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Venezuela’s war on bitcoin is ramping up as the country’s largest exchange was forced to cease trading following the closure of its bank account.

SurBitcoin informed its clients Feb. 3 that they should immediately withdraw their cash and cryptocurrency balances after its bank account at Banesco, the largest financial institution in Venezuela, was shut down without warning.

While the exchange said that it had not been given an explanation by Banesco as to why the account was being shut down, the decision comes after the Venezuelan government arrested eight bitcoin miners over the space of two weeks.

Bitcoin has become growingly popular in the South American country as its local currency, the bolivar, has suffered from hyperinflation caused by Government mismanagement of the economy. Although there are no official figures available for the number of users within its borders, SurBitcoin told The Guardian in December that user numbers increased from 450 in August 2014 to more than 85,000 in November 2016.

The Venezuelan Government doesn’t seem to like the idea that its citizens were bypassing its local currency and the arrests, on the whole, appear to be trumped up. In one case, the two men were arrested on charges including cybercrime, financing terrorism, stealing electricity and exchange fraud. In another case, two individuals were arrested for selling mining equipment through the MercadoLibre marketplace despite the fact that selling bitcoin mining equipment is not illegal in the country.

In the case of the two accused of stealing electricity, Venezuelan police allege that the pair were running a staggering 11,000 bitcoin mining machines, a number that is difficult to fathom in a country that experiences widespread power shortages.

SurBitcoin has advised users that it hopes to resume business in the next two weeks if it is able to find a new financial institution that would accept its business.

Image: Pixabay/Public Domain CC0

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