By John McCrank
BOCA RATON, Fla. (Reuters) – Communications from the cryptocurrency industry around sanctions on Russia have been counterproductive and do not reflect what the firms are actually doing, the head of crypto exchange FTX said.
Unlike payment companies, most crypto exchanges have rejected calls to cut off all Russian users, sparking concerns among U.S. lawmakers that digital assets could be used to evade Western sanctions on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.
“I’m very frustrated with the messaging that our industry has had on this,” Sam Bankman-Fried, founder of FTX, which was recently valued at $32 billion, told Reuters late Thursday.
“I think it has not been helpful. I think it has been basically anti-regulatory, is how it’s been perceived, and I think that’s how it sounds, and I think that has caused a pretty big perception issue,” he said on the sidelines of a Futures Industry Association conference in Boca Raton, Florida.
Democratic U.S. senators introduced a bill on Thursday that would enable the government to sanction foreign cryptocurrency firms doing business with sanctioned Russian entities and prevent them from transacting with U.S. customers.
Bahamas-based FTX immediately cut off support to all sanctioned parties and severed access to all Russian banks, even those that are not sanctioned, so the exchange could not be used as a gateway between Russia and the rest of the world, Bankman-Fried said.
FTX still allows non-sanctioned Russian users to trade, with anti-money laundering checks, and is in communication with the U.S. Treasury about what it is doing in Russia, said Bankman-Fried, a 30-year-old crypto billionaire.
Exchanges like Binance and Kraken have said cutting off all Russians goes against the industry’s libertarian values.
“I don’t think this is really about the content of the decisions,” Bankman-Fried said of such responses. “It’s about the way that they’ve been presented.”
(Reporting by John McCrank; editing by Michelle Price and Jonathan Oatis)