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Kraken CEO Jesse Powell warns of cryptocurrency crackdown

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Governments around the world may start to clamp down on the use of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, the CEO of a top crypto exchange has warned.

A number of officials — from U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde — have sounded the alarm about the use of bitcoin for money laundering, terrorist financing and other illegal activities.

“I think there could be some crackdown,” Jesse Powell, CEO of Kraken, told CNBC in an interview. Cryptocurrencies have surged in value lately, with bitcoin hitting a record high price of more than $61,000 last month. The world’s most valuable digital coin was last trading at around $60,105.

Kraken is the world’s fourth-largest digital currency exchange in terms of trading volume. The firm is considering going public through a direct listing — similar to Coinbase — next year after achieving record trading volumes in the first quarter, CNBC reported last week.

Coinbase is set to go public on Wednesday, and could be valued at as much as $100 billion — more than major exchange operators like Intercontinental Exchange, owner of the New York Stock Exchange. Crypto investors are hailing the company’s stock market debut as a major milestone for the industry after years of skepticism from Wall Street and regulators.

Still, Kraken’s chief thinks regulatory uncertainty around crypto isn’t going away any time soon. A recent anti-money laundering rule proposed by the U.S. government would require people who hold their crypto in a private digital wallet to undergo identity checks if they make transactions of $3,000 or more.

“Something like that could really hurt crypto and kind of kill the original use case, which was to just make financial services accessible to everyone,” he said.

Cryptocurrencies like bitcoin have often been associated with illicit activities due to the fact that people transacting with it are pseudonymous — you can see where funds are being sent but not who sent or received them.

There are signs that the use of crypto for nefarious purposes may be falling. Illicit activity accounted for just 0.34% of all crypto transaction volume last year, according to blockchain analysis firm Chainalysis. That was down from roughly 2% a year earlier.

“I hope that the U.S. and international regulators don’t take too much of a narrow view on this,” Powell said. “Some other countries, China especially, are taking crypto very seriously and taking a very long-term view.”

Kraken’s CEO said he feels the U.S. is more “short-sighted” than other nations and “susceptible” to the pressures of incumbent legacy businesses — in other words, the banks — that “stand to lose from crypto becoming a big deal.”

“I also think it might be too late,” Powell added. “Maybe the genie’s out of the bottle and just trying to ban it at this point would make it more attractive. It would certainly send a message that the government sees this as a superior alternative to their own currency.”

The U.S. isn’t the only country considering strict new rules on crypto. In India, for example, the government is considering a law that would ban cryptocurrencies and penalize anyone holding or trading them.

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Biden has a historic opportunity in the Middle East to foster progress

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President Biden’s long years of Senate and White House experience taught him that the Middle East could be quicksand for his presidential ambitions.

 So, it was no accident his Mideast goals were modest and aimed at avoiding resource-draining distractions from his domestic ambitions and international priorities: recharging the U.S. economy and rallying European and Asian allies to deal with China. 

The old logic was that U.S. withdrawal from Mideast affairs would leave a dangerous vacuum. The new thinking was that by keeping some distance one could encourage greater self-reliance. 

What has taken Biden administration officials by surprise is how quickly historic opportunity has emerged. A positive series of loosely connected events across the region offers the best opportunity in memory for reducing tensions, ending conflict, building economic progress, and advancing Mideast integration.

Their combined effect should be to prompt the Biden administration to recalibrate its “do-no-harm” approach to the region and lift its ambitions. For starters, it should focus on the four leading indicators of change and explore how to build upon them.

  • First, the region’s two most bitter adversaries, Saudi Arabia and Iran, are engaged in secret talks to manage the region’s most incendiary conflict.
  • Second, Turkey this week added Egypt to the list of countries with which it is trying to reduce tensions – including Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Israel.
  • Third, signatories to last year’s Abraham accords are building further upon their historic normalization agreement, with the UAE and Israel set to open free trade talks next month.
  • Finally, Egypt, Jordan and Iraq are engaged in trilateral talks to deepen their economic ties, underscoring the potential for growth-generating regional integration.

To help any of this along would not require the sort of military deployments, endless commitments or costly investments that have so soured Americans to the region.

What it would take is a heightened level of diplomatic and economic creativity, and the dusting off of history books to study how the U.S. helped Europe end centuries of conflict after World War II and build the institutions and cooperative habits that endure until today. 

The process should begin by studying the dynamics of what’s unfolding, staying out of what’s working well and engaging where doing so would support fragile progress.

Weary of the financial and reputational cost of their disputes, countries long at odds are talking — Saudi Arabia with Iran, Turkey with Egypt, the UAE with Qatar, and Israel with any number of Arab states, alongside other emerging combinations.

Warring parties in Libya and Yemen, though far from solutions, are looking for ways to de-escalate. National leaders have stepped up their efforts at economic growth, sensing the demands of a well-educated, rising generation that understands global standards.

Most intriguing, Saudi Arabia and Iran have been holding secret talks since January, apparently without U.S. involvement, and brokered by Iraq.

In a dramatic change of tone, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman said:  “We do not want the situation with Iran to be difficult. On the contrary, we want it to prosper and grow as we have Saudi interest in Iran, and they have Iranian interests in Saudi Arabia, which is to drive prosperity and growth in the region and the entire world.”

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has many reasons for changing course. Among them was the shock of a highly sophisticated Iranian attack on Saudi oil installations in September 2019, costing Riyadh some $2 billion.

The event not only exposed the kingdom’s vulnerabilities and Iran’s growing capabilities, it also raised doubts about U.S. security guarantees even from as close a friend as President Donald Trump, who did not retaliate on Riyadh’s behalf. 

“The concern that Biden will make overly nice with Iran,” says the Atlantic Council’s Kirsten Fontenrose, “while drawing down from the region and de-prioritizing the bilateral relationship is crucial to Saudi’s calculus right now.”

Reeling economically and isolated politically, Turkey also has been mending fences with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Israel—who have been wary of Istanbul’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups they consider extremist.

And building off last year’s historic Abraham Accords, a senior Mideast official says Israel and the UAE will start talks next month on a free-trade agreement, just one of many efforts to seize the momentum of normalized relations. 

Continuing to act as an outsized regional elixir for economic modernization and political moderation, the UAE this week liberalized its residency requirements to attract wealthy expats, and it has set the goal of doubling its GDP within the decade, in particular through technological investments. 

Separately and inspired by the Abraham accords, officials from Israel, the UAE, Greece and Cyprus met in April, with the backdrop of the east Mediterranean, to deepen their cooperation on everything from energy to fighting the pandemic.

Taken individually, these indicators  may appear more tenuous than transformational. Tie them together and build upon them more methodically, however, and the Middle East could have the beginnings of the sort of conflict de-escalation, economic cooperation and institution building that Europe enjoyed after World War II.

With growing security threats in the Horn of Africa and new uncertainties regarding Afghanistan’s future, the U.S. would like to be able to call upon steadier Middle East partners to better address growing uncertainties elsewhere in their broader neighborhood.

No one should expect the Middle East in the short-term to sprout its own equivalent of the European Union, NATO or the CSCE, the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe that provided the venue for talks between the Cold War’s rival factions.

One also should not expect the U.S. to play the galvanizing role it did then, when it had half of global GDP, much of Europe was in rubble and the Soviet Union was rising as an adversary to counter.

That said, it would be wrong to underestimate the positive potential U.S. influence.

The Trump administration’s support for the Abraham Accords helped unlock growing cooperation among the signatories: Israel, the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan.

The Biden administration has endorsed the agreements, most recently in a conversation this week between President Biden and UAE Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed. Biden administration officials, however, should invest more into building upon the accords.

President Biden’s resumption of efforts to negotiate with Iran, his focus on human rights issues, and his reluctance to feed the region’s divisions also plays a positive role, as long as negotiators don’t set the bar too low to lift sanctions on Tehran.

What the Biden administration must avoid is listening to the wrong-headed conclusion of some analysts that U.S. disengagement from the region would accelerate progress. What’s needed instead is consistent support for the region’s rising forces of modernization and moderation, which have gained but still have far to go.

Frederick Kempe is a best-selling author, prize-winning journalist and president & CEO of the Atlantic Council, one of the United States’ most influential think tanks on global affairs. He worked at The Wall Street Journal for more than 25 years as a foreign correspondent, assistant managing editor and as the longest-serving editor of the paper’s European edition. His latest book – “Berlin 1961: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth” – was a New York Times best-seller and has been published in more than a dozen languages. Follow him on Twitter @FredKempe and subscribe here to Inflection Points, his look each Saturday at the past week’s top stories and trends.

For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCOpinion on Twitter.



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Winklevoss’ crypto exchange Gemini offers 2.25% interest

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Cameron Winklevoss, left, and Tyler Winklevoss 

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Gemini, the cryptocurrency exchange founded by Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, is going all in on dogecoin.

Starting Sunday, the Gemini app will let clients move their holdings in dogecoin into interest-bearing accounts through its Gemini Earn service.

The company says it will offer a rate of 2.25 percent APY (annual percentage yield) on a customer’s idle dogecoin balances.

Interest is earned and compounded daily, and customers can redeem their crypto at any time. There are also no minimum balances and no fees to transfer into or redeem from Gemini Earn.

The move by Gemini to add dogecoin to its savings program comes less than a week after the exchange listed the eight-year-old cryptocurrency for the first time.

“We at Gemini believe that one of the most exciting things about cryptocurrency…is empowering the individual, and doge is a phenomenal example of that,” Noah Perlman, Gemini’s COO told CNBC in an interview.

The meme-inspired cryptocurrency has captured the world’s attention, surging more than 25,000 percent in the last six months.

“The individual feels like doge is money? Then it is. We’re here to help individuals acquire it, store it, and spend it in a safe, secure way,” continued Perlman.

Since Gemini Earn launched in February, customers are now collectively earning interest on more than $2 billion in loans originated through the service.

Customers in the U.S. and Singapore can earn up to 7.4 percent APY on 32 cryptocurrencies, including bitcoin, ether, and the newly-added injective, polygon, and SushiSwap.

The company soon plans to offer interest on its dollar-pegged stablecoin, the Gemini dollar.

“When you compare the rates that we’re offering to what you can get in a traditional money market or CD, it’s up to 100 times more,” said Perlman.

Though the Peter Thiel-backed crypto lender BlockFi offers rates of up to 8.6 percent APY on crypto deposits, and cryptocurrency exchange Binance says clients can earn up to 20 percent APY through its platform, Gemini says it remains the only regulated exchange in the U.S. where you can trade and earn interest on dogecoin in all 50 states.

This proves to be especially vital in a place like New York, where, for example, the state has denied BlockFi the right to offer interest accounts.

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Dogecoin price plummets as Elon Musk hosts Saturday Night Live

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Pictured: (l-r) Musical guest Miley Cyrus, host Elon Musk, and Cecily Strong during Promos in Studio 8H on Thursday, May 6, 2021.

NBC | NBCUniversal | Getty Images

As Elon Musk – the self-proclaimed “Dogefather” – made his “Saturday Night Live” debut, the price of dogecoin fell off a cliff.

The meme-inspired cryptocurrency fell as much as 29.5%, dropping to 49 cents at one point. Musk mentioned dogecoin in his opening monologue and on “Weekend Update,” SNL’s satirical news show. In a Q&A with hosts Michael Che and Colin Jost, Musk called himself the “Dogefather,” said dogecoin was a “hustle,” and howled, “To the moon,” a catchphrase popular among doge enthusiasts intent on driving the value of the cryptocurrency to one dollar.

The price of dogecoin began to rebound during the “Weekend Update” skit. As of this writing, it is worth 57 cents, down about 17% from the beginning of the show.

During the frenzied sell-off, several Robinhood users complained that Robinhood’s crypto trading wasn’t working.

The company confirmed the outage on Twitter. Service was restored in less than an hour.

This isn’t the first time that Robinhood has missed out on major trading volume in dogecoin. Last month, the trading platform said customers experienced “sporadic crypto order failures” during a dogecoin rally.

Wall Street wasn’t expecting the dip.

“Also known as the Dogefather, Musk will undoubtedly have a sketch on cryptocurrencies that will probably go viral for days and further motivate his army of followers to try to send Dogecoin to the moon,”  wrote Edward Moya, senior market analyst at Oanda, in a note on May 4.

Dogecoin fans were out in mass on Twitter during the show, and live streams on YouTube were devoted to watching SNL and tracing dogecoin’s movements at the same time.

Tesla‘s electric rivals decided to make the most of having Musk fans tune in by buying air time. Lucid, Ford and Volkswagen all ran ads. Tesla notably doesn’t advertise on television.

Musk did make mention of one rival tonight. “I could say something truly shocking, like I drive a Prius.”

Disclosure: “Saturday Night Live” is a TV show of NBCUniversal, the parent company of CNBC. CNBC owns the exclusive off-network cable rights to “Shark Tank,” which features Mark Cuban as a panelist.



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