In order to prevent money laundering and other criminal activity, Japan’s Financial Services Agency, is quietly pressuring cryptocurrency exchanges to give up handling Monero (XMR), Zcash (ZEC), and Dash (DASH) and other cryptocurrencies favored by criminals and hackers. Sources close to the FSA confirmed that they were taking all available steps to discourage the use of certain alternative virtual currencies that have become attractive to the underworld because they are difficult to track. In September of last year, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, Europol, released a report that warned “other cryptocurrencies such as Monero, Ethereum and Zcash are gaining popularity within the digital underground.” Criminals, who were some of the earliest adopters of Bitcoin, have increasingly dropped that cryptocurrency for transactions in favor of Monero and other less traceable “altcoins.”
According to the Japanese authorities, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to identify the recipients of currencies like Monero via a blockchain or any other public ledger. The anonymity makes the coins ideal for money laundering. The blockchain (public ledger) for bitcoin, makes it possible for seasoned investigators to follow the money. Increasingly, cyber criminals choose these new “privacy coins” when they demand ransom payments or engage in sales of illegal goods.
Coincheck, the troubled Japanese cryptocurrency exchange, handled all three currencies mentioned above before they were hacked on January 26. After suspending operations and fully returning to business, the firm stopped handling all three currencies. Coincheck had applied to be a registered entity with the FSA in September of 2017 in line with the newly revised payment services laws but had not been approved at the time of the hack.
On March 16, Jiji Press reported that Coincheck was dropping transactions in Monero and two other hard-to-track cryptocurrencies; the report suggested that this was part of the company’s attempt to show better compliance standards. After the January 26 hack of Coincheck, the FSA has ramped up their inspections of all operating registered cryptocurrency exchanges. The FSA has also informed other exchanges applying to be registered, that dealing with these three highly anonymous cryptocurrencies would be detrimental to gaining approval.
On April 10, at a working group meeting of experts on virtual currency, under the auspices of the Financial Services Agency, Monero and Dash were both mentioned as highly problematic virtual currencies. One member of the group, pointed out that there was a serious danger these two virtual currencies could be used for money laundering and stated, “It should be seriously discussed as to whether any registered cryptocurrency exchange should be allowed to use such currencies.”
The FSA is particularly adverse to Monero, especially after it was reported in January that North Korea may be mining the currency to raise funds.
Currently, all three currencies can be legally exchanged in Japan but there is a possibility that in the future trading in the currencies could be banned. However, the FSA could also simply apply pressure on registered cryptocurrency exchanges to effectively stop their trade in Japan.
Neither Monex nor Coincheck has yet responded to questions and inquiries on why they dropped handling the three cryptocurrencies.