The Estonian Supreme Court has ruled in favor of restrictions on bitcoin trading activity in the wake of a lawsuit filed by a digital currency broker.
The ruling, which came in the wake of a long-running lawsuit that began as a inquiry into the legality of bitcoin, means that traders face new barriers for dealing in digital currencies in the European state.
The suit traces back to 2014, when bitcoin brokerage operator Otto de Voogd was first contacted by Estonian police in connection with the operation of BTC.ee. De Voogd later suspended the service, citing threats of fines and jail time from the police.
In a Reddit note, de Voogd declared that Estonia was now “the worst country in EU for bitcoin, blockchain tokens and assets”.
Of particular note are restrictions on how exchange services in Estonia must interface with their customers. The court ruling affirms that regulation of alternative methods of payment include bitcoin, given its characteristics – a move that brings it under the country’s anti-money laundering (AML) statutes, even if it is not explicitly spelled out.
De Voogd told CoinDesk:
“This means that whenever a business trades more than 1,000 euros worth of bitcoin, other cryptocurrencies, blockchain tokens or blockchain assets, they must meet their customer face to face. In practice this makes any e-business impossible. It also makes it impossible to serve customers that live further away or in other countries.”
Estonia has long been considered an unfriendly jurisdiction for digital currencies, tracing back to a January 2014 statement from an official for the country’s central bank, who called bitcoin a “problematic scheme”.
Estonia later pushed for value-added tax (VAT) in the European Union to be applied to the full value of bitcoin trades, when the European Court of Justice (ECJ) was weighing the issue.
The ECJ ultimately exempted bitcoin transactions from VAT.
De Voogd will now be required to provide answers to questions from the Estonian police as mandated by the court – a circumstance he said that would violate his rights against self-incrimination.
He went on to say that he was still parsing through the new ruling, but indicated that next steps include preparing to take his case to the European Court for Human Rights.
“It means that the struggle is not over and I have to continue to the ECHR,” he told CoinDesk. “It also means that I now have to answer the questions through which I could incriminate myself.”
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