Cryptocurrencies have been in the news headlines recently because tax authorities believe they may be used to launder money and evade taxes. Even the Supreme Court appointed a Special Investigating Team on Black Money recommended that trading in such currency be discouraged. While China was reported to possess banned some its largest Bitcoin trading operators, countries such as the USA and Canada have laws set up to restrict stock trade in cryptocurrency.
What is Cryptocurrency?
Cryptocurrency, as the name suggests, uses encrypted codes to effect a transaction. These codes are acknowledged by other computers in the user community. Instead of using paper money, an online ledger is updated by ordinary bookkeeping entries. The buyer’s account is debited and the seller’s account is credited with such currency.
How are Transactions Made on Cryptocurrency?
When a transaction is set up by one user, her computer sends out a public cipher or public key that interacts with the private cipher of the individual receiving the currency. If the receiver accepts the transaction, the initiating computer attaches a bit of code onto a block of several such encrypted codes that is known to every user in the network. Special users called ‘Miners’ can attach the extra code to the publicly shared block by solving a cryptographic puzzle and earn much more cryptocurrency along the way. Once a miner confirms a transaction, the record in the block can’t be changed or deleted.
BitCoin, for example, can be used on mobile devices as well to enact purchases. All you have to do is let the receiver scan a QR code from an app on your own smartphone or bring them in person by utilizing Near Field Communication (NFC). Note that this is very much like ordinary online wallets such as for example PayTM or MobiQuick.
Die-hard users swear by BitCoin for its decentralized nature, international acceptance, anonymity, permanence of transactions and data security. Unlike paper currency, no Central Bank controls inflationary pressures on cryptocurrency. Transaction ledgers are stored in a Peer-to-Peer network. That means every computer chips in its computing power and copies of databases are stored on every such node in the network. Banks, however, store transaction data in central repositories which come in the hands of private individuals hired by the firm.
How Can Cryptocurrency be used for Money Laundering?
The very fact that there is no control over cryptocurrency transactions by Central Banks or tax authorities implies that transactions cannot always be tagged to a specific individual. Therefore we don’t know whether the transactor has obtained the store of value legally or not. The transactee’s store is similarly suspect as nobody can tell what consideration was presented with for the currency received.
What does Indian Law Say about such Virtual Currencies?
Virtual Currencies or cryptocurrencies are generally seen as bits of software and hence classify as a good under the Sale of Goods Act, 1930.
Being a good, indirect taxes on the sale or purchase as well as GST on the services provided by Miners would be applicable in their mind.
There is still hardware of confusion about whether cryptocurrencies are valid as currency in India and the RBI, which includes authority over clearing and payment systems and pre-paid negotiable instruments, has definitely not authorized buying and selling via this medium of exchange.
Any cryptocurrencies received by way of a resident in India would thus be governed by the FOREX Management Act, 1999 as an import of goods into this country.
India has allowed the trading of BitCoins in Special Exchanges with built-in safeguards for tax evasion or money-laundering activities and enforcement of Know Your Customer norms. These exchanges include Zebpay, Unocoin and Coinsecure.