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Finance

Britain aims to become global center for virtual currencies

Britain has expressed interest in profiting from the rapidly expanding use of virtual currencies - bitcoins in particular. The government said it commissioned a study looking at the benefits and risks involved.

UK Finance Minister George Osborne on Wednesday said he'd instructed Treasury officials to work on a study assessing the benefits and downsides of digital currencies. The government noted the survey was meant to shed more light on the business potential for such crypto-currencies.

The UK said it might become a leading global center for the trade in bitcoins and other still unregulated virtual payment units.

Osborne's announcement came in a package of measures aimed at boosting innovation in London to help fend off challengers to its status as the world's leading financial hub.

Doubts remain globally

"The government will look at the potential virtual and digital currencies have for achieving positive change and for encouraging innovation in our financial sector," the Finance Ministry said in a statement.

What exactly are bitcoins?

Bitcoin is the best known of some 200 computer-generated currencies. Its risks have come under increased scrutiny since Mt. Gox, a Tokyo-based bitcoin exchange, went bankrupt in February of this year after an estimated $650 million (487 million euros) worth of customer bitcoins went missing from its accounts.

There has been no coordinated approach globally to regulating virtual currencies, and no country has given them legal status yet.

hg/nz (AFP, Reuters)

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