Also today, a crypto exchange becomes the first to ban new Russian users... and LimeWire is making a comeback as an NFT marketplace.
President Biden has signed an executive order to establish a "comprehensive digital assets strategy" in the U.S. It's hoped this will "promote responsible innovation" in the industry — protecting investors, safeguarding national security interests, and contributing to economic growth. A fact sheet released by the White House points to surveys that suggest about 16% of adult Americans — 40 million people — have invested in, traded or used cryptocurrencies. Washington says it wants to "maintain technological leadership in this rapidly growing space," and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen says the new push for regulation "could result in substantial benefits for the nation, consumers, and businesses."
The crypto markets were upbeat after details about the executive order emerged. Bitcoin has surged 9% since the start of Wednesday — hitting highs of $42,359 at the time of writing. Investors may have been encouraged by the White House's conciliatory tone. Instead of talking about tough new restrictions and possible bans, Washington seems determined to become a leader in this space. Many crypto businesses believe that regulation has the potential to be a good thing, as it gives the industry legitimacy and a clear set of rules to work from.
CoinZoom has become the first crypto exchange to stop new customers from opening accounts in Russia — but the American trading platform will not block existing users. Chief executive Todd Crosland said the move was in response to major payment processing companies suspending their operations following the country's invasion of Ukraine. Speaking to Reuters, he said: "Being able to fund your account with a wire or a debit card, Mastercard, Visa — all of those funding mechanisms are being basically eliminated for Russian customers right now."
LimeWire is making a comeback — 12 years after it was shut down in a sensational legal battle. The peer-to-peer software had allowed millions of people to download bootlegged songs, TV shows and movies for free, but a court ruled it caused copyright infringement on a "massive scale." Now, LimeWire is being relaunched as an NFT marketplace that aims to onboard one million users in the first year. It'll initially focus on music, and plans to release exclusive content through big-name partnerships. Using a crypto wallet won't be mandatory — and digital assets will be priced in U.S. dollars.
Two-time world heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko is releasing an NFT collection to raise funds for the people of Ukraine. The legendary boxer is teaming up with WhisBe, a popular digital artist, for the drop. NFTs will be priced at $100, $1,000 and $1,000 — with a one-of-a-kind token being offered for $1 million. They're going to be available on OpenSea from today, and all proceeds from the sale will go to UNICEF and Red Cross Ukraine. Klitschko said: "It is a magnificent initiative: a support through art, a superb 'suppart' at the service of people who suffer. Art can be beautiful on many levels when used to serve humanity."
A brother-and-sister duo have been charged with defrauding thousands of retail investors out of $124 million. John and JonAtina Barksdale are accused of selling Ormeus Coin via crypto trading platforms — and running a multi-level marketing business. The siblings had claimed the project was underpinned by a $250 million mining operation, which would have been one of the largest in the world. But despite glitzy adverts in New York's Times Square, none of this was true. The SEC has called them "modern snake-oil salesmen," and John Barksdale is also facing criminal charges from the U.S. Justice Department.
Four defendants are facing up to 20 years in prison each for their alleged role in a "sophisticated scheme to steal assets from investors." Three of the men owned and operated EmpowerCoin, ECoinPlus and Jet-Coin in 2017. The projects allegedly raised $40 million from victims by promising guaranteed fixed returns on crypto investments. But the funds were used for their financial gain, and the companies collapsed without engaging in trading. Some of the suspects later tried to "cover their tracks and destroy evidence" when they were about to be exposed.