has announced its plans for 2024 which will include enhancements to its regulatory infrastructure with introduction of real world use cases for tokenized fractionalized market participation using Blockchain as well as TradeFi, DeFi regulations while it has phased out its MVP licensing program.

As per Mathew White, CEO of Dubai’s VARA, “The industry can expect to see enhancements to the regulatory infrastructure for trading, devising innovative market structures for seamless transactions, and activating real-world use cases for secure, tokenized and fractionalized market participation using trustless blockchain networks.”

Dubai’s virtual asset regulator also discussed its achievements in 2023. VARA, announced that in 2023 it awarded 19 regulated VASP licenses, of which 11 are already operational. In addition 72 initial approvals have been issued to new entrants and have commenced licensing process.

The regulator also stated that it had issued 133 application acknowledgement notices which is a reflection of its proactive and responsive approach.

A total of 116 Proprietary Trading NOCs have been issued, with an additional 37 assessed and ready to be issued while 94 non-VA activity confirmation notices were also issued.

Matthew White, CEO of VARA, commented: “As we open 2024, VARA is poised to accelerate its comprehensive focus on bolstering the infrastructure, broadening the spread and deepening the resilience of our VA ecosystem. Our commitment remains ensuring a secure and innovative environment for service providers and consumers alike. To this end, the industry can expect to see enhancements to the regulatory infrastructure for trading, devising innovative market structures for seamless transactions, and activating real-world use cases for secure, tokenized and fractionalized market participation using trustless blockchain networks.

He adds, “This endeavor involves close collaboration with market participants, particularly the mix of TradFi and native crypto with regulatory peers, underpinned by best practice protocols including those prescribed by FATF. Our goalpost remains unchanged; we started this journey 22 months ago and in this short space of time have built a strong foundation that we are in a position to accelerate from. 2024 will be the year to further Dubai’s position as the global leader in the new economy underpinned by a regulated VA ecosystem, contributing substantially to the GDP.”

When it comes to decentralized Finance, White in the press release, states, “As the lines between traditional finance and decentralized finance blur, VARA recognizes the importance of progressive technology and the need to fast-track maturity in investor and consumer protection, along with managing cross-border risks. We continue to foster awareness, education, and a collective recognition of our evolving digital landscape, leveraging marketing as a vehicle to enhance the impact of our policy-making and regulatory efforts.”

In addition the virtual asset regulator also notes that its Minimum Viable Product [MVP] Licensing program is being phased out as it has served the purpose for which it was initiated in a period where the full market regulations had not been formally launched.

All this will be done in alignment with international regulatory standards, especially FATF. VARA will collaborate with traditional finance regulators, such as the Central Bank of UAE (CBUAE) and the Emirates Securities and Commodities Authority (SCA), syncing efforts for FATF-compliant security in cross-border asset flows.

Dubai’s virtual asset regulatory authority has just listed UAE based Nine Blocks Capital Management as a receiving a full VASP license and will make Dubai UAE its headquarters.

As per VARA website, Nine Blocks Capital will be able to offer crypto and virtual asset investment services to institutional and qualified investors.

Nine Blocks Capital received initial approval from VARA back in August 2022. Nine Blocks was launched by by PwC’s former global crypto head Henri Arslanian.

Nine Blocks is the investment manager of the Nine Blocks Master Fund, a market neutral crypto fund focused on generating alpha from inefficiencies in the crypto markets using relative value, arbitrage and quantitative strategies.
With around $100m in AuM and a track record of more than 2 years, Nine Blocks manages assets for many leading investors globally, from regulated financial institutions and private banks to public companies and fund of funds.
This license is the culmination of a process that started with an MOU between Nine Blocks and VARA, allowing knowledge sharing and consultation.
The Nine Blocks group was set-up in 2021 with the belief that institutional investors want digital assets exposure via fund managers who have established digital assets track record, are regulated, have traditional finance experience and comply with the highest operational due diligence requirements.
Henri Arslanian, co-founder and managing partner of Nine Blocks said, “We believe that a regulatory regime tailored for the fast-moving digital assets space can not only provide comfort to institutional allocators but also contribute to the growth of a healthy crypto ecosystem.The UAE is quickly becoming a leading jurisdiction globally for digital assets and we are honored to be part of this journey.”

Nine Blocks follows a market neutral trading strategy, profiting from arbitrage opportunities and market inefficiencies across the crypto space.

UAE based Fuze Finance under the licensed name Morpheus Software Technology (FUZE) FZE has just received a full VASP license from Dubai’s Virtual asset regulatory Authority. Fuze offers embedded digital asset capabilities for financial institutions as a digital asset infrastructure provider for the Middle East.

VARA’s license will allow Fuze Finance to offer broker dealer services, allowing them to serve institutional investors, retail and qualified investors. Through this licence, the business will be able to serve customers through two core service lines: firstly, via digital assets as a service (DAAS) enabling banks, fintechs and enterprises to integrate B2B2C digital asset products natively into their channels and secondly, through a regulated Over-The-Counter (OTC) service providing investors with a technology-first option for executing institutional-level digital asset trading with ease and efficiency.

With a regional digital asset market worth $566bn, and growing at 48% YoY, Fuze co-founder and CEO, Mohammed Ali Yusuf believes the Middle East is the perfect home to establish a digital assets infrastructure business.

Ali Yufu on receiving the license noted, “We thank VARA for assessing and approving our licence. VARA’s comprehensive and consultative process demonstrates the robust framework at the heart of this booming industry. Across the UAE, digital assets businesses are being welcomed to a thriving ecosystem with regulation that matches rapid innovation and adoption. Businesses can now have full confidence in the regulated infrastructure that Fuze provides, as we support the world’s fastest-growing digital assets hub.”

In September 2023 UAE headquartered Fuze Finance, raised a seed round of $14mn, the largest Seed investment in a digital assets startup in the history of the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA). The investment was led by Abu Dhabi-based Further Ventures, along with participation by US-based Liberty City Ventures.

Fuze wanted to benefit from the strategic capital and network of these investors, acting as a catalyst for the business as it builds the digital asset infrastructure that will drive the future of finance.  A first-of-its-kind infrastructure provider in MENA, Fuze enables any bank, fintech or traditional enterprise to easily offer regulated digital assets products to their customers through their native apps.

Fuze was founded by an expert team of fintech, traditional finance (TradFi) and decentralized finance (DeFi) leaders, with its co-founders holding extensive knowledge from experience in global hypergrowth businesses.

CEO, Mohammed Ali Yusuf (Mo Ali Yusuf) has held prominent roles at Checkout.com and Visa; Arpit Mehta (COO) was previously in the leadership team at fintech leaders like Simpl and Clear; Srijan Shetty (CTO) built algorithmic trading systems at Goldman Sachs and worked at tech leader Microsoft.

Yusuf at the time of raise stated, “We are excited to build the future of regulated financial infrastructure and digital assets out of the UAE. Regulations have played a pivotal role in propelling the UAE into a central position within the global Digital Assets industry. To receive the backing of Abu Dhabi-headquartered Further Ventures combined with the deep expertise of US-based Liberty City Ventures, confirms the relevancy and potential of Fuze’s mission to rapidly expand our cutting-edge infrastructure across the region.”

Article updated on November 20th 2023

Dubai’s Virtual Assets Regulatory Authority (VARA) in a press release has announced that Mathew White will be the new CEO of VARA which comes as VARA intensifies its efforts towards regulating the VASPs in Dubai calling on them to finalize their applications today.

As per the press release, Matthew White has 20 years of experience in technology, cyber security and digital trust while working as a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. Former CEO Henson Orser who is leaving to pursue other opportunities will remain fully engaged to support the new CEO as he integrates into his new role.

In a Bloomberg article it noted that VARA is poised to levy fines on over a dozen crypto firms, as the head of Dubai’s crypto regulator is poised to depart after less than a year on the job.

The news comes as VARA calls on more than 1000 legacy firms to complete their applications to register under Dubai’s unique regulatory framework by November 17th 2023, as part of Dubai’s commitment to fostering a transparent and resilient virtual asset environment.

VARA is calling on VASPs that have yet to submit the applications, have missed the notifications from their commercial licensing authorities, or have submitted incomplete forms to proactively get in touch, to avoid unintended regulatory consequences.

It seems with new VARA CEO efforts will be focused on ensuring compliance to regulatory and FATF requirements by VASPs.

Dubai’s Virtual Assets Regulatory Authority (VARA) announced that while more than 1,000 legacy firms have filed applications to register under Dubai’s unique regulatory framework, underscoring the city’s commitment to fostering a transparent and resilient virtual asset environment, these firms need to complete their applications in ten days, by November 17th 2023.

As per the press release, following the inception of the Authority by Law No. 4 of 2022 and the issuance of VARA regulations in February 2023, Dubai’s Virtual Assets sector, which includes specialist Virtual Asset Service Providers (VASPs) and traditional businesses involved in Virtual Asset activities, became a part of a regulated sector requiring all such legacy operators in the Emirate of Dubai to obtain licenses or registrations under VARA

Further to substantive outreach efforts facilitated in collaboration with the Department of Economy and Tourism (DET) and the Dubai Free Zone Council (DFZC) through 2023, VARA’s dedicated licensing team have successfully rolled out an accelerated domestic outreach program.

Dubai’s Virtual Assets Regulatory Authority (VARA) is advancing its engagement with the virtual asset market to evaluate compliance with its set regulations, emphasizing the obligatory licensing for all Virtual Asset Service Providers (VASPs) in the Emirate. Firms lagging in their application processes have until 17th November 2023 before enforcement mechanisms are due to be triggered by default.

As such VARA is calling on VASPs that have yet to submit the applications, have missed the notifications from their commercial licensing authorities, or have submitted incomplete forms to proactively get in touch, to avoid unintended regulatory consequences.

In recent months VARA has been issuing various market alerts. In its most recent alert it called to attention the media coverage regarding Bitay’s supposed entry into the UAE market, showcasing that unless they have secured approval or regulated by VARA or any other regulatory authority in the UAE. Prior to that it issued a notice with regards to Islamic Coin.

As per VARA, according to Cabinet Resolution No. 111/2022 advises the market to not engage with unregulated VASPs. VARA reaffirmed that Bitay is not regulated by VARA and has not sought to otherwise be registered with VARA.

This latest announcement by VARA comes after the UAE  National Anti-Money Laundering and Combating Financing of Terrorism and Financing of Illegal Organizations Committee (NAMLCFTC), in collaboration with UAE supervisors, has issued guidance on combating the use of unlicensed virtual asset service providers, which is prepared by the supervisory subcommittee.

The guidance, which aims to educate licensed financial institutions (LFIs) and the wider public sector on the risks associated with unlicensed virtual asset service providers, has been issued pursuant to the Decree Federal Law No.20 of 2018 on Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and Combating the Financing of Terrorism (CFT) and Illegal organizations. It aligns with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) publication on updated guidance for a risk-based approach to virtual assets and virtual asset service providers.

The guidance provides the reporting entities, including LFIs, Designated Non-Financial Businesses and Professions (DNFBPs), and Licenced Virtual Asset Service Providers (VASPs), with a comprehensive roadmap to enhancing their governance and operational processes. It also highlights how to identify and address governance challenges and emerging risks, underlining the importance of compliance with regulatory obligations under AML legislation and the regulations, instructions, guidelines, notices, and rules issued by the Supervisory Authorities.

The guidance directs the reporting entities to consult the FATF Report on Red Flag Indicators of Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing regarding Virtual Assets. It specifically requires them to remain vigilant of the various fraudulent methods unlicensed VASPs adopt; continue to manage money laundering, financing of terrorism, and proliferation financing risks effectively; ensure emerging risks are factored into their business and customer risk assessments; and ensure due diligence is conducted to identify instances of forged documents and sanctions evasion.

As per the guidance, VASPs operating in the UAE without a valid license will be subject to civil and criminal penalties, including, but not limited to, financial sanctions against the entity, owners, and senior managers. Furthermore, reporting entities that demonstrate willful blindness in their dealings with unlicensed VASPs and have weak AML/CFT and Counter Proliferation Financing controls may be subject to enforcement action.

Khaled Mohamed Balama, Governor of the CBUAE and Chairman of the NAMLCFTC, said, “The new guidance on combating the use of unlicensed virtual asset service providers comes at a time when virtual assets become more accessible through digital channels. As our digital economy matures, our work on combating all kinds of financial crimes intensifies through raising awareness of their risks and emphasising the importance of compliance with relevant regulations and legislation to ensure the integrity of the UAE’s financial system.”

WadzPay has been granted “Initial Approval” by Dubai’s Virtual Assets Regulatory Authority (VARA), marking a pivotal step in Wad pay’s journey towards obtaining a Virtual Asset Service Provider (VASP) License for virtual asset services and activities.

“We are immensely honored to have received initial approval from VARA,” said Mr. Anish Jain, Founder and Group CEO of WadzPay. “This recognition reaffirms our commitment to delivering cutting-edge blockchain-based solutions that not only revolutionize but also adhere to the highest regulatory standards. We are grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the growth of the fintech ecosystem in the UAE.”

This Initial Approval is a key milestone and allows WadzPay to commence preparations for the provision of virtual asset services and activities under the VASP License for Transfer & Settlement and Broker/Dealer activities.

“Receiving VARA’s initial approval is a testament to our unwavering dedication to regulatory and compliance excellence,” said Mr. Khaled Moharem, President – MENA at WadzPay. “We’ve built a robust ecosystem that not only meets but exceeds industry standards, guaranteeing a safe and efficient gateway to virtual assets for users in the UAE. We’re poised to launch with strict adherence to VARA’s requirements, ushering in a new era of secure and seamless access to the world of virtual assets.”

While the initial approval is a pivotal achievement, WadzPay emphasizes that it is still in the process of working towards receiving the final approval from VARA and the VASP license. This progression marks a crucial step towards obtaining the necessary regulatory green light to fully operate within the UAE and bring its innovative products and solutions to life.

Prior to this WadzPay Founder Anish Jain had announced that WadzPay had made strides on the licensing front and are in the “final stages”. In addition he added that WPC token would be listed on a Tier1 regulated exchange in the Middle East.

WadzPay, an interoperable blockchain-based technology provider, had also launched the WadzPay 2.0 which it believes will redefine the landscape of virtual asset-based transactions. WadzPay 2.0 provides a unique new architecture primarily based on the Algorand blockchain with inbuilt support for several others such as Ethereum, Tron, Avalanche and several others to be added. WadzPay 2.0 construct is designed in line with evolving regulations and needs of banks, financial institutions, telcos and central banks.

In a recent marketplace alert issued by Dubai’s virtual asset regulatory authority, it warns investors and market participants of the unauthorized issuance, marketing, and retail distribution of Islamic Coin (ISLM) from Bored Gen (BG) DMCC based out of Dubai UAE.

As per the notice, investors and customers are advised to note the unauthorized virtual asset Issuance given that BG is not a VARA licensed or registered VA issuer, nor a VASP that has otherwise been granted a No-Objection Confirmation to issue a Virtual Asset such as the ISLM token, which is being offered for public sale to interested purchasers including [without limitation] to Dubai residents.

As per VARA alert, the public sale of ISLM by BG through a Regulation D Offering arranged by OpenDeal Portal LLC – conducting business as Republic on republic.com is a potential breach of Regulation III.A.1 (such activity constituting placement and distribution of a Virtual Asset).

Additionally, under the definition of Broker-Dealer Services, such activity is fully regulated under the VARA regime and requires a VA Broker Dealer License that neither BG nor Republic have obtained from VARA.

With regards to marketing activities, given that  BG is a Dubai-based DMCC entity and marketing activity pertaining to ISLM undertaken in and from Dubai has been done without VARA approval, VARA are investigating whether there has been a breach of Administrative Order No. 01/2022 Relating to Regulation of Marketing, Advertising and Promotions Related to Virtual Asset.

Dubai’s VARA has requested that BG cease marketing activity until it obtains the appropriate approvals from VARA and introduces appropriate disclaimers in connection with such marketing.

As a consequence of the breach of VARA’s regulations described above, enforcement action has been taken against BG and BG has been directed by VARA to suspend with immediate effect any further distribution of ISLM and to cease any further issuance and/or marketing of ISLM until approval from VARA is received.

This comes after several media articles that questioned the validity of the token sale by Bored Gem and information provided by Islamic Coin.