Malta’s strategy to become a global enclave for digital assets appears to be working, though lax regulatory oversight has raised concerns over money laundering and other financial crime.
Roughly $71 billion, or 60 billion euros, worth of cryptocurrencies has passed through Malta since the tiny Mediterranean state first adopted its “blockchain island” strategy in 2017, the Times of Malta reported Sunday. Although Malta has upgraded its crypto-focused regulations in recent years, financial watchdogs say the nation's anti-money laundering regime may have lacked proper protocols.
The Financial Action Task Force, or FATF, met in Paris last week to discuss whether Malta should be put on a list of countries that have fallen short of their obligations to stop financial crime. Specifically, the financial watchdog is concerned about Malta’s initial push to embrace cryptocurrencies in 2017 and 2018 when the sector was far less regulated. FATF officials also expressed concerns over the country’s law enforcement regime.
Several blockchain companies established operations in Malta in 2018, including cryptocurrency exchange Binance, in anticipation of more favorable laws. Companies that set up shop in the country were allowed to operate without a license for up to one year. An industry source told the Times of Malta that the one-year grace period contributed to "an explosion of high-risk transactions carried out by cryptocurrency exchanges in an unlicensed environment."
Nevertheless, Malta is still considered a favorable destination for crypto-asset firms. As Cointelegraph reported, Crypto.com recently acquired Malta’s Class 3 Virtual Financial Asset License, paving the way for broader recognition of cryptocurrencies across the European Union.
In June 2020, Malta broadened its blockchain ambitions, pivoting to digital assets more holistically as a way to drive adoption and business growth. “We’re moving away from blockchain island, and more towards a digital island because we believe more in this holistic vision that includes all aspects and technological components,” Kearon Bruno, chairman of Digital Economy Think Tank tasked with growing Malta’s economic portfolio, told Cointelegraph at the time.