China Takes Down $295M Crypto Underground Bank: Beginning Of A Bigger Crackdown?

Chinese law enforcement has disrupted a covert banking network that leveraged cryptocurrencies to execute unauthorized foreign exchange transactions totaling around 2.14 billion yuan ($295.8 million).

This illicit operation mainly converted the Chinese yuan into the South Korean won, evading the established legal frameworks for currency exchange.

Uncovering The Shadow Crypto Banking Network 

In Jilin province, police apprehended six people connected to this operation, underscoring the growing role of digital currencies in bypassing standard financial regulations.

According to official statements, this clandestine banking entity utilized cryptocurrencies’ inherent “anonymity and decentralization” to carry out these unlawful transactions.

It was reported that the accused managed domestic bank accounts to receive and channel funds and conduct over-the-counter cryptocurrency trades.

These activities primarily served several business types, including South Korean purchasing agents, cross-border e-commerce entities, and firms engaged in import-export trade. This setup enabled the illegal exchange of currencies between the yuan and the won, violating regulatory norms.

Notably, the busting of this underground bank is part of a broader crackdown by Chinese authorities on crypto-related activities. Despite banning cryptocurrencies and related operations like Bitcoin mining, China remains active in policing the sector.

This action follows the recent investigation of Yao Qian, a former pro-blockchain official, under suspicions of “serious violations of discipline and law.” However, details of the allegations against Qian remain unclear, with authorities only citing vague violations. The report noted:

Yao Qian, Director of the Science and Technology Supervision Department and Director of the Information Center of the China Securities Regulatory Commission, is suspected of serious violations of discipline and law and is currently under investigation by the Central Committee.

Challenges Facing China’s Digital Currency Initiatives

While China combats illegal crypto operations, it faces challenges in promoting its central bank digital currency (CBDC), the e-CNY, or digital yuan.

Despite government efforts to pilot the e-CNY in various cities and reports of billions in transactions, public reception remains tepid.

For instance, state employees in some regions are paid partly in digital yuan. Due to the lack of incentives and limited merchant adoption, they frequently convert their holdings back to cash.

The digital yuan struggles to compete with well-established digital payment platforms like Alipay and WeChat Pay, which dominate online and offline transactions.

Sammy Lin, an account manager at a Chinese state bank, noted the absence of benefits in holding the digital yuan, stating, “There’s no interest if I leave it there, and there aren’t many places where I can use it.”

This sentiment reflects broader concerns about the e-CNY’s practicality and the need for more compelling use cases to ensure widespread adoption.

Featured image from Unsplash, Chart from TradingView