Telegram, the Russia-based messaging app, is to join the blockchain bandwagon by launching its own cryptocurrency later this year following an “initial coin offering” that could raise as much as $500m. The WhatsApp rival, which says it expects to surpass 200m global users this year, wants to raise money to help create a platform using blockchain, the technology that underpins cryptocurrencies, that would allow users to make payments through its app, according to plans seen by the Financial Times.

The project, dubbed the Telegram Open Network and first reported by TechCrunch, would be the first western messaging service to follow in the wake of China’s wildly successful WeChat Pay, which integrates payment into the texting app. Unlike WeChat Pay, Telegram’s project will not be hosted on centralised servers, or linked to a government-controlled currency such as the renminbi.

Several well-known companies, including many with no obvious link to the sector, have expressed interest in raising money through an ICO after skyrocketing interest in cryptocurrencies and the huge price jump in bitcoin trading. Shares in ailing photography company Kodak more than doubled on Tuesday after it said it would create a blockchain ledger to safeguard photographers’ image rights.

Telegram’s ICO would potentially outstrip the current record, set last year at $257m by blockchain ledger FileCoin. An ICO allows companies to raise funds by issuing digital tokens, normally in exchange for other cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin or ether.

Telegram chief executive Pavel Durov, who did not respond to requests for comment, has a longstanding interest in the topic — as well as 2,000 bitcoins he bought five years ago for $750 each, that are now worth $28m. Mr Durov, 33, left Russia in 2014 over what he said was pressure from the Kremlin to censor and control VK, the Facebook clone he founded which is still Russia’s most popular social network. Read more from…

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