Cryptocurrencies could offer Iran way around sanctions

Al-Monitor | : Post-sanctions integration in the international financial sector has been one of the main challenges in the Iranian economy since the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in January 2016. As such, one could anticipate that Iranian officials would welcome the emergence of cryptocurrencies as a platform for international payments. Notwithstanding, the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) has not yet officially sanctioned the use of virtual currencies. According to official statements, initial studies are being carried out on the technical as well as legal aspects of using such currencies in Iran. Experts agree that there is a demand for using cryptocurrencies both as an investment vehicle as well as a payment method for international transactions. However, technical, legal, political and economic obstacles need to be tackled before such currencies can be utilized.

Iranian officials have a tendency to view new external phenomena with a strong degree of suspicion. Consequently, hesitation to endorse a new concept and take responsibility for it is the general pattern. Notwithstanding, Deputy Information and Communications Technology Minister Amir Hossein Davaee recently stated that his ministry had carried out a number of studies to prepare the infrastructure to use bitcoin inside the country. Incidentally, he also said that digital infrastructure was “part of the soft power of the country” and that the introduction of cryptocurrencies would be in Iran’s “general interest.”

These comments were followed by statements from Nasser Hakimi, the CBI’s deputy director of new technologies, who said in mid-November that the CBI was planning to examine its policies about digital currencies. Hakimi said, “Given that bitcoin and other currencies have not been introduced by the Central Bank as the official currency, as well as the risk of buying it and the activity of traders in this field, more precautions are coming into the market because of the possibility of malice.” In early 2017, Hakimi had referred to bitcoin as an “opportunity” that should be exploited by the Iranian government. He claimed then that bitcoin and other digital currencies could be used by traders who failed to open lines of credit due to banking issues. In the meantime, Hakimi has also repeatedly warned about investing in bitcoin as a speculative investment tool and that it will witness fluctuations leading to losses for Iranian investors.

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