The Israeli government has unveiled draft legislation to close down the country’s entire binary options sector, a widely fraudulent industry of more than 100 companies, employing thousands of Israelis, that has fleeced billions of dollars from victims worldwide for the past decade.
If implemented, the legislation would shut down all binary option companies that operate from within Israel’s borders and jail those who breach the ban.
The proposed law, which was drafted by the Israel Securities Authority, the Justice Ministry and the attorney general, was published by the Finance Ministry on Wednesday. It highlights the ongoing fraud perpetrated by the Israeli firms, and the consequent damage to Israel’s international image and the reputation of its capital markets.
The draft legislation comes almost a year after The Times of Israel began exposing the widespread fraudulent practices of the binary options industry. Last August, the ISA’s chairman, Shmuel Hauser, promised The Times of Israel to take the necessary steps to thwart the fraudsters. That same month, Jewish Agency chief Natan Sharansky urged the government to close down the “repugnant, immoral” industry. And in October, the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, alerted to the fraud by The Times of Israel, called for a worldwide ban on the “unscrupulous” industry.
Israel banned binary options firms from targeting Israelis last spring. The proposed law bans all binary options trading, period, and thus aims to put a complete halt to the blight of Israeli binary options firms duping victims all over the world into parting with their money. (It also targets unregulated forex and CFD companies operating from Israel, requiring them to obtain a specific license to operate in any country where they have customers. Many such companies operating from Israel also engage in fraudulent practices).
The introduction to the proposed law notes that the ISA and other branches of Israeli law enforcement have received an increasing stream of complaints about investors abroad who have lost large sums of money to online trading companies operating from Israel.
“It became clear,” the introduction elaborates, “that in many cases the trading offered by these companies is a cover for criminal activities like fraud. This phenomenon has accelerated to the point where it is resonating very negatively around the world and causing significant damage to Israel’s image and specifically to the reputation of Israel’s capital markets.”
The proposed law would give the ISA the authority to impose penalties of up to two years in prison to anyone who violates the ban.
The law would apply to anyone who “manages an online trading platform” that either sells binary options abroad, or sells another financial product in a country where it lacks a license. The proposed law defines managing an online trading platform as “making strategic decisions for a company that manages the trading web site” or “operating the web site, including through software or hardware systems, call centers or online or telephone marketing, either directly or through a company that manages the trading web site or provides services to the web site.”
If interpreted broadly and enforced, the law could also shut down many of the technology platform providers, marketers and affiliate marketers who service this industry, but whether it would do so remains to be seen.
A spokeswoman for the ISA said she did not know how long it would take for the proposal to gain Knesset approval. A lawyer familiar with the legislation process said it could take “anywhere from two days to two years.”
While he thought it unlikely that any Knesset member would openly vote to keep the binary options industry alive, this lawyer cautioned that the legislation could encounter delays as a result of heavy lobbying by the binary options and forex industries. (A bid by then MK Einat Wilf to close down the retail forex and nascent binary options industry six years ago, The Times of Israel reported, failed because of pressure from lobbyists and the inability of her fellow MKs and of regulators to grasp the nature of the fraud.)
Nimrod Assif, an Israeli lawyer who defends alleged victims of binary options and forex fraud, called the proposed law a welcome development, but not a necessary condition for enforcement activity to begin.
“The ISA does not need any new law in order to act against these web sites. It has all the jurisdiction it needs under the current legislation,” said Assif. “As is clear from reading the criminal code, Israeli criminal laws apply to any conduct that is committed, in all or in part, within Israeli territory. If a sales agent in Israel solicits a customer overseas, clearly the conduct is committed, at least in part, in Israel.”
Assif added dryly that “one might wonder if the ISA’s intention in proposing this new law is not merely an attempt to justify its years of inaction in face of this widespread illegality.”
The Times of Israel has been exposing Israel’s fraudulent binary options industry in a series of articles since March, 2016, beginning with an article entitled “The Wolves of Tel Aviv,” and has estimated that the industry here numbers over 100 companies, most of which are fraudulent and employ a variety of ruses to steal their clients’ money. These firms lure their victims into making what they are duped into believing will be profitable short-term investments, but in the overwhelming majority of cases the clients wind up losing all or almost all of their money. Thousands of Israelis work in the field, which is estimated to have fleeced billions of dollars from victims all over the world in the past decade.
Last month, The Times of Israel’s detailed the defrauding of a Canadian man, Fred Turbide, who took his own life after he was fleeced by an Israeli-based firm. The Times of Israel has received a constant stream of complaints from victims around the world, saying they have been defrauded by Israel-based firms and pleading for assistance.
The Prime Minister’s Office in October condemned the industry’s “unscrupulous practices” and called for it to be outlawed worldwide. Responding to The Times of Israel’s reporting, the Knesset’s State Control Committee held a hearing in January on the government’s failure to shut down binary options fraud. The committee chair, MK Karin Elharar (Yesh Atid), demanded that the police begin enforcement activity against fraudulent binary options firms in the next month and that the Israel Securities Authority urgently advance legislation to shut down the entire industry. Israel Police ignored Elharar’s invitation to the meeting and did not attend. A follow-up hearing will be held on February 28.
The FBI told The Times of Israel this month that it was investigating binary options fraud worldwide, and invited victims and informants to contact it.
In recent weeks, a number of Israel-based binary options companies have shut down or are rumored to have shut down. Some have moved their call centers overseas, to countries including Bulgaria, Romania, Panama and South Africa. Earlier this week, Israel’s first binary options company, AnyOption, which was founded in 2008 by individuals connected to the massive ICC-Cal credit card processing fraud for online gambling firms, is reported to have shut down its Israeli call center, laying off about 100 employees.