Winklevoss twins run into British crypto trouble

Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss last year received a licence to introduce their Gemini cryptocurrency exchange into the British market

Credit: Gemini

Banks are widening their crackdown on digital currencies with Monzo banning payments to Gemini, the US cryptocurrency exchange founded by the billionaire Winklevoss twins.

Gemini, which is worth about $2bn (£1.4bn), has been blocked by the challenger bank since July 21.

The block on Gemini payments, one of the few cryptocurrency firms registered to conduct business in the UK by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), comes as banks tighten up their controls on digital coin companies.

On social media, NatWest customers have complained of struggling to make payments to Gemini and Coinbase. Insiders at NatWest said the bank is blocking payments to cryptocurrency firms where there has been a spike in fraud-related activity.

Having trouble at the moment in UK. Natwest has declined Coinbase and Gemini this morning. So frustrating as I’m ready to stack.

— Wheelz (@scottwheelz) July 29, 2021

Gemini was founded in 2014 by Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, the twins made famous by the film The Social Network as early business partners of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. 

The pair sued Zuckerberg, claiming he had stolen their idea for the site in 2003 while studying at Harvard University. Facebook paid the twins a reported $65m in a settlement in 2008 but denied any wrongdoing. The pair competed as Olympic rowers in 2008. 

This week, Nationwide joined banks in restricting card payments to Binance, an exchange based in the Cayman Islands that has faced censure by the FCA.

Banks including NatWest, Santander and Barclays have all halted payments to Binance in recent weeks. Starling Bank also briefly blacklisted all cryptocurrency transactions, before reversing the ban.

The world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange was hit with an FCA warning in June over its plans to set up a UK arm.

The FCA said Binance Markets Limited was not authorised to conduct regulated activities in the UK, although customers are still able to transact with its international business.

While Binance is not authorised to operate in the UK, Gemini is one of the few companies to obtain an FCA licence to conduct business in Britain under its new regime.

A Gemini spokesperson said: “We are working to address the issues being created by the increase of push payment fraud across the financial services industry. We are also one of only eight companies in the UK to be approved by the FCA as a registered cryptoasset firm under the UK’s Money Laundering and Counter Terrorist Financing Regulation.”

The revelation that Monzo has barred Gemini comes after it admitted on Friday that it was under investigation by the FCA over potential money-laundering breaches. 

Monzo has said it was cooperating with the regulator and that the investigation was at an early stage.

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