Prices plummeted after South Korea's justice minister said Thursday the government is preparing a bill to ban trading of virtual currencies on domestic exchanges.
Once a bill to ban bitcoin - and other cryptocurrencies like litecoin and ethereum - has been drafted, moving the ban into law would require a majority vote from the 297 members of the National Assembly, a process which Reuters says could take months or even years.
To sum the situation up, hours after Park Sang-ki's comments, a representative of President Moon Jae-in told Korean media [link in Korean] that the Justice Ministry's position does not reflect that of the entire government.
As of 4 p.m., Bitcoin was trading at 18.32 million won (US$17,097), down 18 percent from a day before, while other popular virtual coins like Ripple and Etherium tumbled nearly 25 percent.
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The finance ministry is trying to find ways to tax the crypto market, which has become as big as the small-cap Kosdaq index in the country in terms of daily trading volume.
Before taking action as drastic as a total ban on all trading, the South is more likely to block foreigners, institutions and minors from owning and trading cryptocurrency.
Politicians and central bankers around the world have warned that bitcoin and other digital currencies are extremely risky investments that have the potential to crash.
Ethereum, which is also very popular in South Korea, also dropped 14 percent on the news.
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Under the measure, only real-name bank accounts and matching accounts at cryptocurrency exchanges can be used for deposits and withdrawals, while the issuance of new virtual accounts to cryptocurrency exchanges will be banned.
By 5pm Hong Kong time, it was trading at US$13,723.94, down 7.8 per cent. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Coinone was cooperating with the investigation.
South Korea is planning to ban the trading of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin through the country's financial exchanges, in a move which could further destabilize the already volatile currency.
The nation's tax office and police declined to confirm whether they raided the local exchanges.
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