New York reaches $18.5 million settlement with virtual currency operators
On February 23, the New York attorney general announced a $18.5 million settlement with the operators of a virtual currency trading platform and the “tether” virtual currency issuer, along with their affiliated entities, to resolve allegations that the companies deceived clients by overstating available reserves and hiding $850 million in co-mingled client and corporate funds. According to the AG, one of the companies operated an online trading platform for exchanging and trading virtual currency, which allowed users to store virtual or fiat currency, convert virtual currency into fiat currency, and withdraw funds, while the “tether” virtual currency issuer represented that the “stablecoin” it issued was backed one-to-one by U.S. dollars in reserve. However, an AG investigation found, among other things, that the companies made false statements about the backing of the stablecoin and moved hundreds of millions of dollars between the two companies in an attempt to conceal massive losses, and that the stablecoins were, in fact, no longer backed one-to-one by U.S. dollars in reserve, contrary to the company’s representations. The AG also noted that a national bank, which acted as the correspondent bank for the companies and was used to fill orders for U.S. dollars, elected to stop processing U.S. dollar wire transfers from the companies, forcing the companies to find alternative banking arrangements and ultimately leading to a liquidity crisis. Further, the AG stated that the companies failed to disclose these issues to the public. In 2019, a court order enjoined the companies from engaging in activities that may have defrauded investors trading in cryptocurrency (covered by InfoBytes here).
Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the companies and related entities must, among other things, (i) discontinue any further trading activity in the state; (ii) pay $18.5 million in monetary relief; and (iii) take steps to increase transparency, including maintaining internal controls and procedures designed to ensure that their products and services are not used by New York persons and entities, providing compliance reports to the AG, and providing a list of utilized payment processors.