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Income Tax department conducts surveys at nine bitcoin exchange

The income tax department has conducted surveys across nine bitcoin exchanges across the country, reports Mint and Inc42. The publications added that I-T department officials from Bangalore visited exchanges in Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Kochi, and Gurgaon.

The I-T department reportedly sought information about transactions, parties involved and bank accounts. The publications added that this was done as an effort to profile and scrutinize assessees for tax evasion.

Note that in an August 2017, an inter-ministerial report was submitted to the Centre by the department of economic affairs but the details of the report were not made open to the public. The committee was set up in April. However, a petition in the Supreme court which wanted to regulate bitcoins in the country cited some parts of the report which said the following:

  • Bitcoins would fall under the purview of RBI’s 1934 Act. (This suggests that the government is looking to regulate Bitcoin as a currency).
  • Bitcoin investors should be taxed.
  • The RBI will have to issue guidelines regarding investment and purchase of Bitcoins.
  • If any foreign payment is made through Bitcoins, it would fall under the purview of Foreign Exchange Managment (FEMA) Act.

There is further regulatory confusion.  The RBI and SEBI have been trying to shift the onus on each other for regulating bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies as there is confusion whether they would be regulated as a “currency” or a “commodity”. 

Not the first time

Note that in 2014, the Enforcement Directorate(ED) raided the office of Buysellbit.co.in and RBItco, websites that let people buy and sell bitcoin. According to ED, these websites were in violation of Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) rules. More details here.

RBI stance

The RBI has not given any license or authorization to any entity to operate such schemes or deal with Bitcoin or any virtual currency. It said that any user, holder, investor, or trader dealing with cryptocurrencies would be doing so at their own risk.

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In 2017, it reiterated this stand, saying: “The Reserve Bank of India had cautioned the users, holders and traders of Virtual Currencies (VCs), including Bitcoins, about the potential financial, operational, legal, customer protection and security related risks that they are exposing themselves to, vide its press release dated December 24, 2013.

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