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Crypto Moves — Bitcoin, Ether up; Europeans charged over North Korea crypto conspiracy – Arab News
RIYADH: Bitcoin, the leading cryptocurrency internationally, traded higher on Tuesday, up 4.20 percent to $40,503 as of 09.45 a.m. Riyadh time.
Ether, the second most traded cryptocurrency, was priced at $2,995, up 5.52 percent, according to data from Coindesk.
US charges two Europeans over North Korea crypto conspiracy

North Korea is the subject of US sanctions (File/AFP)

The US Department of Justice on Monday announced the indictment of two Europeans for allegedly conspiring with a recently sentenced American cryptocurrency researcher to help North Korea evade US sanctions.
Alejandro Cao de Benos of Spain, who founded a pro-Pyongyang affinity organization, and Christopher Emms of Britain, a cryptocurrency businessman, were accused of recruiting the researcher Virgil Griffith to illegally provide cryptocurrency and blockchain technology services to North Korea.
Both defendants are at large. Lawyers for both could not immediately be identified.
Prosecutors said Cao de Benos and Emms arranged for Griffith, who holds a doctorate from the California Institute of Technology, to travel to North Korea via China in April 2019 to attend their Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference.
At the conference, Emms and Griffith allegedly taught members of North Korea’s government and other attendees about using cutting-edge blockchain and cryptocurrency technology to evade sanctions and launder money.
Such instruction was “all for the purpose of evading US sanctions meant to stop North Korea’s hostile nuclear ambitions” and protect American security interests, US Attorney Damian Williams in Manhattan said in a statement.
Canadian dollar to stay at core of financial system, not crypto: BoC

A woman walks past the Bank of Canada building in Ottawa, Canada. (Reuters file photo)

The Canadian dollar will remain at the center of the country’s financial system, the central bank chief said on Monday, responding to questions about a Conservative leadership candidate’s pledge to make the country the blockchain capital of the world.
“There are promising benefits from innovation in the financial sector. Having said that, we certainly expect the Canadian dollar will remain at the center of the Canadian financial system,” Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem said in testimony before a committee of the House of Commons.
The Bank of Canada is currently working on its own central bank digital currency, a so-called digital loonie, that could be launched if a private digital tender were to take off as a payment system.
Pierre Poilievre, a leading candidate for the leadership of the opposition Conservative Party, has said if elected he would back a “new, decentralized, bottom-up economy and allow people to take control of their money from bankers and politicians.”
He has posted videos of himself buying lunch with Bitcoin to make a point about its usability and regularly touts cryptocurrencies as a means for Canadians to “opt-out of inflation.”
Latam could be a hotspot of opportunities for crypto companies: Ripple

Ripple examined existing payments and potential integration. (Supplied)

Ripple, the cryptocurrency and payments company, believes that Latam could be a hotspot of opportunities for crypto companies in the future.
In a recent article, Ripple examined existing payments and potential integration that crypto services may find in the region.
While the region faces some obstacles due to its economic attributes and the dominance of central banks, the organization said that there is a profitable opportunity for companies that cooperate with these banks to bring cryptocurrency to the masses, reported. 
“There is a lucrative opening for traditional banks, fintech, and governments to increase adoption of crypto-forward technology to address this underbanked and fragmented market,” Ripple said. 
The inclusion of crypto companies in the different debates that are happening regarding regulation will also be very important for the future of crypto in the region, according to the article. 
“Smart and progressive regulation will beget further successful regulation — leading to increased innovation and progress around crypto across Latin America,” Ripple added.  
(With inputs from Reuters) 
DUBAI: If you thought that the worldwide media coverage of Dubai’s new crypto laws announced in March was a blip on the radar screen, wait until you see the frenzy with which traditional shops and institutions are embracing digital currencies.
Close on the heels of several global crypto exchanges bagging commercial licenses and moving headquarters to Dubai, a motley mix of neighborhood establishments have opened its doors to people willing to lighten their wallets with bitcoin and the like.
Situated in Al-Quoz, Bake N More is a coffee and pastry shop that will go down in local history as the first cafe in Dubai to accept cryptocurrency from its customers. While the cafe still accepts cash and credit cards, it welcomes a mixed bag of digital payments, including Bitcoin, Ethereum and Tether.
“There’s been tremendous interest in cryptos because people see this as the future payment gateway system, especially those who have held on to them for a long time and are now looking to cash them,” Mohammad Al-Hammadi, owner of Bake N More, told Arab News.
The contemporary cafe’s open-source payment platform is handled by Mixin Network, a lightning-fast and decentralized platform that brings speed and scalability to blockchain and facilitates the transfer of digital assets.
Explaining the payment system to Arab News, Al-Hammadi said that it would charge customers by converting the cost of an item into its value in cryptocurrency. For instance, if a bottle of water costs 5 dirhams ($1.36), the price payable in TerraUSD, a Stablecoin built on the Terra blockchain, would be about 1.36UST as it is pegged 1:1 against the US dollar.
New school of thought
The emergence of cryptocurrency as a mainstream tender has also invited the attention of Citizens School, an educational institution situated in the plush Al-Satwa locality. Come September, the UK-curriculum non-selective school will let parents pay the tuition fees in Bitcoin
and Ethereum.
“The reason we are accepting crypto payments is to start a conversation among parents and children about the technology that will influence the lives of the young generations,” said Hisham Hodroge, CEO of Citizens School.
He further added that nearly 10 percent of the parents who have enrolled their children opted to pay in cryptocurrency. The 43,000 sq. m. school campus has a capacity for 2,600 children, and fees range from 36,000 dirhams for Early Years Foundation Stage 1 up to 52,000 dirhams for Year 6.
• Situated in Al-Quoz, Bake N More is a coffee and pastry shop that will go down in local history as the first cafe in Dubai to accept cryptocurrency from its customers. While the cafe still accepts cash and credit cards, it welcomes a mixed bag of digital payments, including Bitcoin, Ethereum and Tether.
• The contemporary cafe’s open-source payment platform is handled by Mixin Network, a lightning-fast and decentralized platform that brings speed and scalability to blockchain and facilitates the transfer of digital assets.
• The emergence of cryptocurrency as a mainstream tender has also invited the attention of Citizens School, an educational institution situated in the plush Al-Satwa locality.
“A while ago, cryptocurrency was only a floating term among well-versed investors. However, today cryptocurrency is becoming much more mainstream, reshaping the traditional financial system,” said Adil Alzarooni, founder of Citizens School, in a statement.
Not too long ago, even investment circles barely knew about the dark alleys of the deep web, the seedy corner of the Internet that offers anything from criminal services to cracked credentials to counterfeit money for instant exchange of cryptocurrency.
But the instrument soon gained legitimacy when the investment community began counting on it to hedge risk against rising inflation. The outcome was bizarre because it led to an exponential rally that led Bitcoin to touch a dizzying height of over $68,000 in November 2021. Just five years ago, a single Bitcoin was worth about $700. The meteoric rise became a talking point across the treasury benches globally.
Crypto penetration in UAE
According to blockchain data platform Chainalysis, the UAE, estimated to be the third-largest crypto market in the Middle East after Turkey and Lebanon, totaled a transaction value of $26 billion between July 2020 and June 2021. Sovereign governments were left with no choice but to reign over the volatility and tame the beast.
Early this year, the UAE announced a licensing program that would bring it into the league of rival financial centers such as Singapore and Hong Kong.
Last month, the state passed its first crypto law and established a regulatory body to oversee virtual assets.
The government set up the Dubai Virtual Assets Regulatory Authority to oversee the regulation, governance and licensing of cryptocurrencies, non-fungible tokens and other virtual assets. The decision led to a massive influx of global crypto exchanges in the region.
Cryptocurrency exchange Bybit announced its plans to move its headquarters from Singapore to Dubai. Global behemoths such as FTX and Binance received licenses to operate in the city. has revealed its intention to set up its regional office in the city.
“Countries like the UAE have already created governing bodies to measure and promote the growth of virtual assets. It’s keeping itself ahead of most of the world in developing the crypto market,” said Emma McInnes, global sector head of financial services at YouGov, a UK-based market research and data analytics firm.
YouGov recently released a report titled “The Future of Financial Services” based on the sample size of 1,012 in the UAE. The study revealed that 67 percent of UAE residents were interested in investing in cryptocurrencies within the next five years, and 21 percent intended to trade in the next 12 months.
“Like all businesses started using the Internet 20 years ago, they will start using crypto now; it is inevitable,” said Talal Tabbaa, CEO of CoinMENA, a digital assets exchange licensed by the Central Bank of Bahrain.
Salaries in Crypto?
The company recently set up a payment platform for Dubai-based online convenience store Yalla Market that claims to deliver groceries in 15 minutes. The store accepts USD Coin and Tether. What makes the store interesting is that besides launching a new payment method for its customers, the startup is also considering paying salaries via digital assets in the future.
“We can now see that the world is increasingly adopting blockchain and cryptocurrency technologies. We could not stand aside as a company based in the UAE,” said Leo Dovbenko, CEO and co-founder of Yalla Market, in a statement.
The message is loud and clear: Crypto is here to stay, but there is a strong possibility that the crypto ecosystem in the UAE is set for bigger things. However, that is a story for another day.
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has been removed from a US watchlist of countries it deems are weak at enforcing Intellectual Property rules. The Office of the United States Trade Representative has taken the Kingdom off its Priority Watch List in its annual Special 301 Report, after Saudi Arabia tightened up its IP enforcement procedures. 

These efforts have been led by the Saudi Authority for Intellectual Property, which has created specialized IP enforcement courts, conducted strong IP awareness and offered training to IP specialists in 76 different authorities to increase government compliance with the laws.
The authority has also established the permanent National Committee for the Enforcement of Intellectual Property to coordinate IP enforcement, issue reports and case studies and develop IP legislation and regulations.
The annual report identifies 27 trading partners of the US as being either on the Priority Watch List or Watch List.
DUBAI: When Anisha Oberoi received an aggressive breast cancer diagnosis ten years ago, it prompted her to reassess everything about her life. She received treatment, kept up a great job at Amazon and moved to Dubai. But this did not fulfill her ambition.
“I was put on hormone treatments after surgery and began to feel quite desperate at not being able to find clean, toxin-free alternatives to beauty products widely available to consumers,” said Oberoi, founder and CEO of Secret Skin.
“The more I learnt about hormone disruptors and carcinogens present in conventional mass-produced personal care, the more I realized how important it was to do something about this when I was ready, by creating a brand built on trust in the beauty and wellness space.”
This motivated her to set up a beauty e-commerce startup called Secret Skin. The award-winning startup was dedicated to sustainable, body and earth-friendly products.
For Oberoi, Secret Skin has become a personal story in many ways. 
Secret Skin was launched online in October 2020 as a discovery platform that connects mindful consumers to conscious beauty brands from around the world but is built differently than a traditional beauty business model.
It is based on a triple-bottom line framework that focuses on social and environmental impact — not just profit.
Within six months of launching, Secret Skin won the Women in Tech 2021 Global Pitch competition hosted by Sharjah Research Technology & Innovation Park.
Not just skin deep
The e-commerce startup recorded a 66 percent month-on-month growth in customer base, with an average basket size of 2.2 items per order. A surprising 40 percent of customers were repeat users, with no cancelations or returns in six months of operation.
The plastic recycling program incentivized customers for pro-environment behavior, resulting in 60 percent user conversion at the first interaction (within two days).
“The market for clean or conscious beauty is not saturated, but nascent here in the Middle East, while it is past its prime in other markets like the US and UK where the movement started much earlier,” explained Oberoi.
“We are the fastest growing platform for clean brands with five new brands and categories added every month to address consumer needs. As an agile startup we are able to take quick decisions to pivot when the value proposition needs to be enhanced,” she explained.
Typically, the act of purchasing a clean beauty product was labor-intensive, cost-prohibitive and time-consuming.
Routinely, a customer had to wait three weeks to receive a product ordered from outside the UAE, paying between 55-80 percent overage in shipping and customs. There was no local customer care and the experience was severely impacted.
“I had to engage with brand founders over Instagram and LinkedIn, setting up zoom calls during the pandemic to convince them to be part of our mission, when I didn’t even have a site to show them,” admitted Oberoi.
“We launched with same-day delivery, locally fulfilled with legally registered brands from around the world that were competitively priced to build customer trust,” she added.
Secret Skin has now been operational for 17 months since its launch in October 2020. The startup has seen early wins in terms of customer acquisition and penetration for the brands brought to market.
The company’s repeat purchase rate is a healthy 48 percent on average, growing 28 percent quarter on quarter in terms of sales. Customers are spending an average of $126 on orders, which is on par with the most popular, well-established e-commerce platforms for beauty in the region, according to Oberoi.
“We see this as a sign that the customer behavior is changing toward a demand for more sustainable brands with organic or natural ingredients,” said Anisha.
Oberoi now started looking beyond the UAE’s borders to sell her products and eventually she did that.
Widening influence
In 2021, Secret Skin started shipping to Oman and Kuwait, and this year will start shipping to Saudi Arabia, including the expansion of physical distribution for their exclusive brands.
“South East Asia is on the roadmap for 2023, as well as a private label that we are currently working on,” said Oberoi.
“I’m most excited about our AI-enabled app and other tech interfaces that will enhance our value proposition to the customer. Capturing, analyzing and predicting user preferences through AI with qualified experts addressing efficacy, performance, and personalized recommendations is the future, and we are getting ready for it,” she said.
Her dedication to sustainability is resonating with conscious customers in the Middle East. The beauty industry generates up to 120 billion units of plastics globally per year, contributing to the loss of 18 million acres of forest annually — which is only one of the problems it faces (some others being carbon production, water waste and energy consumption).
“We need to increase visibility and diversity in the beauty community and address critical issues that may affect climate change, water scarcity, species extinction and deforestation if we have any hope of protecting our natural resources for future generations,” said Oberoi.
“On Secret Skin, with one single click, the customer can support small sustainable businesses, provide microeconomies to
indigenous tribes that wild-harvest the ingredients found in their products, and reduce their carbon footprint.”
In beauty and personal care, sustainability means recyclable packaging, decreased use of single-use plastics, consciously curated ingredients, safe-to-use components, and small-footprint production from start to finish. For example, companies are redesigning products to include less water in their composition and reducing synthetic ingredients to address specific issues, but these are small measures.
“We need to have scalable solutions that can be applied to larger global models,” said Oberoi. “We are now standing at the precipice between catastrophe and consciousness whilst we combat the pandemic, and are responsible for the way we conserve and protect the environment that we live in.”
Elon Musk told banks that agreed to help fund his $44 billion acquisition of Twitter Inc. that he could crack down on executive and board pay at the social media company in a push to slash costs, and would develop new ways to monetize tweets, three people familiar with the matter said according to Reuters.
Musk made the pitch to the lenders as he tried to secure debt for the buyout days after submitting his offer to Twitter on April 14, the sources said. His submission of bank commitments on April 21 were key to Twitter’s board accepting his “best and final” offer.
Musk had to convince the banks that Twitter produced enough cash flow to service the debt he sought. In the end, he clinched $13 billion in loans secured against Twitter and a $12.5 billion margin loan tied to his Tesla Inc. stock. He agreed to pay for the remainder of the consideration with his own cash.
Musk’s pitch to the banks constituted his vision rather than firm commitments, the sources said, and the exact cost cuts he will pursue once he owns Twitter remain unclear. The plan he outlined to banks was thin on detail, the sources added.
Musk has tweeted about eliminating the salaries of Twitter’s board directors, which he said could result in about $3 million in cost savings. Twitter’s stock-based compensation for the 12 months ending Dec. 31, 2021 was $630 million, a 33 percent increase from 2020, corporate filings show.
In his pitch to the banks, Musk also pointed to Twitter’s gross margin, which is much lower than peers such as Meta Platforms Inc’s Facebook and Pinterest, arguing this leaves plenty of space to run the company in a more cost-efficient way.
The sources requested anonymity because the matter is confidential. A Musk representative declined to comment.
Bloomberg News reported earlier on Thursday that Musk specifically mentioned job cuts as part of his pitch to the banks.
One of the sources said that Musk will not make decisions on job cuts until he assumes ownership of the company later this year.
He went ahead with the acquisition without having access to confidential details on the company’s financial performance and headcount.
Musk told the banks he also plans to develop features to grow business revenue, including new ways to make money out of tweets that contain important information or go viral, the sources said.
Ideas he brought up included charging a fee when a third-party website wants to quote or embed a tweet from verified individuals or organizations.
In a tweet earlier this month he subsequently deleted, Musk suggested a raft of changes to the social media giant’s Twitter Blue premium subscription service, including slashing its price, banning advertising and giving an option to pay in the cryptocurrency dogecoin. Twitter’s premium Blue service now costs $2.99 a month.
In another tweet he deleted, Musk said he wants to reduce Twitter’s dependence on advertising for much of its revenue.
Musk, whose net worth is pegged by Forbes at $246 billion, has indicated he will support the banks in marketing the syndicated debt to investors, and that he may unveil more details of his business plan for Twitter then, the sources said.
Musk has also lined a up a new chief executive for Twitter, one of the sources added, declining to reveal the identity of that person.
He told Twitter’s chairman Bret Taylor earlier this month that he does not have confidence in the San Francisco-based company’s management.
Parag Agrawal, who was named Twitter’s CEO in November, is expected to remain in his role until the sale of the company to Musk is completed.
Too Risky For Some Banks 
Musk has been inundated with offers from potential equity partners to join him in the Twitter deal, and he will decide in the coming weeks if he teams up with someone, one of the sources said.
It is unlikely that Musk would partner with a private equity firm given that the deal is not structured as a traditional leveraged buyout, the source added.
Musk disclosed this week that he sold $8.5 billion worth of Tesla shares, a move likely aimed at helping finance his deal for Twitter.
The Tesla chief executive also told the banks he will seek moderation policies on the social media platform that are as free as possible within the legal constraints of each jurisdiction Twitter operates, the sources said, a position that he has repeated publicly.
The $13 billion Twitter loan is equivalent to seven times Twitter’s 2022 projected earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization. This was too risky for some banks who decided to participate only in the margin loan, the sources said.
Another reason some banks opted out is because they feared Musk’s unpredictability could result in an exodus of talent from Twitter, harming its business, according to the sources.
A Twitter spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
— Reuters
BRUSSELS: Companies and countries were at odds over Moscow’s rouble-for-gas payment system on Friday, while European officials promised more guidance on whether buying Russian gas can comply with sanctions and Russia said it saw no problem with its plan, according Reuters.
Russia cut gas supplies to Bulgaria and Poland on Wednesday after they refused to abide by the demand issued in a Russian presidential decree last month for gas payments in roubles, prompting concerns other countries could be the next to be hit.
Germany, which imports around half of its gas from Russia, said on Friday energy companies can open special accounts with Gazprombank to pay for Russian gas, without breaching sanctions if transferring euros or dollars to them fulfils their contractual obligations.
It did not specify whether companies could do this and also open a rouble account, as requested by Russia, without being in breach of EU sanctions.
Denmark’s Orsted said it has no intention of opening a rouble account in Russia, although it declined to comment on payment in other currencies. Italy’s ENI also said it had not opened an account in roubles.
Under Russia’s mechanism, buyers are obliged to deposit euros or dollars into an account at privately-owned Russian bank Gazprombank, which has then to convert them into roubles, place the proceeds in another account owned by the foreign buyer and transfer the payment in Russian currency to Gazprom.
EU energy ministers will on Monday hold an emergency meeting to discuss their response to Russia’s demand.
The European Commission, the EU executive, has already said countries may be able to make sanctions-compliant payments provided they declare their payments are completed once it has been made in euros and before it is converted into roubles.
EU countries, however, have said they want more clarity, while Germany, the bloc’s biggest economy and among the most dependent on Russian gas, says it cannot afford to stop buying Russian supplies, even though it is taking steps to find alternative sources of energy.
A European Commission official told Reuters on Friday the executive will provide EU countries with extra guidance following complaints from some countries that ambiguity would leave different countries reaching different interpretations of what they were allowed to do.
Russia on Friday said it saw no problem with its proposed system.
“If the established procedure for interaction between gas buyers and the authorized bank is observed by the buyer, and there are no problems for the authorized bank in terms of selling currency on the stock exchange due to restrictive measures on the part of foreign states, then there cannot be any obstacles to paying for and receiving natural gas,” Russian Central Bank Governor Elvira Nabiullina said.
The rouble has to an extent benefited from Moscow’s demand for roubles payment. The currency hit its highest level versus the euro in more than two years on Friday supported by capital controls as the central bank cut interest rates for the second time this month.
European gas prices have hit record levels since the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, Europe’s top gas supplier, and were up slightly on Friday.

Helpful ‘Messiness’
Central to the confusion on the part of the European buyers is whether Russia would only consider the payment to be complete after the gas-to-roubles conversion is done — a transaction that would involve Russia’s central bank, which is subject to EU sanctions.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, an EU diplomat admitted a certain amount of ambiguity could be helpful as the bloc seeks to prevent any widening of divisions between countries, which have different levels of reliance on Russia and different deadlines to make payments.
“In the circumstances, a little bit of a messiness might just be preferable,” the diplomat said.
Poland and Bulgaria have contracts with Gazprom due to expire at the end of this year, which meant their search for alternative supplies was already advanced. Poland also has very healthy gas stocks around 77 percent full.
Austria’s OMV, which has a contract with Gazprom until 2040, said it was analizing how a change could be implemented for it to pay in roubles without breaching sanctions when next payment is due in May.
Germany’s advice on Friday echoed that given by the Commission last week, but the Commission also warned complying fully with Russia’s scheme could breach the bloc’s sanctions.
Germany’s leading energy companies Uniper and RWE both declined to comment.
EnBW’s VNG unit on Friday said it is staying within the law when it comes to paying for Russian volumes required under current currency requirements, adding it will not unveil details of contracts with its suppliers.
— Reuters


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