The global anti-money laundering task force has said it is closer to establishing a worldwide set of standards to apply to virtual currencies.
The president of the Financial Action Task Force, Marshall Billingslea, said he is optimistic that at its plenary, due in October, the FATF will agree a series of standards that will close the anti-money laundering “gaps” that all nations face.
“It is essential that we establish a global set of standards that are applied in a uniform manner,” he added.
The task force has accelerated its work and made significant progress on reaching a “consensus across nations” after the G20 requested the organisation tackle the issue as a matter of urgency.
In October, the FATF will discuss which of its existing standards need to be updated to address virtual assets, since its current recommendations do not acknowledge them. It will then revise the methodology it uses to assess how countries implement these standards and when this revised assessment methodology will take effect.
Mr Billingslea, who is also assistant secretary to the US secretary, said currently the adoption of anti-money laundering standards and regimes pertaining to digital assets and virtual currencies is “very much a patchwork quilt or spotty process,” which is “creating significant vulnerabilities for both national and international financial systems”.
China and South Korea have clamped down on the sector, while other countries — including France, Switzerland, Malta and Gibraltar — are drawing up regimes for formally policing the space in an attempt to attract fintech business.
UK MPs also highlighted on Wednesday the urgent need to regulate “Wild West” crypto-asset markets. The Commons Treasury select committee warned that a dearth of regulation around crypto-assets had left investors exposed to a “litany of risks” — without any of the protections usually afforded to consumers, such as access to compensation.
Cryptocurrencies are not regulated by central banks but are held digitally via electronic identities that in many cases allow their owners to remain anonymous. As a result, they have been linked to payments for prohibited goods such as guns and drugs and are a target for hackers.
Mr Billingslea said there were concerns of an emerging use of virtual currencies by terrorist organisations including Isis, as well as in extortion schemes, such as the WannaCry attacks.
His comments come after some observers argued that authorities such as Europol, Europe’s law enforcement agency, should devise a centralised system that flags cryptocurrency wallets linked to nefarious activities to major exchanges, so that they can block the owners from exchanging those funds for hard cash.
Despite the risks associated with digital assets, Mr Billingslea said they also presented “a great opportunity”. In terms of regulation, he said, “you can’t tilt too far in one direction or another” since blockchain, the technology that underpins virtual assets, “will continue to evolve”.