April 16, 2024

$308M crypto laundering scheme busted, Hashkey token, Hong Kong CBDC: Asia Express

Asia Express: Ringleaders of $308M P2P crypto laundering scheme jailed in China, Visa’s Hong Kong CBDC trial a success, Hashkey token.

Visa completes Hong Kong digital currency trial with HSBC and Hang Seng

Hong Kong is one step closer to a central bank digital currency (CBDC) with the release of its successful phase 1 results in collaboration with Visa, HSBC and Hang Seng Bank.

According to a Nov. 1 announcement, Visa said that it achieved “near real-time” finality with transfers involving tokenized deposits of the digital Hong Kong dollar (e-HKD).

Tokenized deposits were burned on the sending banks ledger, minted on the receiving banks ledger, and simultaneously settled interbank via the simulated wholesale CBDC layer,” the payments firm wrote.

“This would provide for settlement in an atomic manner with better streamlining of any operational dependencies imposed by financial institutions and other intermediaries, thus improving liquidity management.” 

The payment processor also stated that its digital HK dollar test pilot was functional 24/7, surpassing the uptime of traditional financial systems, which typically don’t function after hours or on weekends. In addition, the firm wrote that “tokenized deposits can be fully transacted while remaining encrypted, without revealing information about identity, balances, or transaction amounts to non-bank users.”

For its next steps, Visa plans to explore the use of e-HKD in tokenized asset markets and programmable finance to automate real estate transactions. “In this pilots Property Payments use case, the payment from a buyer transferring the remaining balance tokens to the property developer may be automated upon reaching the completion date of the contract, minimizing lag time in closure of the process,” the company said. Other areas of research interest include the expansion of retail solutions and digital cross-border payments.

Despite the promising results, no definite timelines have been given for the full launch of the Hong Kong digital dollar or even that such a launch will occur. In its Oct. 30report, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority warned there are still issues to resolve:

“For instance, an rCBDC issued as a programmable money may be more susceptible to cybersecurity risks, as it may present more mediums for external threats to inject malicious code.”

With the silent nod from Beijing’s central government, Hong Kong has been striving to become a Web3 hub for blockchain in the Asia-Pacific Region. However, such efforts had been overshadowed by the collapse of the JPEX crypto exchange, resulting in lossesexceeding $150 millionfor Hong Kong investors. Since the incident unfolded, trust in cryptocurrency among local residents hasfallen drastically.

The new e-HKD pilot results as announced by Visa.
The new e-HKD pilot results as announced by Visa.

Hashkey’s regulated exchange token 

Hashkey, one of the first crypto exchanges to receive a regulatory license in Hong Kong, will introduce an exchange token in 2024. 

According to therecentwhite paper, the “HashKey EcoPoints” (HSK) token will be minted on Ethereum with a total supply of 1 billion. Out of this amount, 65% is reserved for users, 30% for Hashkey staff, and 5% for its ecosystem treasury.

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The token will be distributed as incentivizes to ecosystem users and distributors and will not be “sold via private or public sales for fundraising purposes.” As for utility, the company states that the token could be used to settle trading fees, along with early access to future token subscriptions and product upgrades on its exchange services.

The exchange also pledges to buy back HSK tokens with up to 20% of profits generated from related Hashkey services. “HashKey implements an offsetting issuance mechanism (burning) to protect HSK holders from the dilutionary impact of rewards-based increases in HSK circulating supply,” the firm wrote. However, regulatory approval is still required for the token design plan:

“The contents of this whitepaper have not been reviewed by any regulatory authority in Singapore or Hong Kong. You are advised to exercise caution in relation to the information in this whitepaper and any transaction that you intend to carry out involving HSK.” 

In August, Hashkey, alongside crypto exchange OSL, received one of the first regulatory licenses for retail crypto trading in Hong Kong. Its trading volume initially stagnated but has sincegainedtraction. Only select coins and tokens such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, Tether and Avalanche are approved to be listed on the exchange.

Hashkey's plan for token utility.
Hashkey’s plan for HSK token utility.

$308M syndicate manipulated crypto markets to launder money: Police 

Nineteen Chinese nationals have been sentenced for their role in a $308 million money-laundering scheme involving cryptocurrencies that operated from November 2020 and April 2021.

According to an Oct. 31 report by the Chongqing Tongliang District People’s Court, Mr. Jiang and Mr. Deng, the principal conductors of the money laundering syndicate, together laundered a total of $308 million worth of Bitcoin and Tether for proceeds of crime related to online gambling and wire fraud.

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Police say that to avoid platform monitoring and Know Your Customer requirements, the accused individuals orchestrated a sophisticated scheme of using peer-to-peer transactions, where coins were sold at “unusual prices relative to spot markets” for the stablecoin Tether and then transferred to exchanges for cash.

“By fabricating pretexts such as withdrawing project funds and migrant workers’ wages, they organized gang members to withdraw cash from bank counters in Chongqing, Sichuan, Shanghai and other provinces and cities. The amount of cash withdrawals ranged from hundreds of thousands to several million yuan each time. After withdrawing the cash, the cash is packaged in trolley cases, backpacks, etc., and transported by plane.”

The 19 individuals, including Mr. Jiang and Mr. Deng, were sentenced to six months to six years in prison. “In recent years, the phenomenon of criminals committing illegal and criminal activities through telecommunications networks has become increasingly rampant, posing a huge threat to the legitimate rights and interests of the general public,” the presiding judge wrote. 

Due to such a rise in wire fraud involving cryptocurrencies, China’s Central Government has cracked down harshly on crypto-related activities in the country, although there have been some signs of relaxation as of late. Nevertheless, such enforcement actions have sometimes resulted in collateral damage for foreign investors using Chinese-based crypto services without criminal intent. 

The culprits as they appeared for sentencing in Chongqing Tongliang District People's Court.
The culprits as they appeared for sentencing in Chongqing Tongliang District People’s Court.
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