Allegations

On 29 July 2021, human rights group Chagos Refugees Group United Kingdom (UK), supported by consumer group Crypto Currency Resolution Trust (Bahamas), filed a complaint at the Irish NCP against Afilias Ltd. and two of its subsidiaries, 101 Domains GRS Limited (Ireland) and Internet Computer Bureau Limited (UK). The filing marks the first time the Guidelines have been applied to a digital dispute involving cryptocurrency.

The Chagos refugees are descendants of former residents of the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean. A generation ago, Britain forcibly deported Chagos islanders from the archipelago. The United Nations General Assembly, African Union, and International Court of Justice have all found that Britain’s forcible deportation and continued colonial occupation of the Chagos Archipelago is a serious violation of international law. In 2019, Ireland voted along with 115 other UN members in condemning the United Kingdom’s continued occupation of the Chagos Archipelago.

Renamed the British Indian Ocean Territory, the archipelago is best known for the secretive US naval base on Diego Garcia Island and the “.IO” internet domain. .IO is the country level domain code created in 1997 for the British Indian Ocean Territory. The domain .IO was a relatively low-key alternative domain until about 2016 when its popularity exploded in connection with the rise of cryptocurrency.

The domain .IO has now made the Chagos Archipelago one of the world’s least known but largest offshore financial centers by daily volume. While .IO is utilized by legitimate companies such as crypto asset platforms and technology companies including top ten cryptocurrency USD Coin and cryptocurrency exchange Gate.io., it is also linked to crypto asset based criminal operations such as Ponzi schemes, money laundering fronts, cryptocurrency gambling and fraudulent Initial Coin and Token offerings. Complainant Crypto Currency Resolution Trust, which represents victims with losses and claims against .IO crypto criminals for more than €100 million, asserts that tens of billions of dollars a day in unregulated crypto asset transactions take place in .IO involving hacking, tax evasion, money laundering, fraudulent investment schemes, gambling, and organized crime. Fraud complaints involving .IO have been rising steadily each year with 671 reported to UK’s Action Fraud system in 2020. Yet since British Indian Ocean Territory lacks a Financial Crimes Unit and relevant laws, criminals using cloaked identities, cryptocurrency, and .IO websites are rarely if ever apprehended or prosecuted.

In the years since it deportated Chagos islanders from the archipelago, Britain has continued to ban the islanders from the island chain with allegedly apartheid-like laws, preventing their participation in the island chain’s booming Internet- and defense-oriented economy.

Irish internet giant Afilias Ltd., recently acquired by Donuts Inc., the world’s largest domain name registry., bought .IO for $70 million in 2017. In this Guidelines complaint, the Chagos islanders allege that Afilias acquired .IO knowing its sordid past, connection to human rights abuses, and ongoing criminality, and by failing to address those concerns, has breached OECD Guidelines provisions on due diligence, human rights, and consumer interests. The islanders are seeking restitution and return of .IO. The islanders want due royalties and payments for use of .IO which is also marketed as “Chagosian Domains” by Afilias.

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