Russians liquidating crypto in UAE in hunt for safe havens

Russians liquidating crypto in UAE in hunt for safe havens
Crypto firms in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are being deluged with requests to liquidate billions of dollars of virtual currency as Russians seek a safe haven for their fortunes, according to company executives and financial sources.

Some clients are using cryptocurrency to invest in real estate in the UAE, while others want to use firms there to turn their virtual money into hard currency and stash it elsewhere, the sources said

One crypto firm has received lots of queries in the past 10 days from Swiss brokers asking to liquidate billions of dollars of Bitcoin because their clients are afraid Switzerland will freeze their assets, one executive said, adding none of the requests had been for less than $2bn.

“We’ve had like five or six in the past two weeks. None of them has come off yet – they’ve sort of fallen over at the last minute, which is not rare – but we’ve never had this much interest,” the executive said, adding his firm normally receives an inquiry for a large transaction once a month.

“We have one guy – I don’t know who he is, but he came through a broker – and they’re like, ‘we want to sell 125,000 Bitcoin’. And I’m like, ‘what? That’s $6bn guys’. And they’re like, ‘yeah, we’re going to send it to a company in Australia’,” the executive said.

Switzerland’s financial market supervisor declined to comment on cryptocurrency transaction volumes.

The country’s economic affairs secretariat (SECO) said in an emailed statement that crypto assets were subject to the same sanctions and measures Switzerland has imposed on “normal” Russian assets and individuals, so if a person is sanctioned their crypto assets must also be frozen in Switzerland.

Dubai, the Gulf region’s financial and business centre and a growing crypto hub, has long been a magnet for the world’s ultrarich and the UAE’s refusal to take sides between Western allies and Moscow has signalled to Russians their money is safe there.

One real estate broker, whose company has partnered with a cryptocurrency service to help people buy property, said: “We’ve been seeing a lot of Russians and even Belarusians coming to Dubai and bringing whatever they can bring, even in crypto.”

A financial source in the UAE confirmed that Russians were buying property in Dubai, using crypto as a way of getting their money out of other jurisdictions and into the Gulf state.

Cryptocurrency exchanges have said, while giving few details, they are blocking the accounts of Russians sanctioned by the West over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, which Russia calls a “special military operation”.  

Major exchanges such as Coinbase Global Inc and Binance say they are taking steps to ensure that crypto is not used as a vehicle to evade sanctions, and they collaborate with law enforcement on the issue.

Still, as crypto offers users a high degree of anonymity, European countries such as Germany and Estonia have this week called for tighter oversight to snuff out any loopholes that could allow sanctions-busting.  Continue...

James Koroma