India: Tax Officials “Survey” Nine Crypto Exchanges

Just a month after the Indian Supreme Court issued a warning to the financial interests of the nation, “surveys” have begun on nine of the country’s cryptocurrency exchanges. An undisclosed source explained to local news outlet DNA:

“We are collecting the name of investors and their transaction details. The survey under Section 133A of the Income Tax Act, is being conducted for gathering evidence for establishing the identity of investors and traders, transactions undertaken by them, identity of other parties, bank accounts used, among others.”

The “surveys” began early this morning and targeted 12 premises associated with prominent Bitcoin companies. The operation was countrywide with properties in Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Bombay, Kochi, Hapur, and Gurugram being singled out. These included buildings used by popular exchanges Zebpay and Unocoin.

A photographer for Business Today who was witness to the events unfolded at Coinsecure in Bangalore claimed that computers were seized, servers took control of, and staff detained.

Cryptocurrencies do not have legal status in India, however, they are yet to be outlawed. That said, the central bank has issued several warnings to those buying, selling, and transacting using digital currency. Bloomberg report that as recently as December 5, the Reserve Bank of India had issued a statement saying that exchanges were not permitted to operate in the country.

Despite the legal grey area in which they exist in India, like elsewhere, digital currencies like Bitcoin, Ether, and Litecoin are proving immensely popular. In a country that has had such financial strife at the hands of corrupt bankers and politicians, it’s hardly surprising that efforts at genuinely sound money are capturing the imagination of citizens. According to another of DNA’s unnamed sources, the country’s cryptocurrency exchanges have been adding over 3,500 new users a day, and downloads of digital currency-related wallet and exchange software have exceeded 800,000.

Just yesterday, the federal government in India set up a panel to decide how Indian law should treat cryptocurrency. It’s chaired by Subhash Chandra and members include the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Board and the Reserve Bank of India’s Deputy government. Chandra is the country’s Economic Affairs Secretary. Based on the composition of the panel, today’s events, and previous statements from the RBI, it’s thought to be unlikely that any form of endorsement of cryptocurrency is forthcoming from the Indian Federal Government.

Image: ShutterStock

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According to their Twitter account, Indian wallet and exchange application Zebpay hit an impressive milestone of one million downloads last month. They also estimate an influx of 500,000 new users per month in 2018.

Zebpay was launched in 2015 by trio of entrepreneurs, Mahin Gupta, Sandeep Goenka, and Saurabh Agrawal. They registered their company in Singapore on the recommendation of Nishith Desai Associates. This decision was made to protect against a potential clampdown of the Indian Bitcoin community since the space is still unregulated in the nation.

Whilst the early days were tough for the company, the recent surge in demand for Bitcoin has seen them add 200,000 users per month. Around 2016, they noticed traffic really increasing. Often the heightened interest in the digital currency coincided with global insecurity or crises. Events like the Trump election result, Brexit, and domestic demonetisation last year fuelled demand. They expect the figure of new registrations to increase to half a million in 2018 following their integration with other cryptocurrencies like Ether, Ripple, and Litecoin.

The three founders saw that the largest problem with Bitcoin was the fact that it was difficult for the average, non-technical person to get to grips with the buying and storing of digital currency. Being as India has a rapidly expanding mobile phone user base, yet only a small percentage of the population has access to a computer, it made sense to direct their business towards the mobile market. India enjoys some of the lowest network tariffs on the planet and if the recently reported figures are anything to go by, the decision to target mobile users is starting to pay off.  Saurabh Agrawal, CEO of Zeb Ventures commented to Forbes of India:

We worked hard to understand and solve the pain point of understanding bitcoins. We made a key decision that mobile phones are huge in India and internet penetration is big through phones. So we decided on an app-only presence in India.

The application-only service differed from the other major Indian exchanges in that there would be no website. The aim with Zebpay was to provide a one-stop shop for users to buy, store, and even spend their Bitcoins using just their mobile phone. The founders’ overriding goal has always been one of simplicity for the end users.

The company has helped to drive the massive growth in Bitcoin usage in India since they initially impressed angel investors at a Las Vegas startup pitch competition in September 2014. However, with the space remaining unregulated for now, the effect the eventual legislation will have on Zebpay is currently unknown. According to news source Factor Daily, the Indian central bank are working on regulating the cryptocurrency space within the country. The publication are not expecting the all-out bans that the likes of Bolivia and Ecuador have introduced but rather a taxed, legal industry. In their interview with Forbes of India, however, the Zebpay founders seem unconcerned about any domestic legal developments in cryptocurrency.

As India’s finance watchdogs attempt to create a concrete regulatory framework for the decentralized virtual currencies, the netizens have already embraced Bitcoin and other digital currency assets for trading and remittance purposes. The Bitcoin transaction volume from the Asia’s second largest economy is on its way up, and it is opening up opportunities for many new players.

Belfrics Global, a Malaysia-based startup, appears to be prepared for an all-around Bitcoin demand. It is a conglomerate in itself, offering everything from wallet to trading to a payment gateway. The services are eye-catching, to say the least. But can Belfrics deliver? We tried to find out by inviting Praveenkumar Vijayakumar, the Chairman & CEO of Belfrics Global, for a quick Skype conversation.

Excerpts from our conversation:

YG: What prompted the launch of Belfrics Global?

Praveenkumar Vijayakumar, the Chairman & CEO of Belfrics Global

PV: For over a decade, I have served the OTC FX and commodity market and have provided solutions to multiple exchanges in Asia and Asia Pacific. I was always in the pursuit of providing a more sustainable trading product. When I stumbled on Bitcoin and blockchain technology, it was a natural choice for me to embrace the platform. There is a huge scope for the technology to contribute effectively into the financial systems. The current financial system, with all the regulatory guidelines in place, still lacks the transparency, efficiency, and scalability. I was convinced that this is the technology that will script the future of money. Belfrics was conceptualized to play a major role in the crypto revolution.

What new things does Belfrics bring to the Indian Bitcoin sector?

Belfrics is growing at a considerable pace not only in India but also in Africa and other parts of Asia. We have a series of product to be launched in the next two to three-quarters. We will be launching our completely new trading platform with enhanced features which will give a seamless UI experience to the investors and the entire community. We are currently integrating our platforms with an FX grade interface, specifically targeting equity, FX, and commodity market traders.

There is always a fear of security loopholes in Bitcoin businesses? How do you plan to mitigate such risks?

Belfrics is committed towards the security of the investors and has been spending most of our development efforts on enhancing the security features of the platform. Pretty soon, we will be moving from a centralized exchange to a ‘Hybrid’ Exchange model wherein clients will have a better control of their holdings. We believe in absolute transparency and that is exactly what the investors will experience.

How do legal authorities look at Bitcoin exchanges in India?

It is a mixed bag of responses. The Bitcoin volume traded in India is not a considerable value to make an impact on the Indian economy or the financial system. Hence the approach of the entire community, especially for the Indian market, has been to wait and watch. Having said that, ever since demonetization, there has been a huge jump in cryptocurrency based transactions. The considerable increase in the number and the value of transactions and the associated scams has forced the Indian authorities to revisit the crypto regulation, earlier than expected.

What are your expectations from the regulators regarding the upcoming Bitcoin law?

As compared to western regulators, Asian regulators have to deal with both money laundering and capital control issues. The bigger challenge for the Indian regulator would be to address the capital control issue. We are already addressing these issues through a self-regulated FX policy in our exchanges and with the advent of blockchain technology, we are sure that an effective solution and framework will be available to address these issues. It is imperative that a fair degree of regulation should come into action so that we can operate as per the guidelines and can continue experimenting with the technology to provide the much-needed change over to both the regulatory regime and to the financial systems.

And Bitcoin price? Where do you see it in the next five years?

Volatility in Bitcoin price will continue for quite some time. The recent price hike was not a healthy one. Since a majority of the bitcoins are concentrated with few, both upward and downward movements can be quite sharp. If Bitcoin blockchain struggles with its scalability issues, we could see other altcoins, take over a large market share of Bitcoin in the years to come. If the scalability and AML trouble does not hamper much to the bitcoin blockchain, Bitcoin could easily trade well above $10,000 in 5 years’ time.

What are Belfrics’ plans for the future?

Belfrics has already setup a subsidiary in Japan to conduct regulated digital currency operations. We expect to be regulated in the next 2 quarters.

Belfrics would like to position itself as a regional liquidity provider for all major coins.

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ZebPay, an Indian Bitcoin exchange company, clocked in a turnover of over 500 crore (USD 5 billion). They did more than Rs 100 crore of trade turnover in November 2016 and are on target to achieve a turnover of Rs 1,000 crore, this year.

Sandeep Goenka, COO and co-founder, ZebPay, attributes the increased interest in Bitcoin in India to demonetization. This sudden rise in interest has catapulted the value of the bitcoin from around $300 last year to now over $700.

Zebpay earlier had claimed to add double the number of users since the demonetization announcement. Now Zebpay app has crossed two lakh downloads. They added 50,000 users in November 2016 alone.

Bitcoin has been termed as “Virtual Gold” by Millennials and is maturing as an asset class. Bitcoin is a better and safer mode of payment, as against physical bullions that can sometimes be cumbersome to store.They are much simpler for storage, trading and transfers.

Sandeep Goenka says, “Digital assets like bitcoin are a new asset class. This new asset class is on the cusp of an explosion in adoption.”

Zebpay works like any other commodity or stock exchange. It’s a place where buyers and sellers of bitcoins come together. The Zebpay app is available for Android and iPhones. Zebpay is like Paytm but powered by bitcoins, according to Sandeep Goenka.

Bitcoins can be stored and sent or received using ZebPay and can be used for online shopping. One can also top up airtime, data card and pay DTH bills using bitcoins.

Currently bitcoin is priced at Rs 58,300 in Indian markets and $746 worldwide. Bitcoin prices soared from Rs 25,000 in January 2016 to more than Rs 55,000 at current prices. It has been the best performing asset this year.

As for Bitcoin regulations, most western countries have them in place. India on the other hand is still waiting for them, expected to follow in 2-3 years. Till then, we have our own account verification processes. ZebPay requires PAN card for any transaction and only allows bank to bank transfers.

The Indian government’s demonetisation drive has led to an unprecedented rise of Bitcoin demand/price in India. The decision bumped up people’s interest in bitcoin for reasons galore. Following the decision, the key word “buy bitcoin” was searched for a considerable number of times as per Google Data Trends.

As the initial rush of people looking to park their black money against bitcoins thinned down, people genuinely looking for alternatives to cash had the demand for bitcoin soaring.

But as is the case with everything new, Bitcoin adoption came with its unique challenges. The sudden interest in Bitcoin, without complete understanding of the cryptocurrency and the community makes the new users susceptible to scams.

A majority of Indian Bitcoin users are simply speculators who are unaware about its technical prospects. This loophole has made way for many Bitcoin investment projects, ranging from cloud mining to exchanges. BTCIndia.org appears to emerge right from such loophole.

BTCIndia is being accused of scamming people in a reddit thread. The redditor ‘twistyeyed’ claims that BTCIndia tried to take advantage of arbitraging India’s rates and the website link was deleted once it was called out on reddit. The reddit account, twistyeyed further adds a reminder to always research and, if in doubt, check with the community before blindly sending your BTC anywhere.

Twistyeyed also points out another red flag that the rate fluctuates wildly on the website and the deposit addresses lead straight to scammers.

Another redditor alexcooool, provides his transaction statement, giving evidence of the alleged scam by btcindia.org under the thread “Scammed at btcindia.org”. Another redditor Anduckk also adds, “Compared to real rates in India (which are more or less between 770 and 790 USD), >$900 was a clear sign of a scam.

Another reddit thread “Has anyone done any trading with btcindia.org” further raises doubts over the status of btcindia.org. In the same thread, redditor Nimble Bodhi seems pretty convinced about BTCIndia being a scam site. They talk about seeing the exact same template and graphics used for other scam exchange sites, and advise to definitely avoid this one.

In conclusion, the increased interest in Bitcoin is a step in a positive direction but it will do well for people to tread with caution.

NewsBTC has reached BTCIndia.org for comments. We will update this article accordingly.

India is not exactly a bright place when it comes to hosting Bitcoin mining operations, but a young startup is hoping to fight the odds for good.

GBMiners, a Bitcoin mining pool which mined its first block in August, now stands to be one of the most competitive mining pools in Bitcoin sector. At press time, it has obtained over 5% in hashpower, and is willing to walk more miles with its impressive business plan.

In a conversation with NewsBTC, Amit Bhardwaj, the co-founder and investor of GBMiners, stressed on educating masses about Bitcoin. He went on discussing the limitations an average Indian Bitcoin enthusiast face when he thinks about purchasing his/her first digital currency token.

“These are very early days for Bitcoin in India,” he stated, “people have more skepticism than fundamental understanding of the concept, once this threshold is crossed, Bitcoin will witness both the demand and adoption of the world’s 3rd largest economy and the world’s largest inward remittance market.”

Bhardwaj added that instead of influencing a potential Bitcoin-er to be an average trader, they want to make them a part of the Bitcoin creation. GBMiners’ aim, as he stated, is to convince traders and speculators to invest in Bitcoin mining operations; it not only helps investors to understand the industry, but also gives them a stronger idea about Bitcoin’stechnological and economical benefits.

That being said, GBMiners helps Bitcoin traders to do something more productive than just holding onto their investments and speculating, i.e. investing in mining operations. An efficient mining pool, which is being run by credible people, on their homeland, certainly gives these investors confidences for better returns.

Nikunj, another co-founder of GBMiners, stressed that obtaining 5% of the overall Bitcoin mining hash rate was not a simple task for their venture. He admitted that they had faced adequate roadblocks, specifically in regards to the growing monopoly of the majority of Bitcoin mining pools in the market.

“We started with putting our test servers across various existing mining pools and closely analysing the efficiencies. These early tests gave us ideas of possible areas of improvement, and we have been fairly satisfied with the efficiencies we’ve been able to achieve with GBminers. Can’t explain in detail here but we’re soon releasing our findings in a white paper for the mining community.”

India is Important to Bitcoin Sector

Indian government’s decision to ban its primary banknotes from circulation has indeed favoured Bitcoin trend in the nation, with exchanges reporting an increased demand for the digital currency. But indeed, the growth of Bitcoin in this South Asia’s emerging economy has been speculated since day one.

ZepPay, an India-based Bitcoin wallet application, has reported that they are adding 50,000 users each day amidst the growing Bitcoin trend.

GBMiners, too, believe that an increase confidence in the Bitcoin market will help accelerate the growth of their mining pool operations in India. Bhardwaj stated:

These are extremely exciting times to be a blockchain and cryptocurrency believer in India, with the recent move by Government clearly exhibiting the inherent risks associated with centralised monetary systems and the demonetisation resulting in significant devaluation in the real estate sector, I believe bitcoin is now ripe to resonate with the indian diaspora both philosophically and financially.

A bitcoin-OTC is an over-the-counter marketplace for buying or selling bitcoin for traders looking to trade in bulk with the minimum order of 25 BTC. Each order placed on the OTC platform may be tailored to match based on parameters such as ‘greater than’, ‘less than’, or ‘equal to’ a reference price from popular platforms such as: coindesk, localbitcoins, bitstamp, btcxindia, zebpay etc.

For example: A customer may place an order to buy 50 BTC when the price is less than coindesk’s price by 100 INR and Unocoin shall give a call to the customer when Unocoin is able to honor such a request to get the re-confirmation and move with the execution of the order.

“The OTC feature will come as a relief to traders who wished to trade bitcoin in larger quantities and weren’t able to do so previously due to: 1) buy/sell limit or 2) low liquidity in Indian bitcoin exchanges. This was a service that more serious Indian bitcoin traders were lacking, until now.” says Harish B V, Co-Founder and CFO at Unocoin.

Earlier this month, Unocoin launched its iOS mobile app for traders which is being received well and the android app is set to launch shortly. Unocoin’s Merchant PoS mobile app also hit the market in July. “In the coming few months, we are aiming to launch more exciting services which will contribute towards building a stronger bitcoin ecosystem in India” says Sathvik Vishwanath, Co-Founder and CEO, Unocoin, “we are on a singular mission here, take bitcoin to billions.”

Unocoin is India’s leading bitcoin company, has 90,000+ customers and is growing at a rate of 10-20% month over month. Backers include Digital Currency Group, Drapers’ Boost, BankToTheFuture and is ranked among the top 20 FinTech companies in India by FinTech City. Unocoin makes it easy to securely buy, sell, store, use and accept bitcoin in India.

Bangalore-based startup UnoCoin has raised an impressive $1.5 million in a pre-series A funding round, the largest sum ever comprised for a digital currency company in India’s history. Among the investors were Blume Ventures, Mumbai Angels, Bank to the Future, Bitcoin Capital, FundersClub, and Digital Currency Group and Boost VC, headed by Barry Silbert and Adam Draper respectively.

Expressing his enthusiasm, Silbert believes the company will do great things in the future:

“Since making our first investment in Unocoin, it has been tremendous to see the company solidify its position as the leading Bitcoin company in India, as well as emerge as one of the fastest growing companies in DGC’s global portfolio of 80 Bitcoin and blockchain companies.”

Adding to the mix was Draper, who’s company Boost VC is one of the first to commit itself to funding up-and-coming blockchain startups. Draper exclaimed:

Unocoin continues to make an enormous impact on the global Bitcoin market, and will continue to be a global market leader. Proud to have them be a part of Boost VC. They just keep growing!!!”

In business since December 2013, the bitcoin company began in a small town called Tumkur (near Bengaluru). At the time, bitcoin had a non-existent presence in India, something co-founder and president Sunny Ray wanted to change:

“We needed a separate exchange for India. A few years ago, when we wanted to buy bitcoin, there was nothing available in India.”

Raising approximately $200,000 in its first round alone, UnoCoin refers to itself as the “Coinbase of India,” and presently runs a trading platform that allows its nearly 100,000 users to buy, sell and store bitcoins and currencies. The company also houses up to 30 separate employees.

The funds garnered will be used to provide liquidity to India’s marketplace, and solidify the company’s physical presence in metropolitan areas. UnoCoin is also looking to establish itself internationally in the coming months.

Source: Mail Tip

Notwithstanding the unresolved legal status of Bitcoin, the digital currency is developing at a rapid pace in the Indian markets.

The latest push comes in the form of Unocoin, a Karnataka-based Bitcoin trading platform, which today announced the launch of its new mobile application for Apple users. The portable mobile software, in line with Unocoin’s desktop platform, is a Bitcoin wallet for buying, selling and trading Bitcoins. The concept although is not fresh from a global perspective, it surely could mean something big for India, which — being the world’s leading IT hub — is considered slow in reference to virtual currency awareness.

Nevertheless, Unocoin’s new service aims to draw more Indian users towards Bitcoin, given its reportedly simple and secure features. Especially in times when loopholes in Bitcoin exchanges’ security systems are being exploited, the Indian version of Coinbase has added adequate protection layers to avoid such incidents.

For instance, the Unocoin Bitcoin wallet app incorporates a TouchID and passcode feature for security. By doing so, it has become the first Bitcoin trading app in India that offers biometric login features to its users. Other features include: a dedicated dashboard with 24-hour Bitcoin price updates, a one touch button to buy and sell Bitcoin, an INR wallet to ensure instant deposit and withdraw, a mobile/DTH recharge option, and Unocoin’s proprietary Systematic Investment Plan (SIP) feature.

“A lot of thought has gone into the design and user interface of this mobile application,” added Abhinand Kaseti, Co­Founder and CMO, Unocoin. “We wanted to be sure that we are offering a seamless user experience for our customers. We built it from the ground up with the aim of making it the easiest bitcoin app in the world.”

In addition to the wallet app, Unocoin already offers a dedicated Point-of-Sale (POS) app to use Bitcoin as a means of payment in physical stores.

India’s Bitcoin Industry is growing at a full pace. As the second most populated country in the world, India is now one of the biggest cryptocurrency consumer industries around the globe. The country financial landscape is teeming with business opportunities and many entrepreneurs are becoming aware of the incredible potential this new technology has to offer.

With the rising interest in the bitcoin technology, along came a big wave of funding and investment made into the crypto Industry. A lot of startups have been opening its doors and up until now the government and the country banks have had a friendly approach to this recent phenomenon.Coinsecure_jpg Bitcoin startup India

Companies like Coinsecure, Zebpay, Unocoin and many others have been trying to raise bitcoin awareness; by focusing on bringing this new technology to schools, colleges and other industries, these companies are aiming to educate and inform people about digital currency across the country.

These bitcoin industry actors are connecting the country to this new technology, and finding new solutions to enable the common masses to come on-board Bitcoin and on spreading further awareness and to reduce barriers that are an impediment for Bitcoin’s progress in India.

In order to learn more about how digital currency is conquering the financial landscape in India and to know some more on the country’s current crypto panorama, NewsBTC had a chat with Benson Samuel, founder and CTO of Coinsecure, one of the oldest and most prominent bitcoin companies in India.Benson_Samuel_Coinsecure_Newsbtc Bitcoin

 NewsBTC – Coinsecure works pretty much like Coinbase, and is one of the leading exchanges in India. What can you tell us about Coinsecure?

Benson – Coinsecure is an algorithmic trading platform, and a Bitcoin Wallet. We have spent a lot of time and emphasis on functionality, ease of use and security for all our users. We are a fast growing service and have been watching and working on India’s growing Bitcoin demands.

 What can you tell us about the options Coinsecure provides?

We provide the most fluid and transparent Bitcoin Exchange in India. We are a peer to peer exchange, so our users discover their favored prices and execute their trades. Our Onchain wallet, is a hybrid system that uses accounts and addresses to help manage and store users Bitcoins for easy spending. We also have a comprehensive API, that literally allows others to build their own trading platforms, apart from several other features. We have 2 applications scheduled to launch for the Android Platform over the next few weeks which will enable users to access our wallet and exchange services from a native application rather than the web.

What can you tell us about the cryptocurrency ecosystem in the country?

The Ecosystem is in a quickened build up phase at the moment, Lots of recent positive events, such as the RBI positive note about Blockchain usage as well as the Zebpay funding, show that India is very involved with Bitcoin.

India is one of the countries where bitcoin is growing at a fast pace. What can you tell us about adoption in India?

It has been a bit slower than other countries though, but we are hoping to see adoption increase as merchants get onboard the system and start witnessing the power of Bitcoin. The numbers below should definitely give you a picture of the growth speed and prospect of Bitcoin in India:

January 2015 -> 4779600000, February 2015 -> 5775800000, march 2015 -> 1558200000, April 2015 -> 2571200000, may 2015 -> 10450200000, June 2015 -> 9484200000, July 2015 -> 8998400000, august 2015 -> 13551200000, September 2015 -> 32437800000, October 2015 -> 95154200000, November 2015 -> 153623400000, December 2015 -> 267698600000

With all this industry activity what has been the government reaction?

The government issued a cautionary note in 2013, post which, there has been little or no word from them in an official capacity. As advised by Nishith Desai Associates, most Bitcoin companies in India do follow strict KYC norms and ensure sufficient self-regulation to ensure growth and scalability.

A lot of digital currency-related business have been popping up in the country. What have been the major issues new companies have been facing regarding regulation?

Regulations have been better defined and allocated in recent times, We have noticed several new licenses coming in to enable payment banks, apart from others. These allow for a better entry into the Indian Payment Industry. The cost prohibitive nature of these licenses is a bit of a showstopper for a lot of the players who wish to get into the field.

Do you see a bright future for the digital currency in India? Will it have a great social impact?

Absolutely! Even the RBI Governer had mentioned the benefits of Digital currencies and the importance of the role that they will occupy in India. Most importantly, the large population of India and the need for redistributing currencies can be streamlined a lot more when digital currencies start to become the norm.

We would like to hear your view on the future of digital currency and the blockchain technology.

The future does lie in mass adoption and usage of digital currencies. There is still a long way to go before confidence can be invested by users. Blockchain technology is on the rise, either a fancy or a simple implementation, some of the largest names are looking into the integration of private Blockchains to simplify, and enable better transparency within their entities.

Images provided by Coinsecure