Bitcoin in the Headlines: VAT Galore

Yessi Bello Perez
Oct 23, 2015 at 19:51 UTC
Updated Oct 25, 2015 at 11:27 UTC
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Bitcoin in the Headlines is a weekly analysis of bitcoin media coverage and its impact.

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Mainstream outlets from across the world reported the sentencing of rogue Drug Enforcement Agent Carl Mark Force to 78 months in prison this week, and in so doing brought bitcoin’s association with illicit activity and the darknet back to the fore.

More positive coverage came in the form of the European Court of Justice’s bitcoin VAT exemption, with some outlets exploring its effect on the digital currency’s rising price.

Elsewhere, the creation of a discussion forum by a group of digital currency companies and US law enforcement agencies caused a ripple of excitement among the mainstream press.

What else has been said and by whom? Let’s take a look this week’s top bitcoin and blockchain headlines.

‘Great news’ for bitcoin

The European Court of Justice’s bitcoin VAT exemption made waves both in and outside the digital currency ecosystem, while at the same time garnering the attention of a variety of journalists.

International Business Times‘ Ian Allison, a regular on the bitcoin beat, cited Sarah Buxton, a tax lawyer at Bryan Cave LLP, who said:

“This ruling is great news for bitcoin enthusiasts and means that Europeans can continue to buy Bitcoins without paying tax.”

Buxton continued: “The ruling treats bitcoin as money and should help strengthen the popularity of this cryptocurrency. This decision may be a step in the right direction towards the recognition of Bitcoin as legal tender.”

In a piece for Business Insider, Rob Price noted:

“There had been fears that the court might rule that bitcoin exchanges should have to pay value-added tax (VAT), pushing up the price of bitcoin in Europe.”

The court, Price added, could have potentially ruled that bitcoin itself should be subject to tax, which “would have entangled bitcoin businesses in significant new red tape”.

ECJ’s new ruling, he concluded, is a boost for bitcoin in building credibility as a “viable alternative currency”.

Matt Clinch said in a CNBC piece:

“Virtual currencies can be exchanged tax free in the European Union, following a ruling from the highest court in Europe on Thursday.”

Clinch continued: “Bitcoin is a virtual currency that allows users to exchange online credits for goods and services. While there is no central bank that issues them, bitcoins can be created online by using a computer to complete difficult tasks, a process known as mining.”

The ruling, Clinch said, paves the way for potentially cheaper transactions within the EU and therefore a boon for the nascent industry.

Blockchain Alliance

Relations between the digital currency industry and US law enforcement were brought into the spotlight following news of the establishment of a discussion forum between industry groups, startups and various agencies in the American government.

American Banker‘s Ian McKendry covered the announcement, framing it as an effort to bring bitcoin into the mainstream and weed out criminal activity.

He added:

“Bitcoin and blockchain technologies have received praise for being innovative, but they have also received notoriety for being used by criminals who take advantage of the potential anonymity the technology offers to trade illegal goods and services.”

In his piece, McKendry cited Perianne Boring, president of the Digital Chamber of Commerce, who said in a statement: “It’s no secret that bitcoin has perception issues, which is a roadblock to mainstream adoption.”

Motherboard ran a piece entitled “There’s a New Alliance to Crack Down on Bitcoin Crime”, which began:

“It’s no secret that the pseudo-anonymous currency bitcoin is often used for crime. On Thursday, a group of law enforcement agencies, major bitcoin exchanges, and academics launched a group called the “Blockchain Alliance” in an effort to help combat blockchain-related crime and provide more legitimacy for the technology.”

Brian Fung, a reporter at the Washington Post, contextualized the creation of the group by commenting on recent events:

“To many who aren’t familiar with bitcoin, an electronic form of cash, stories like these [Carl Mark Force’s sentencing] can make the online currency seem like a catnip for criminals. Sen.Joe Manchin (D-W.Va) last year urged a ban on bitcoin for precisely that reason, saying it helped people ‘transacting in illegal goods and services or speculative gambling'”.

Fung added:

“But now, as part of a wider effort to change Bitcoin’s image in the minds of regulators and lawmakers, advocates of the technology have begun working with a group whose background and expertise make them well-respected within the Beltway: Federal law enforcement.”

Party image via Shutterstock.