The Gulf region could become a hub for blockchain technology after a London-based crypto firm Blockchain.com has reportedly been awarded provisional approval to operate in Dubai.
The company, which offers users a crypto wallet and is also a crypto exchange, said on Friday it had signed an agreement with Dubai’s crypto regulator Virtual Assets Regulatory Authority (VARA) and would open an office in the region and begin hiring.
This comes as the United Arab Emirates (UAE) pushes to develop virtual asset regulation intended to attract new forms of business after Dubai adopted its first law governing virtual assets and establishing VARA as a regulator for the sector in March. Since then, crypto giants Binance and FTX have also been granted virtual asset licenses.
Image Credit: Choong Deng Xiang on Unsplash
SAN FRANCISCO — A former Twitter employee has been convicted of failing to register as an agent for Saudi Arabia and other charges after accessing private data on users critical of the kingdom’s government in a spy case that spanned from Silicon Valley to the Middle East.
Ahmad Abouammo, a U.S. citizen and former media partnership manager for Twitter’s Middle East region, was charged in 2019 with acting as an agent of Saudi Arabia without registering with the U.S. government. A jury found him guilty on six counts, including conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering. The jury acquitted him on another five charges involving wire fraud.
The case marked the first time the kingdom, long linked to the U.S. through its massive oil reserves and regional security arrangements, has been accused of spying in America.
A 2019 FBI complaint alleged that Abouammo and Saudi citizen Ali Alzabarah, who worked as an engineer at Twitter, used their positions to access confidential Twitter data about users, their email addresses, phone numbers and IP addresses, the latter of which be used to identify a user’s location.
A third man named in the complaint, Saudi citizen Ahmed Al-Mutairi, was alleged to have worked with the Saudi royal family as an intermediary.
The U.S. complaint alleged that user data of over 6,000 Twitter accounts was accessed, including at least 33 usernames for which Saudi law enforcement had submitted emergency disclosure requests to Twitter. Abouammo was arrested in November 2019 and released on bond. He had pleaded not guilty. The FBI still lists Al-Mutairi and Alzabarah as wanted.
Abouammo’s attorneys and Twitter didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
UAE, Dubai -Iran made its first official import order using cryptocurrency this week, the semi-official Tasnim agency reported on Tuesday, a move that could enable the Islamic Republic to circumvent U.S. sanctions that have crippled the economy.
The order, worth $10 million, was a first step towards allowing the country to trade through digital assets that bypass the dollar-dominated global financial system and to trade with other countries similarly limited by U.S. sanctions, such as Russia. The agency didn’t specify which cryptocurrency was used in the transaction.
“By the end of September, the use of cryptocurrencies and smart contracts will be widely used in foreign trade with target countries,” an official from the Ministry of Industry, Mine and Trade said on Twitter.
The United States imposes an almost total economic embargo on Iran, including a ban on all imports including those from the country’s oil, banking and shipping sectors.
Tehran is one of the largest economies yet to embrace cryptocurrency technology, born in 2008 as a payments tool aimed at eroding governmental control over finance and economies.
Last year, a study found that 4.5% of all bitcoin mining was taking place in Iran, partly as a result of the country’s cheap electricity. The mining of cryptocurrency could help Iran earn hundreds of millions of dollars that can be used to buy imports and lessen the impact of sanctions.
Cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin are highly volatile, making them impractical for large-scale payments.
The European Union on Monday said it put forward a “final” text to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal as four days of indirect talks between U.S. and Iranian officials wrapped up in Vienna.
Under the 2015 agreement, Iran curbed its nuclear program in return for relief from U.S., EU and U.N. sanctions. But former U.S. President Donald Trump reneged on the nuclear deal in 2018 and restored harsh U.S. sanctions, prompting Tehran to start violating the agreement’s nuclear limits about a year later.
Central African Republic (CAR), one of the world’s poorest countries, has also embraced crypto. It became the first African state to make bitcoin legal tender in April, and last month launched its own digital coin.
El Salvador last year also adopted bitcoin as legal tender, though the project has been beset by public scepticism amid tumbling crypto prices.
In an effort to diversify their economy, Bahrain is reportedly in advanced talks seeking to expand into cloud computing and other technologies.
Image Credit: Sigmund on Unsplash
By Reuters, Team MEB
Bahrain is in advanced talks for investment deals with cloud computing companies from the United States, China and the United Arab Emirates, an Economic Development Board executive said, as the country seeks to diversify its oil-based economy.
Cloud computing and foreign direct investment are key planks of Bahrain’s economic recovery programme that aims to grow non-oil gross domestic product by 5% this year and includes $30 billion in strategic projects.
The plans come as regional economic heavyweights Saudi Arabia and the UAE are also banking on technology to diversify their oil-dependent economies.
Saudi Aramco Development Co, a subsidiary of oil behemoth Aramco (2222.SE), has teamed up with Google Cloud to offer cloud services to customers in Saudi Arabia. The UAE is opening three Amazon Web Services (AWS) centres this year.
Bahrain, which since 2018 has hosted a large AWS centre – the first in the Middle East, has introduced a “data embassy law”, the first of its kind in the region. It allows countries to store data in the country but under their jurisdiction, Ali AlMudaifa, chief investment officer of Bahrain’s Economic Development Board, told Reuters.
EDB is also in talks for a sugar refinery, management consultancy and UK insurance firms to set up shop in the small kingdom. It is also in talks for FDI deals with Israel, which are expected to be announced “soon”, he said.
Bahrain aims to achieve fiscal balance by 2024, a target delayed by two years due to the pandemic.
The medium-term fiscal plan is tied to a 2018 $10 billion aid package from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE that helped it avert a credit crunch.
“We’re willing to compete for big projects,” AlMudaifa said. “We think our value proposition stands on its own two feet, and we are also looking for synergistic opportunities between the countries.”
“We have very strong momentum and traction, a very diversified pipeline,” he said.
The recovery programme includes plans for the tourism, logistics, industrial, telecom and oil and gas sectors.
EDB alone aims to attract $1 billion in FDI and create around 4,500 jobs this year after drawing $893 million in 2021 and creating 4,861 jobs.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait comprise roughly half of Bahrain’s aggregate FDI stock, AlMudaifa said, adding he expected Gulf FDI to Bahrain to increase further. Saudi Arabia’s powerful Public Investment Fund has said it would invest $5 billion in Bahrain.
“A lot of these big strategic development projects, in due time and incrementally and gradually, will be open for private sector investment,” AlMudaifa said.