By David Meyer
July 26, 2018

Iran is moving ahead with a plan to introduce a national cryptocurrency, partly as a way of busting U.S. sanctions.

The Iranian government said in April that it had developed an experimental domestic cryptocurrency. With the U.S. having since pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal and restored more sanctions—a ban on buying U.S. dollars comes into force next month, and crude oil sanctions will follow in November—there’s a newfound urgency in the air.

Iran’s state-sponsored Press TV reported Wednesday that the “plan to create an indigenous cryptocurrency” was moving forward, and the central bank was working with “domestic knowledge-based companies” to develop the digital currency.

The Iranian central bank had long been cool on cryptocurrencies, to say the least. Last year, reports suggested Iran was looking at Bitcoin as a solution for the country being cut off from international payments networks, but in February the central bank nixed the idea, expressing distaste for cryptocurrencies in general. The central bank then cracked down on financial institutions offering cryptocurrency services, in order to combat capital flight.

Also on Wednesday, Iran’s government fired the governor of the central bank for the last five years, Valiollah Seif, in part for not doing more to prepare for the U.S.’s reimposition of sanctions.

“We are trying to prepare the grounds to use a domestic digital currency in the country,” Alireza Daliri, from the technological directorate of the Iranian Presidential Office, told local media,per Press TV. “This currency would facilitate the transfer of money (to and from) anywhere in the world. Besides, it can help us at the time of sanctions.”

A separate Wednesday report from Iran’s Financial Tribune quoted Amir Hossein Davaie, an advisor to the telecoms ministry, as saying the cryptocurrency would initially be used only for clearing bank transactions, “but after gaining more experience, it is possible for the national cryptocurrency to be used publicly.”

Iran isn’t the only country to turn to cryptocurrencies as a sanctions-busting tactic. Venezuela earlier this year launched a virtual coin called the Petro, which it linked to the South American country’s oil reserves. The U.S. responded by banning Americans from using the Petro.

Venezuela now plans to link its refurbished Bolivar currency to the Petro, as it redenominates the fiat currency in an attempt to combat runaway inflation.

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