SA startup Luno’s Malaysian bank account still frozen as tax probe continues

Almost a week in SA bitcoin exchange Luno’s bank account in Malaysia remains shut, after being frozen by the country’s tax authority late last week.

It follows a statement issued last Saturday (13 January) by the company that its account — held under the name of its local entity BitX Malaysia – was frozen by the tax authority pending an investigation.

In a report in Malaysian newspaper The Star today Inland Revenue Board’s (IRB) chief executive officer Datuk Seri Sabin Samitah said the tax authority is carrying out the audit to determine whether the cryptocurrency company has complied with the statutory requirement under the Income Tax Act and to ascertain if the business is involved in money laundering activities.

Luno spokesman Werner van Rooyen said the startup is working closely with the IRB of Malaysia to conclude the investigation as soon as possible.

“As part of its investigation in to Luno’s Malaysian entity, the IRBM has requested information on our Malaysian customers and we are working closely with them to limit the parameters of this broad request.

Luno says it is working closely with Malaysia’s tax authority to conclude the investigation as soon as possible

“We will only provide personal information where we are legally required to do so and are working with our local advisers to ensure that any disclosure is consistent with our obligations to our customers.

“We’re not trying to restrict anything from the authorities, we just need to ensure that we’re getting a positive outcome for everyone, especially our customers,” he said.

He said since the company was founded in 2013, it has been at the forefront of digital currency compliance. “We were, for instance, the first Bitcoin platform that integrated full KYC/AML procedures into our mobile platform,” he added.

He said the investigation into Luno is the first of its kind for startup. “In the United States, not a country where Luno operates, the tax authorities requested customer information from Coinbase, which Coinbase ultimately challenged before the courts and successfully reduced the request’s scope,” he pointed out.

Van Rooyen however could not say when the investigation would be completed but that it forms the “highest priority” for the company’s Southeast Asian team, who are working on the ground to get it resolved. “This investigation won’t delay our Malaysian office expansion,” he added.

He said the startup did not yet have a specific date for the opening of the new office, but had already hired additional staff members who will be undergoing training in its Singapore and Cape Town offices. The company also has a London office.

“Our goal is to have it open by the end of the quarter, but at the current pace of growth, it could happen earlier,” he said.

Asked if exchange platforms such as Luno have benefited in recent days from the increase in trades as the price of bitcoin falls, Van Rooyen said exchanges don’t really stand to gain from a drop in prices, since the value of our revenue drops as much as it does for our customers.



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