Winklevoss twins to apply for UAE virtual asset licence

The billionaire founders of crypto platform Gemini are considering Abu Dhabi and Dubai for their company base

Gemini founders Tyler, left, and Cameron Winklevoss are looking at the UAE as a potential Middle East hub for their crypto exchange. Victor Besa / The National
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Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, the billionaire founders of Gemini, are looking at the UAE as a potential Middle East hub for their crypto exchange and will soon apply for a virtual asset licence in the Emirates.

The twins – who each have a net worth of $1.2 billion, according to Forbes estimates – have not yet decided where to base their crypto company in the UAE.

However, it could be Abu Dhabi or Dubai – or potentially both, they told The National on Wednesday.

“We've been super encouraged with our conversations here with the regulators,” Tyler Winklevoss said.

“There's an effort to make the UAE a home and a hub for crypto and, most importantly, to enact thoughtful regulation that connects, that protects both consumers, but also a company's ability to innovate.”

In recent years, the UAE has emerged as a global centre for virtual assets.

In March last year, Dubai adopted the Dubai Virtual Asset Regulation Law, which aims to create an advanced legal framework to protect investors and provide international standards for virtual asset industry governance that promotes responsible business growth in the emirate.

It also established the Virtual Asset Regulatory Authority as an independent body to regulate the sector throughout the emirate, including special development zones and free zones, but excluding the Dubai International Financial Centre.

Last September, the Financial Services Regulatory Authority, the regulator of the ADGM, published guiding principles on its approach to virtual asset regulation and supervision to outline its expectations for the asset class and service providers in the sector.

The principles will complement ADGM’s regulatory framework for spot virtual asset activities, the financial regulator said at the time.

The former Olympic rowers – who famously sued Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for stealing their HarvardConnection idea to create the world's biggest social media platform – are currently on a world tour to meet financial regulators and crypto stakeholders as part of their plans to make Gemini a global company.

They were in Dubai and Abu Dhabi this week on the second leg of the tour, which has also seen them visit Ireland, the UK and Switzerland. They will be in Singapore from Thursday.

On Monday, they met Binance founder and chief executive Changpeng Zhou in Dubai.

Last Friday, IDA Ireland, the state agency for attracting foreign direct investment to the country, announced that the Winklevoss twins had chosen Dublin as Gemini’s European headquarters.

In April, Gemini also announced plans to set up an engineering centre in Gurugram, India, and are actively hiring in the region.

Their plan to make Gemini a global company comes amid increased regulatory scrutiny in the US after the collapse of large crypto platforms such as Celsius Network, Three Arrows Capital and Sam Bankman-Fried's FTX, which filed for bankruptcy in the US on November 11.

Mr Bankman-Fried, the founder of FTX, was arrested in the Bahamas on December 12 after federal prosecutors in the US charged him with eight criminal counts – including conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering – for allegedly misusing billions of dollars in customer funds before the $9 billion collapse of FTX and Alameda Research.

In January, the SEC filed charges against Gemini and Genesis Global Capital for the unregistered offer and sale of securities to retail investors through the Gemini Earn crypto asset lending programme.

In November, Genesis Global Capital suspended redemptions, blaming the failure of cryptocurrency exchange FTX.

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“The US … the best way to characterise it is that it's hostile to crypto right now,” Cameron Winklevoss told The National.

“The only thing that changed in the US, or that we can point to, is FTX happened. And that wasn't a Gemini thing, that wasn't a Coinbase thing, that wasn’t Kraken thing, that wasn't a crypto thing.

“It was one bad actor [Sam Bankman-Fried] and one bad company [FTX].”

Last Friday, the Winklevoss twins asked a Manhattan federal court judge to dismiss the SEC lawsuit, according to a report by Reuters.

In the filing, Gemini said the loan agreements between itself, Genesis and customers were not sold or traded on secondary markets and did not transfer title to assets, and therefore did not qualify as securities, Reuters said.

Despite a tumultuous 12 months for the global cryptocurrency sector, the market is beginning to emerge from its “crypto winter”.

In April, Bitcoin climbed above the key $30,000 mark for the first time since June 2022, but is still down more than 50 per cent from its record high of more than $68,000 in November 2021.

On Wednesday, Bitcoin was down 2.9 per cent at $27,158.28.

However, the Winklevoss twins believe Bitcoin will continue to be the best investment of this decade.

“Bitcoin is like a honey badger. Whatever doesn't kill it, makes it stronger. And it's been through a lot,” said Cameron Winklevoss.

Tyler Winklevoss added: “In our bull case for it, it will disrupt gold.”

Updated: June 01, 2023, 5:59 AM