Cryptocurrency Exchange Binance Moves to Malta, Where the Prime Minister Is Welcoming It With Open Arms

March 23, 2018, 12:08 PM UTC

Bitcoin price took a 4% knock late Thursday after news that the Japanese financial regulator was about to crack down on the popular cryptocurrency exchange Binance, the world’s largest by traded value. What really affected Bitcoin’s price was a Nikkei report that said Binance might face criminal charges and a shutdown of its Japanese operations—though the regulator clarified on Friday that it was only going to issue a warning to the unlicensed exchange.

But that isn’t the only reason Binance is in the news right now. The Hong Kong-based exchange, which recently pulled staff from its Japanese office due to that regulatory spat, is planning to open up a new office on the island of Malta.

Founder Zhao Changpeng told Bloomberg that the Mediterranean nation was “very progressive when it comes to crypto and fintech.”

Malta is genuinely keen on cryptocurrencies, as evidenced by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat himself sharing the Bloomberg piece on Twitter, with a declaration that the Maltese “aim to be the global trailblazers in the regulation of blockchain-based businesses and the jurisdiction of quality and choice for world class fintech companies.”

The country is in the process of setting up a “digital innovation authority” to certify blockchain companies and set out a legal framework for initial coin offerings (ICOs)—those often-scammy fundraisers that are worrying regulators around the world.

According to Bloomberg, Binance is advising the Maltese government on its plans.

Malta—long known as a smuggling hub due to its location—isn’t the only small European country that’s trying to use the buzz around cryptocurrencies to carve out an outsized role for itself in the financial technology space.

Estonia has been toying with the idea of launching its own cryptocurrency, the Estcoin. Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar recently met with blockchain startups to discuss promoting the technology—and the Slovenian city of Kranj unveiled a three-ton monument to Bitcoin just last week. Meanwhile, authorities in the Swiss towns of Zug and Chiasson have experimented with accepting Bitcoin for taxes and municipal services.