Dubai: A five-year-old cryptocurrency exchange in the Middle East is poised to become the first to receive a special licence to operate in the region after getting a preliminary nod from the United Arab Emirates.

UAE-based BitOasis says it received preliminary approval in April from the Financial Services Regulatory Authority of Abu Dhabi Global Market Authorities to operate a crypto-asset platform and wallets.

The cryptocurrency sector remains largely unlicensed and unregulated in major global financial hubs, providing an opening for smaller jurisdictions such as Malta and Liechtenstein to create regulatory structures. Earlier this year, Bahrain, the Arab world’s smallest country, issued rules on crypto assets.

BitOasis says it handled $1.6 billion (Dh5.88 billion) in trades in the last two years, making it one of the largest in the region.

The company is set to get a licence once it satisfies certain technical and operational requirements, which it plans to do in the second half of the year, chief executive officer Ola Doudin said.

“This is a huge milestone,” she said. “It gives us legitimacy as well, and we can now work with regulated financial entities. We’re able to work with other regulators in the region such as Saudi Arabia. Overall, it will boost our growth in the region, legitimise the space and expand our reach in the market.”

The company aims to focus mainly on Gulf Cooperation Council countries for the next year, with Saudi Arabia particularly seen as an opportunity for growth, she added.