Russia's Ministry of Finance has reduced the proposed fines both individual and institutional bitcoin users would potentially face for creating, issuing or promoting digital currencies under a draft bill that seeks to outlaw the use of so-called "money surrogates" like bitcoin.
The updated bill decreases penalties for individuals, who under the latest version would only incur a maximum 50,000 ruble fine (roughly $1,050), down from 60,000 rubles ($1,314) in the previous iteration.
Under the new terms, individuals who disseminate money substitutes directly could be fined 20,000-40,000 rubles (about $431-$862), down from 30,000-50,000 rubles ($646-$1,078) in the original proposal. Further, those who disseminate information about money substitutes face fines of 5,000-30,000 rubles ($107-$646), reduced from 5,000-50,000 rubles ($$107-$1,078)).
Speaking to CoinDesk, Artem Tolkachev, managing partner at the law firm Tolkachev & Partners, suggested that he believes this could be an early signal that the proposed law will not be as strict as some had feared.
Tolkachev noted that the latest revisions come despite the fact that lawmakers have yet to take into account public input on the bill, saying:
"None of arguments expressed in public discussion has been taken into account by the lawmakers. That is why we cannot see any positive changes in attitude of the Ministry of Finance toward bitcoin and other digital currencies."
Still, he cautioned that any optimism must be tempered as "the conceptual framework of the bill has remained the same".
Fines for officials decline
The maximum fines officials and legal entities face under the proposal has also been reduced.
Specifically, fines for officials involved in the dissemination of information related to monetary surrogates have been dropped from 100,000 rubles to 50,000 rubles ($2,156 to $1,078), while those for legal entities have decreased from 1m rubles ($21,563) to 300,000 rubles ($6,468).
Officials who disseminate digital currencies will now face a maximum fine of 80,000 rubles ($1,753), down from 100,000 rubles ($2,156). Legal entities now face a maximum fine of 500,000 rubles ($10,781) for this action, down from 1m rubles ($21,563).
Regulator lauds blockchain tech
The development comes at a time when public statements from Russian officials on bitcoin are growing increasingly positive.
CoinTelegraph recently sat down with Evgeny Volovik, head of Russia's Federal Financial Monitoring Service, which works to combat domestic money laundering and terrorist financing, much like FinCEN in the US.
In the interview, Volovik spoke out against bitcoin specifically, suggesting that it is likely to have a limited future as a payment mechanism. However, he conceded that digital currencies can't be banned due to their distributed nature, and acknowledged the potential applications for blockchain technology.
"I consider the bitcoin ecosystem as a prototype of a system that is undergoing rigorous testing from all sides," Volovik said. "With experience and further innovation, I think it is very possible that the blockchain will have a very bright and promising future."
Volovik went on to laud lawmakers for taking the time to assess public opinion on the matter as the government works toward a regulatory framework.
Although the developments could be read positively, given previous statements from Russian regulators, members of the local bitcoin community were unmoved by the changes.
Ivan Tikhonov, founder of popular bitcoin security forum BTCsec, argued that the changes don't go far enough given the public outcry over the proposal. He cited public comments on the proposed bill since the release of the full draft, which he characterized as being overwhelmingly negative, explaining:
"Of the 119 comments on the bill, none have been positive. There was one humorous comment, which was not an explicit criticism of the bill."
Similarly, bitcoin blogger Yuri Filipov, who writes for Coinside.ru, marveled at the lack of changes in the latest version, while suggesting that the motives behind the alterations remain unclear.
"The fines were 60,000 rubles before and they're 50,000 now. Why this was done, no one knows," he said.
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