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Malta Becomes World’s First Blockchain Island Following New Regulation

On 4 July 2018, Malta officially passed three bills into law which establishes it as one of the first countries to enact a regulatory framework for blockchain technologies and cryptocurrency. While other nations have decided to wait for a tried-and-tested legal framework to base their regulations on, Malta has pioneered legislation into the industry to make them the biggest name in blockchain and cryptocurrency technology. As shown by the new laws, this move has been made to make Malta a hotspot for the industry. It is a huge move from the small nation, earning it the title of the ‘World’s First Blockchain Island,’ and it is expected to have many repercussions in Malta and across the world.


A new age is dawning

Bitcoin, the world’s first cryptocurrency, found recognition among the general public in the second half of 2017 when its price ascended rapidly from close to $1000 to over $19,000. However, people have known of the cryptocurrency for a long time; and while some may not have bought into the ideology of a decentralised digital currency, experts saw the potential buried in Bitcoin’s foundations.

The blockchain, which is a public transaction ledger that is managed by a peer-to-peer network, records everything that happens in the Bitcoin network and stores the records in a way that cannot be copied or altered. It was built to stop the possibility of double-spending the cryptocurrency, and it also built unequivocal trust within the network without the need for a central authority. Blockchain technology may have first been used for Bitcoin, but its applications are far spreading beyond cryptocurrencies. It could allow the media industries to limit a single copy of a song or movie to a single purchaser, or be used in all forms of business in the form of Etherium’s self-executing contracts. If it is allowed to, blockchain technology could change the way that day-to-day activities are performed. But to do that, companies in the industry will need assurances.


Malta steps forth to inspire blockchain advances

Malta made history with the three bills that it enacted as the regulatory framework for cryptocurrency and blockchain technologies, becoming the first world jurisdiction to provide the industry with legal certainty. Other jurisdictions have passed laws on cryptocurrencies and blockchains, but Malta’s regulations are the most detailed and comprehensive, delivering true certainty. The EU member has been keen to innovate and govern online industries, with the Maltese Gaming Authority being one of the most trusted regulators in the online gaming industry. Now, Malta has become a regulated haven for companies in the industry.

The primary purposes of the three bills are three-fold: to provide legal certainty for the first time in the industry; to support the growth of the increasingly important industry; to guide the government on how to embrace blockchain and cryptocurrency technology and forge Malta into an industry hotspot.

Now in power and governing the industry’s actions in Malta are the Innovative Technology Arrangement and Services Act (ITAS), the Malta Digital Innovation Authority Act (MDIA), and the Virtual Financial Assets Act (VFA). Herein, blockchain technology is referred to as distributed ledger technology (DLT), while a cryptocurrency is termed as a DLT asset. The purposes of each bill are as follows:

ITAS: Primarily concerns the establishment of exchanges and companies based within the cryptocurrency market. It details the registration and certification of DLTs and provides technological arrangements for companies.

MDIA: This bill establishes the MDIA as the regulatory body and formalises the internal regulatory procedures for the industry. As the regulator, the MDIA is also tasked with providing legal certainty to potential DLT platform users.

VFA: The third bill regulates initial coin offerings, forcing new companies seeking to raise capital through an ICO to publish detailed white papers and make their financial history public. The VFA also governs cryptocurrency exchanges and wallet providers.

The three bills have been brought in by Malta to allow a safe place for the industry to grow, but they also ensure that potential users are protected under the new laws. The new legislation prohibits market manipulation, insider trading, and misleading white papers. ICOs in the industry have been accused of such foul play in the past, so Malta has decided to prohibit it without question. A person found guilty of such offences can face: a fine of up to $15,000,000 or three-times the losses avoided or profits made due to committing the offence, whichever is greater; incarceration for a term of up to six years; or suffer imprisonment and a fine. These staunch punishments will help Malta to legitimise the industry while also nurturing it as it grows to meet its immense potential.


The impact on Malta and the rest of the world

The desire to create the bills first was to help present Malta as a blockchain hotspot: the nation is already bearing the fruits of its bravery. Binance, the largest cryptocurrency exchange in the world, has already opened up an office in Malta, and OKEx has also followed suit. The Maltese government has investigated various ways to implement blockchain technology into public services, while the MGA sees the technology as a way to regulate online gaming services looking to accept cryptocurrency payments. They also plan to explore its applications alongside games, as it could provide transparency by proving the fairness of games via operators’ use of DLT.

Malta’s new regulations could also work as the much-desired framework for legislation in other nations. In the USA, investors have encountered frustration when trying to invest in certain ICOs, due to government accreditation being required for ICOs that offer securities. Malta’s VFA can assist with this issue as The Financial Instrument Test within the VFA details a three-step method to decipher whether an ICO’s asset could be deemed a virtual token.

Malta has opened as the world’s first regulated jurisdiction for blockchain and cryptocurrency technology. The favourable and clear-cut legislation will attract many of the biggest names in the industry to the island nation which will, in turn, provide a haven for the potentially world-changing industry to develop.


The lack of legal action has created uncertainty

Blockchain is being hailed as the greatest invention since the internet. Despite this, there is a great deal of variance in the regulation of the technology across the world. In the United States of America, blockchain technology has been mentioned as potentially being able to change how security is upheld during transactions online. Despite this, the US federal government has left the states to their own devices for regulating blockchain technology, which has resulted in at least eight states working on bills to accept or promote the use of the blockchain technology or the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, as of 2017.

In Europe, there is a more positive, active, and welcoming approach being taken to regulating blockchains and cryptocurrencies. Earlier in 2018, the European Commission revealed its planned vehicle to exchange expertise for the launch of blockchain applications across the European Union, known as the European Blockchain Partnership.

The issues that many jurisdictions have encountered when seeking to regulate the industry are defining the uses of blockchain, understanding what cryptocurrencies and blockchains are, and the willingness to commit and give the technology a stamp of approval. The industry has also come under scrutiny concerning the legality of cryptocurrencies. Some have disputed that cryptocurrency does not constitute legal tender, which brings about a lot of uncertainty in many areas of the world for the companies.

In research committed by Malta, one of the main concerns brought up by those in the industry was the legal uncertainty in many jurisdictions and the fear that their activities could be deemed unlawful at any time. The serious operators sought legal certainty above all else.

 

by Denitza Dimitrova

LL.B., LL.M., Mag.Jur. 

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