MP: Crypto-currency bill reading may link to minister no-confidence vote

Andrei Korobeinik (Center), chair of the Riigikogu finance commitee.
Andrei Korobeinik (Center), chair of the Riigikogu finance commitee. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

A vote on a bill which would tighten up Estonia's crypto-currency regime may be linked to a vote of confidence in Minister of Finance Keit Pentus-Rosimannus (Reform), chair of the Riigikogu's finance committee Andrei Korobeinik (Center) says.

The bill, which is being fast-tracked in order to meet Council of Europe international compliance regulations, has been met with a filibustering measure in the form of 594 amendment proposals from Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) MP Ruuben Kaalep, who says the law would harm small traders in crypto-currency and work in favor of the established high-street banks.

Korobeinik said: "If, for example, 594 amendments get more than one vote on the committee and get a vote in the Riigikogu chamber, then parliament will probably not be able to vote it through, in which case there is a possibility that it will be linked to a vote of confidence in the Minister of Finance."

The law is being expedited due to a Council of Europe meeting due next month aimed at assessing Estonia's compliance with international standards, compliance which, ERR reports, Estonia currently does not meet.

Head of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) Matis Mäeker said that: "Virtual currency service providers, in anti-money laundering (AML) terms, are currently the most major problem in Estonia, one which is growing."

"If the Estonian state does not take very rapid steps, these risks will start to materialize very quickly, and we can end up being harmed by this," he continued.

EKRE MP Ruuben Kaalep told ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) that: "One of the tools of being in opposition is to submit large-scale amendments. It has been confirmed on several occasions this year that it is one way to bring the opposition and the coalition together to find compromises,."

Kaalep says the bill would only help what he called an establishment banking cartel in Estonia, and harm smaller startups who used crypto-currency.

He said: "This bill is a dangerous one, and will make it virtually impossible for small businesses and start-ups to use crypto-currency in their transactions, since it will place extremely high limits and high demands on them, ranging from high state fees to methods of introducing hidden VAT."

Kaalep admitted that only four of the 594 amendments concern crypto-currency, while the remaining 590 are related to bus timetables between Tallinn and other locations in Estonia, even Abruka (which is an island-ed.), and acknowledged that the move was a filibustering measure.

The Riigikogu's finance committee is set to discuss how to proceed with the bill next Monday, ERR reports.

The bill would, if it passes, significantly tighten regulation on traders in crypto-currencies, Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and other virtual assets if it passed at the Riigikogu; as noted the bill is being fast-tracked, and would in particular pertain to those crypto-currency operators or businesses which had no clear and direct connection with Estonia.

The bill would also raise capitalization requirement for crypto-currency firms to €125,000, or €350,000, depending on the area of activity, and criteria for being a board member at such firms would be codified.

The FIU has long been trying to tighten-up the rules on crypto-currency license issuing, and 20 legal suits brought in respect of non-issued licenses or related matters are still pending.

Matis Mäeker told investigative weekly Eesti Ekspress last October that a cull of crypto-currency operating licenses in Estonia was required.

While concerns over the use of crypto-currency and other virtual assets and their potential connection with money laundering and other nefarious activities have been raised multiple times in the recent past, by far the largest money laundering scandal to have engulfed Estonia to date concerned winding-up of the activities of a bricks-and-mortar, leading Danish bank, Danske.

Danske's Tallinn branch was closed in late 2019 following reports that in excess of €200 billion in potentially illicit funds, mostly of Russian origin, had passed via its portals between 2007 and 2015.

Other parties have also engaged in filibustering. For instance, in June 2020, the Social Democratic Party (SDE) tabled over 50,000 amendments to a bill which would have abolished the party finances surveillance body, the ERJK.

EKRE leader Martin Helme said Thursday that the party would be following the filibustering tactics with other bills, as it has already done, through to the March 2023 general election, claiming that the strategy has been working and is an important part of opposition work.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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