December 15, 2017 / 5:20 PM / 2 months ago

EU agrees clampdown on bitcoin platforms to tackle money laundering

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union states and legislators agreed on Friday on stricter rules to prevent money laundering and terrorism financing on exchange platforms for bitcoin and other virtual currencies, the EU said in a statement.

The agreement is part of a broader set of measures to tackle financial crimes and tax evasion. EU legislators also backed stricter controls on pre-paid cards, and raised transparency requirements for the owners of trusts and companies.

“Today’s agreement will bring more transparency to improve the prevention of money laundering and to cut off terrorist financing,” Europe’s Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova said.

The EU decision comes as bitcoin’s prices have risen more than 1,700 percent since the start of the year, triggering worries that the market is a bubble that could burst in spectacular fashion.

The agreed measures will end anonymous transactions on virtual currency platforms and with pre-paid payment cards, which investigators said could have been used to fund attacks by militants.

Bitcoin exchange platforms and “wallet” providers that hold the cyber currency for clients will be required to identify their users, under the new rules which now must be formally adopted by EU states and European legislators and then turned into national laws within 18 months.

It took EU legislators more than a year of negotiations to agree on the legislative proposals, put forward by the European Commission in the wake of shooting and bombing attacks in Paris and Brussels in 2015 and 2016 which killed more than 160 people.

The talks dragged on because some EU states opposed increased transparency on trusts and companies, fearing a negative impact on their economies.

The EU lawmaker in charge of the issue, Dutch Green Judith Sargentini, said Britain, Malta, Cyprus, Luxembourg and Ireland were among those opposing the changes. The deal allows the authorities and “persons who can demonstrate a legitimate interest” to access data on the beneficial owners of trusts.

Trusts are legitimate financial vehicles to manage assets but have sometimes been accused of hiding illegal activities because of their lack of transparency.

Transparency International, a rights group, called the deal “a breakthrough” but lamented the fact that data on trusts’ owners will not be completely public, as it will be for beneficial owners of companies. The increased public scrutiny is considered essential by the EU commission and also by rights groups, to prevent financial crimes and tax evasion.

(This version of the story corrects name of organisation in final paragraph to Transparency International, not Amnesty International.)

Additional reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by Foo Yun Chee and Peter Graff

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