A U.S. probe into Tether is homing in on whether executives behind the digital token committed bank fraud, a potential criminal case that would have broad implications for the cryptocurrency market.
Tether’s pivotal role in the crypto ecosystem is now well known because the token is widely used to trade Bitcoin. But the Justice Department investigation is focused on conduct that occurred years ago when Tether was in its more nascent stages. Specifically, federal prosecutors are scrutinizing whether Tether concealed from banks that transactions were linked to crypto, said three people with direct knowledge of the matter who asked not to be named because the probe is confidential.
According to a Bloomberg report, the criminal charges would mark one of the most significant developments in the U.S. government’s crackdown on virtual currencies. That’s because Tether is by far the most popular stablecoin — tokens designed to be immune to wild price swings, making them ideal for buying and selling more volatile coins. The token’s importance to the market is clear: Tethers in circulation are worth about $62 billion and they underpin more than half of all Bitcoin trades.
“Tether routinely has an open dialogue with law enforcement agencies, including the DOJ, as part of our commitment to cooperation and transparency,” the company said in a statement. Its corporate structure consists of a tangled web of entities based in the British Virgin Islands and Hong Kong.
The Justice Department declined to comment.
Federal prosecutors have been circling Tether since at least 2018. In recent months, they sent letters to individuals alerting them that they’re targets of the investigation, one of the people said. The notices signal that a decision on whether to bring a case could be made soon, with senior Justice Department officials ultimately determining whether charges are warranted.
The probe is reaching a tipping point as stablecoins attract intense scrutiny from regulators. The U.S. Treasury Department and Federal Reserve are among agencies concerned that the tokens could threaten financial stability, and are obscuring transactions tied to money laundering and other misconduct because they allow criminals to make payments without going through the regulated banking system. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said last week that watchdogs must “act quickly” in considering new rules for stablecoins.
A hallmark of Tether is that its creators have said each token is backed by one U.S. dollar, either through actual money or holdings that include commercial paper, corporate bonds and precious metals. That has triggered concerns that if lots of traders sold stable coins all at once, there could be a run on assets backstopping the tokens. Fitch Ratings has warned that such a scenario could destabilize short-term credit markets.
Tether was first issued in 2014 as a solution to a problem plaguing the crypto market: banks didn’t want to open accounts for virtual-currency exchanges because they feared touching funds tied to drug trafficking, cyberattacks and terrorism. By accepting Tether, exchanges could give traders a way to park their balances without being exposed to Bitcoin’s price gyrations. And funds could be transferred instantaneously from exchange to exchange.
But Tether’s corporate side still needed banks to hold its money and process customer transactions. One early relationship that soured was with Wells Fargo & Co. In 2017, the Tether Ltd. affiliate and Bitfinex — a crypto exchange with common owners and executives — sued Wells Fargo for blocking wire transfers that had been sought through Taiwanese banks.
In the lawsuit, Tether Ltd. and Bitfinex said Wells Fargo knew or should have known, that the transactions were being used to obtain U.S. dollars so clients could purchase digital tokens. The companies dropped the case shortly after filing it. Wells Fargo declined to comment.
In the course of its years-long investigation, the Justice Department has examined whether traders used Tether tokens to illegally drive up Bitcoin during an epic rally for cryptocurrencies in 2017. While it’s unclear whether Tether the company was a target of that earlier review, the current focus on bank fraud suggests prosecutors may have moved on from pursuing a case tied to market manipulation.
Tether has already drawn the ire of regulators. In February, Bitfinex and several Tether affiliates agreed to pay $18.5 million to settle claims from New York Attorney General Letitia James that the firms hid losses and lied that each token was supported by one U.S. dollar. The companies had no access to banking in 2017, making it impossible that they had reserves backing the tokens, James said. The firms settled without admitting or denying the allegations.
Total Market Value of Top Three Stablecoins More than Tripled YTD and Hit $110B
In the wake of growing interest in the crypto market, stablecoins or cryptocurrencies linked to an asset have seen their market capitalization surge this year.
According to data presented by MejoresApuestas, the combined market cap of Tether, USD Coin, and Binance USD, as the world’s top three stablecoins, more than tripled since the beginning of 2021 and hit over $110bn this week.
Tether`s Market Cap Jumped Over $68B, a 158% Increase YTD
Unlike other cryptocurrencies, stablecoins are relatively less volatile, and their value is determined differently. For example, the price of Bitcoin mainly follows demand and supply, or how many coins are being mined and how many investors want to buy the crypto. On the other hand, stablecoins are connected to the price of an altogether different asset.
Tether’s USDT, for instance, is connected to the price development of the US dollar. If the US dollar falls in the FX market, so does the USDT. However, the price of the fourth-largest crypto by market cap spiked in 2021.
The CoinMarketCap data revealed that Tether’s market cap jumped by 158% year-to-date, rising from $26.5bn in January to $68.3bn this week. Also, as the world’s most traded cryptocurrency, Tether saw its trading volume increase by 35% last month. In July, the world’s most used stable coin hit $1.48trn in monthly trading volume. Statistics show this figure hit over $2trn in August.
Binance USD Market Cap Soared by 742% YTD, the Biggest Increase Among Top Three Stablecoins
Stablecoins are essential for two areas in digital payments that do not prefer volatility. One of them is the Decentralized Finance or DeFi market that relies on cryptocurrencies for payments and loans.
Also, they are seen as the inspiration for so-called CBDC or Central Bank Digital Currencies, like China’s e-CNY currency or the digital euro, an electronic form of money issued by the Eurosystem.
Although far behind Tether as the world’s leading stablecoin, USD Coin has seen much more significant market cap growth this year. Statistics show the market capitalization of the second-largest stablecoin surged by nearly 400% over the past nine months, reaching $29.2bn this week.
Still, that was nearly twice less compared to Binance USD growth this year. In January, the combined value of all Binance USD coins stood at $1.48bn or almost 18 times less than the leading Tether. However, this figure soared to $12.5bn, showing an impressive 742% growth year-to-date.
Ethereum Adds Over 38 Million New Addresses in 2021, 22% of All Ever Created
The Ethereum network has recorded a surge in popularity, with more investors aiming to own part of the second-ranked cryptocurrency. The interest is highlighted by the number of unique new addresses created in 2021 alone.
Data acquired by cryptocurrency trading simulator Crypto Parrot indicates that an average of 149,843 new unique Ethereum addresses has been created daily in 2021 on a year-to-date basis. The highest number of new addresses was created on June 5th at 332,094. So far, in September, a total of 1,389,999 new unique addresses have been created.
Elsewhere, by September 2021, 38,256,193 new Ethereum addresses were created in 2021, accounting for 22.59% of all ETH addresses ever created to date. In general, the cumulative number of Ethereum addresses to be created since inception stands at 169,296,775.
Impact of Ethereum network upgrades on new addresses
Currently, the Ethereum network is undergoing upgrades geared towards transitioning from the proof-of-work protocol to the proof-of-stake system that is energy efficient.
The upgrades play a key role in determining the number of new Ethereum addresses created, and the report takes note of this factor. According to the research report:
“The drop in new addresses comes at a point the Ethereum network upgrade is expected to create a deflation over time as it modifies the auction process. Furthermore, with Ethereum transitioning to the proof-of-stake protocol, the network will likely experience an influx of new users who want to cash in on the staking.”
The new address follows the recent cryptocurrency bull market that saw Ethereum surge in value to a new all-time high price. However, the addresses have plunged in correlation with the general crypto market.
MicroStrategy Acquires Additional 5,050 Bitcoins
Business intelligence outfit and corporate Bitcoin (BTC) whale MicroStrategy has increased its BTC ownership with the additional purchase announced on Monday.
MicroStrategy CEO Michael Saylor announced the purchase of 5,050 BTC for about $242.9 million at an average of $48,099 per coin.
In a Form 8-K filing with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission published on Monday, MicroStrategy stated that it had added 8,957 BTC to its corporate Bitcoin treasury in Q3 2021.
As previously reported, MicroStrategy recently bought 3,907 BTC at the cost of about $177 million between July 1 and Aug. 23.
Following the latest Bitcoin acquisition, the company now holds about 114,042 BTC acquired at an aggregate purchase cost of $3.16 billion. Given the current BTC spot price, the company’s Bitcoin holdings are valued at over $5 billion.
According to the Form 8-K document, MicroStrategy’s Bitcoin cost comes down to about $27,713 per BTC, including fees and sundry expenses.
The additional 5,050 BTC purchase is yet another indication of its intention to expand its Bitcoin position. Despite paper losses on its Bitcoin investment in Q2, MicroStrategy has stated its Bitcoin appetite remained unaffected.
Since announcing its maiden BTC purchase back in August 2020, the business intelligence company has bought more Bitcoin becoming the largest corporate holder of the largest crypto by market capitalization among publicly traded firms in the United States.
Saylor has also become a prominent Bitcoin proponent, regularly encouraging other U.S. firms to add BTC to their balance sheets.
Monday’s purchase announcement comes amid a price decline for Bitcoin, with BTC down almost 3% in the last 24-hour trading period.
The total cryptocurrency market capitalization is down more than 4% as token prices slipped on Monday.
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