Hong Kong securities regulators are ramping up the rhetoric on initial coin offerings (ICOs).
“While we acknowledge that innovative technologies such as blockchain have the potential to improve efficiency and financial inclusion, that does not entitle anyone to conduct fundraising from the public in violation of securities law,” she said, adding that most ordinary investors are not equipped to evaluate these investments.
That in itself was not out of the ordinary. Most countries loop this nascent fundraising model under current their current securities frameworks and expect startups issuing security tokens to operate accordingly.
However, Leung then went a step further, stating that many ICOs are dubious while others are outright frauds.
“Further complicating matters, many of these fundraisings are dubious, if not downright frauds,” she said. “The issuers escape the scrutiny of the police or securities regulators because of their cross-border nature and the way the crypto assets are structured to fall outside any regulator’s perimeter.”
This is not the first time the SFC has sounded the warning bell on ICOs, and it has matched those words with action on several occasions.
Last month, the SFC shut down the ICO for cryptocurrency startup Black Cell Technology, alleging that it had engaged in “unlicensed regulatory activity” and was not registered with the government.
Previously, the SFC had sent letters to seven cryptocurrency exchanges warning them to delist tokens the agency considers to be securities.
Recently, three Hong Kong-based exchanges — Binance, OKEx, and Bitfinex — have announced plans to move their operations overseas, to Malta in the first two cases and Switzerland in the third.
While they did not explicitly cite Hong Kong’s regulatory environment as a reason for the move, all have lauded the cryptocurrency-friendly climates in their new locations. Switzerland’s canton of Zug has been nicknamed “Crypto Valley” for the large number of cryptocurrency startups and ICOs that have relocated there, while Malta is seeking to establish itself as Europe’s “Blockchain Island.”
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