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Tech firm raises $118 mln in virtual coin offer to fund blockchain phone

TEL AVIV, Dec 14 (Reuters) - Swiss-Israeli technology firm Sirin Labs said on Thursday it had raised $118 million in an initial coin offering (ICO) to support the development of an open source blockchain smartphone.

ICOs allow startups founded on cryptocurrency technologies such as blockchain to quickly raise capital by issuing virtual tokens to investors.

Such offerings have become more common in the past year, but Europe's top markets regulator warned last month they were "extremely risky and highly speculative investments."

Sirin, which has recruited soccer superstar Lionel Messi to be its brand ambassador, said it had raised the money from 5,600 people globally within the first 24 hours and would continue the offering for another 12 days.

"These are our potential clients. We think they will be the first to buy the phones," Moshe Hogeg, CEO and founder of Sirin, told reporters.

The ICO will help fund its secure blockchain phone, as well as a blockchain personal computer. The company said the phone, which should be on the market near the end of next year, benefits from enhanced security and the ability to carry out fee-less transactions.

Hogeg said his target had been to raise $75 million - the amount needed to develop the phone. The additional funds will enable the company to increase its production and invest more in sales and marketing. (Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch and Tova Cohen; Editing by Mark Potter)