Crypto Crackdown: Wealthy Bitcoiners Targeted, Start-Ups Scrutinized

It has been a busy week for the government of India concerning cryptocurrencies. After it raided crypto exchanges, it is now actively investigating wealthy bitcoiners through the Income Tax Department of India (ITDI). In addition to roustings and investigations, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) announced new scrutiny initiatives regarding initial coin offerings (ICOs) which it describes as “Ponzi Schemes.” 

Those individuals and entities whose records were recovered by the department,” an ITDI official noted, referencing recent raids on cryptocurrency exchanges, “are now being probed under tax evasion charges. Notices are being issued and they will have to pay capital gains tax on the bitcoin investments and trade,” Press Trust of India reported.

According to various reports, still more surveys are in the process of being sent out to India’s cryptocurrency exchanges, asking about the trading habits of its high-net-worth individuals (HNIs), roughly half a million customers it suspects of failing to pay tax.

The Bengaluru division is expanding the probe across India.

Operations were undertaken with the authority of section 133 A of the Income Tax Act, which was used to gather “evidence for establishing the identity of investors and traders, the transaction undertaken by them, identity of counter-parties, related bank accounts used, among others.”

Regional media also suspects bitcoin’s huge price run-up has hastened the country’s regulatory arms into taking stronger action. The Indian government has also claimed a war on so-called black money, lower denominated fiat paper, and this too appears to be another reason for the attention paid bitcoin’s traders.

India Targets Initial Coin Offerings
Through cautionary statements and pronouncements of bitcoin not being legal tender, the Reserve Bank of India too has been very active, rhetorically, issuing press releases and commissioning studies.

As with recent European Union crackdowns, at least another motivation seems to derive from the Panama Papers and Paradise Papers, which embarrassed many world governments for their lack of vigilance when it comes to tax compliance of celebrities and the well-connected.

Though the country has taken a hostile public stand toward bitcoin, there are no know-your-client (KYC) nor anti-money laundering (AML) requirements explicitly put on crypto exchanges. In fact, they remain unregulated. Trading is in a strange kind of purgatory: it isn’t illegal, but it’s also not legal.

This has been a particularly odd legal space for the Securities and Exchange Board of India. It assumes a hands-off stance with regard to cryptocurrency regulation in general, yet, “At the same time, SEBI cannot allow gullible investors to be taken for a ride with unlawful promises by these exchanges and those claiming to ‘mint’ cryptocurrencies. A number of them are suspected to be indulging in fraudulent activities without actually minting any such virtual currencies that require very complex algorithms,” a SEBI official told NDTV.

It is presumed SEBI will actively prosecute ICOs within the country, and soon. While ICOs are considered in many parts of the world an innovative way to fund projects, they’re also earning reputations for lack of real products, grand promises, and outright scams. SEBI refers to ICOs as Ponzi Schemes.

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