Bittrex Leaves Malta Amid Money Laundering Crackdown

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Bittrex has upped sticks and left its home of Malta after just a year’s stay, less than two months after the Malta Financial Services Authority (MFSA) announced plans to monitor crypto exchanges more closely as part of an increase in anti-money laundering (AML) regulations. Bittrex arrived in Malta almost exactly twelve months ago, but already is packing its bags and heading to Liechtenstein under the guise of a new company, Bittrex Global.

Bittrex Move Just a Coincidence?

The MFSA released their 2019-2021 Strategic Plan back in September, in which it stated that it would “actively monitor and manage business-related risks pertaining to licensed virtual assets and cryptocurrency businesses.” Within seven weeks Bittrex had announced that its Malta operation, Bittrex International, would close at the end of October in favor of
Bittrex Global, which will launch from its new headquarters in Liechtenstein. Of course it could just be a coincidence that Bittrex is launching its new venture (which seems identical in all but name) at this exact point in time, but the theory that they are leaving to avoid further prying into their activities isn’t without merit – in April the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) refused them a BitLicense based on four “deficiencies”, including an inadequate AML compliance program. Of course, it may just be because the Bittrex team is desperate to swap sandy beaches for ski slopes, but the timing is nevertheless suspicious.

Binance Stays True to Malta

The Malta operation is now officially closed, which means they won’t have to worry about the incoming Regulatory Technology (RegTech) and Supervisory Technology (SupTech) that the MFSA will use to take a closer look at the activities of crypto entities. The MFSA, for their part, will probably be pleased that Bittrex has left the country, which means it has one fewer entity to monitor. One exchange that will be subject to the increased surveillance is Binance, who themselves moved their headquarters to Malta in March of 2018, alongside a whole host of smaller crypto entities that took advantage of Malta’s open approach to cryptocurrencies, which the MFSA acknowledges in the report but with the caveat that “we understand that such innovations present challenges in the prevention of money laundering and terrorism financing.” It’s almost like no one knew…