SC asks Centre to clarify on legality of cryptocurrency

The Supreme Court on Friday asked the Centre whether dealing with cryptocurrencies like bitcoin is legal in India.

A bench presided over by Justice DY Chandrachud posed the query while hearing a plea by one of the accused in the GainBitcoin scam, Ajay Bhardwaj, seeking quashing of the charges against him.

“We would like you, as the Union of India, to place on record the regime as to bitcoin and cryptocurrency? Is it still an offence?”, Justice Surya Kant who was also part of the Bench told Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati who appeared for the Enforcement Directorate (ED).

The oral query came after Bhati told the bench that the case involved dealings of 87,000 bitcoins and the accused is not cooperating with the investigation despite the agency issuing several summons to him.

The SC had in August 2019 given anticipatory bail to Ajay Bhardwaj and protected him from coercive action and asked him to deposit Rs 1 crore as security.

Responding to the query from the bench on the status of cryptocurrencies, Bhati said “we will do that”.

The law officer added that “there are Direct Marketing guidelines, which they have challenged. This scam involves 80,000 bitcoins which have a value of 20,000 crore. FIRs are registered all across the country. The victims are running into thousands and thousands of people whose money has been taken. They are trying to create this ruse of guidelines and regime”.

She urged the court to vacate the stay on his arrest.

The court however directed that “conditional on the petitioner cooperating fully in the investigation, the ad-interim order restraining arrest shall continue till the next date of listing.”

It also asked Bhardwaj “to appear before the Investigating Officer in the Directorate of Enforcement within two days and cooperate with the investigation by being present as and when called upon to do so”.

Fixing the matter for hearing next on March 28, the court directed the Investigating Officer to “file a fresh status report on or before 25 March 2022 indicating the progress in the investigation and whether there has been cooperation on the part of the petitioner-accused.”

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