Henson Orser, a Nomura veteran who spent two years as president of the Japanese bank’s crypto project, Komainu, is now leading Dubai’s dedicated virtual assets regulator.
The so-called Virtual Assets Regulatory Authority (VARA) was set up in March 2022 and is responsible for granting licenses to crypto operators and regulating the sector in the Emirate of Dubai.
Orser becomes the organization’s first CEO after taking the reins on Jan. 3, amid a broader push to establish Dubai as a hub for crypto and metaverse operators.
“It’s the first purely virtual asset regulatory authority,” he told The Block, adding that VARA aims to deliver a framework that is “gold standard, tier one and even passportable to other jurisdictions,” as well as compliant with guidance on crypto regulation published by the Financial Action Task Force.
Most jurisdictions — including the U.S., UK, Switzerland and Singapore — have moved to regulate the crypto sector through existing bodies. VARA is unusual in that it was formed specifically to oversee crypto firms.
From Sept. 2020, Orser spent nearly two years as president of Komainu, the crypto custodian formed as a joint venture between Nomura, CoinShares and Ledger. Before that, he spent some six years in senior roles at Nomura, including stints as head of global markets sales in the Americas and global head of wholesale SRM.
VARA is currently working towards the start of its Minimum Viable Product (MVP) phase, meaning any crypto business that wins a license may not yet offer regulated services in the region. Licensed firms will be able to begin offering regulated products once the MVP phase is operationalized, according to VARA’s website.
Late last year, VARA dished out provisional licenses to Binance, Komainu and Hex Trust. It had also granted an MVP license to a subsidiary of FTX, the collapsed crypto exchange run by Sam Bankman-Fried. That license was revoked in November.
Orser told The Block that finalized rulebooks for crypto firms will be published on VARA’s website “within weeks.”
Disclaimer: Beginning in 2021, Michael McCaffrey, the former CEO and majority owner of The Block, took a series of loans from founder and former FTX and Alameda CEO Sam Bankman-Fried. McCaffrey resigned from the company in December 2022 after failing to disclose those transactions.
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