Crypto exchanges Binance, FTX win licences in Dubai

FTX reached US$32 billion valuation after raising US$400 million in a Series C round announced in January. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) - Binance has received licences to be a crypto service provider in Dubai and Bahrain, a key milestone for the world’s largest digital asset exchange as it sets up the stage for a major push in the Middle East.

Binance was given a licence to be the first anchor tenant in Dubai World Trade Centre, an economic free zone, a person familiar with the matter said. It also won a licence from Bahrain’s central bank to be a crypto asset service provider in the kingdom, chief executive officer Binance Zhao Changpeng tweeted.

The pair of licences marked the exchange’s first regulatory approvals in the Middle East region. Binance’s move underscores its increased focus on the Middle East.

Founded in China in 2017 but banished from the country during its crypto crackdown, Binance has faced regulatory probes globally. Its executives have been talking with regulators in the United Arab Emirates about setting up a potential headquarters, Bloomberg News has reported.

Bahrain, the Gulf’s smallest economy, has been one of the Middle East’s early adopters in the digital asset space. The licence will allow Binance to provide crypto asset trading, custodial services and portfolio management to customers under the supervision of the Bahrain regulators.

FTX, another major cryptocurrency exchange, said it has received a virtual-asset licence in Dubai and will set up a regional headquarters in the city.

FTX Europe, a division operating in Europe and the Middle East, will be among the anchor tenants in Dubai World Trade Centre. 

The firm will offer “complex crypto-derivative products with centralised counterparty clearing to institutional markets”, FTX chief executive Sam Bankman-Fried said in a statement.

The UAE is seeking to attract some of the world’s biggest crypto and fintech companies. It is the third-largest crypto market in the region, trailing Turkey and Lebanon, according to data compiled by Chainalysis as at June 2021.

“The certainty and credibility that Dubai assures in its adherence to these commitments allow FTX to safely pursue its overall strategy of scaling towards becoming the first virtual-asset service provider to enter global markets in a fully regulated manner,” Mr Patrick Gruhn, head of FTX Europe, said in the statement.

FTX reached US$32 billion (S$43.7 billion) valuation after raising US$400 million in a Series C funding round announced in January.

Founded nearly three years ago, FTX has become one of the world’s largest crypto exchanges, in part through marketing such as a Super Bowl ad. It is pushing to gain institutional clients through a new unit.

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