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On July 31, the SEC filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York against three cryptocurrency trading platforms and their founder for allegedly conducting unregistered offerings of crypto asset securities that raised more than $1 billion in crypto assets from investors. The SEC also claimed that the founder and one of the platforms fraudulently misappropriated at least $12 million of offering proceeds to purchase luxury goods including sports cars, watches, and diamonds.
According to the SEC’s complaint, as early as 2018 the defendants began marketing what they claimed to be the first high-yield “blockchain certificate of deposit,” and promoting tokens as an investment designed to make people “rich.” It is further alleged that from at least December 2019 through November 2020, the defendants offered and sold tokens in an unregistered offering and collected more than 2.3 million cryptocurrency units through “recycling” transactions that enabled the defendants to surreptitiously gain control of more tokens.
The complaint seeks injunctive relief, disgorgement of ill-gotten gains plus prejudgment interest, penalties, and other equitable relief.
On July 20, participants in the U.S.-EU Joint Financial Regulatory Forum, including officials from the Treasury Department, Federal Reserve Board, CFTC, FDIC, SEC, and OCC, issued a joint statement regarding the ongoing dialogue that took place from June 27-28, noting that the matters discussed during the forum focused on six themes: “(1) market developments and financial stability risks; (2) regulatory developments in banking and insurance; (3) anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT); (4) sustainable finance and climate-related financial risks; (5) regulatory and supervisory cooperation in capital markets; and (6) operational resilience and digital finance.”
Participants acknowledged that the financial sector in both the EU and the U.S. is exposed to risk due to ongoing inflationary pressures, uncertainties in the global economic outlook, and geopolitical tensions as a result of Russia’s war on Ukraine. During discussions, participants emphasized the significance of strong bank prudential standards, effective resolution frameworks, and robust supervision practices. They also stressed the importance of international cooperation and continued dialogue to monitor vulnerabilities and strengthen the resilience of the financial system. Participants took note of recent developments relating to, among other things, recent bank failures, digital finance, the crypto-asset market, and the potential adoption of central bank digital currencies.
On July 17, the Financial Stability Board (FSB) released its global regulatory framework for promoting comprehensive, international consistency of regulatory and supervisory approaches for crypto-asset activities and stablecoins, while also supporting responsible innovations potentially brought by technological changes. Based on the principle of “same activity, same risk, same regulation,” FSB’s framework consists of two distinct sets of recommendations. The first set of recommendations focuses on regulating, supervising, and overseeing crypto-asset activities and markets at a high level. The recommendations establish a global regulatory baseline for promoting a framework that is technology-neutral and focuses on underlying activities and risks (FSB notes that some jurisdictions may choose to take more restrictive regulatory measures). The second set provides revised high-level recommendations specifically for the regulation, supervision, and oversight of “global stablecoin” arrangements. The recommendations also seek to promote consistent and effective regulation, supervision and oversight of global stablecoin arrangements across jurisdictions to address potential financial stability risks posed at both the domestic and international level, while further “supporting responsible innovation and providing sufficient flexibility for jurisdictions to implement domestic approaches.”
The final recommendations “take account of lessons from events of the past year in crypto-asset markets, as well as feedback received during the public consultation of the FSB’s proposals,” the announcement said, noting that central bank digital currencies are not subject to these recommendations. The FSB and sectoral standard-setting bodies (SSBs) will continue to coordinate work to promote the development of a comprehensive and coherent global regulatory framework that is appropriate for the risks associated with crypto-asset market activities, including providing more detailed guidance through SSBs and monitoring and public reporting.
On July 13, the FTC announced a proposed settlement to resolve allegations that a crypto platform engaged in unfair and deceptive acts or practices in violation of the FTC Act. The FTC also alleges that the defendants violated the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act by acquiring customer information from a financial institution regarding someone else by providing false or misleading statements. The New Jersey-based crypto company offers various cryptocurrency products and services to customers, such as interest-bearing accounts, personal loans backed by cryptocurrency deposits, and a cryptocurrency exchange. On the heels of its bankruptcy filing in July 2022, the FTC lodged a complaint in federal court alleging that three former executives falsely promised that deposits would be “safer” than bank deposits and always available for withdrawal, and that the platform posed “no risk” or “minimal risk.”
The proposed stipulated order imposes a $4.72 million judgment against the corporate defendants, which is suspended based on their financial condition. The order also bans the corporate defendants from, among other things, “advertising, marketing, promoting, offering, or distributing, or assisting in the advertising, marketing, promoting, offering, or distributing of any product or service that can be used to deposit, exchange, invest, or withdraw assets, whether directly or through an intermediary.”
Other agencies also took action against the company and its former CEO on the same day, including the SEC, which alleges the company sold unregistered crypto asset securities in one of its program offerings. The SEC’s complaint further alleges the company made false and misleading statements and engaged in market manipulation. Additionally, the DOJ unsealed an indictment charging the former CEO and the company’s former chief revenue officer with conspiracy, securities fraud, market manipulation, and wire fraud for illicitly manipulating the price of the company’s token. Additionally, the CFTC filed a civil complaint charging the company and former CEO with fraud and material misrepresentations in connection with the operation of the company’s digital asset-based finance platform. The CFTC alleges the company operated as an unregistered commodity pool operator (CPO), and its former CEO operated as an unregistered associated person of a CPO. The complaint also accuses the former CEO of violating the Commodity Exchange Act and CFTC regulations, among other things. According to the press release, the company agreed to resolve the complaint, while the former CEO is continuing litigation.
On July 3, the Hawaii governor signed HB 1027 (the “Act”) into law, amending several provisions relating to the Money Transmitters Modernization Act. The Act adds and amends several definitions. Changes include defining “money,” “receiving money or monetary value for transmission,” and “tangible net worth.” The definition of “money transmission” has also been amended to clarify its connection to business done in Hawaii, and “stored value” has been amended to mean monetary value “that represents a claim against the issuer evidenced by an electronic or digital record and that is intended and accepted for use as a means of redemption for money or monetary value, or payment for goods or services.” Stored value does not include “a payment instrument or closed loop stored value, or stored value not sold to the public but issued and distributed as part of a loyalty, rewards, or promotional program.”
Among the various exemptions, the Act also provides for an exemption for an agent of the payee to collect and process a payment from a payor to the payee for goods or services, other than money transmission services, provided certain criteria is met. Additional exemptions include certain persons acting as intermediaries, persons expressly appointed as third-party service providers to an exempt entity, and registered futures commission merchants and securities broker-dealers, among others. Anyone claiming to be exempt from licensing may be required to provide information and documentation demonstrating their qualification for the claimed exemption.
The amendments outline numerous licensing application and renewal procedures, including largely adopting the net worth, surety bond, and permissible investment requirements set forth in the Money Transmission Modernization Act. Several other states have also recently enacted provisions relating to the licensing and regulation of money transmitters (see InfoBytes coverage here and here).
The Act took effect July 1.
On July 5, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ordered a crypto platform and its CEO to each pay a civil money penalty of $141,410, as well as to jointly pay disgorgement in the same amount, in a case brought by the SEC. The SEC filed a complaint in February 2021 alleging that the defendants violated the registration provisions of the Securities Act of 1933 in connection with their offer and sale of digital asset securities. According to the SEC, the defendants sold digital asset securities to hundreds of investors, including investors based in the United States, but failed to file a registration statement for the offering. The complaint further charged the defendants with denying prospective investors the material information required for such an offering to the public. The SEC alleged that the defendants raised at least $141,410 through their offering.
Neither defendant responded to the complaint, and the court accordingly entered an order of default against the defendants, permanently enjoining the defendants from violating the registration provisions of the Securities Act. The court also referred the case to a magistrate judge to make a recommendation regarding disgorgement and penalties. The magistrate judge concluded—and the court agreed—that there were sufficient facts supporting the SEC’s allegations against the defendants and that disgorgement and civil monetary penalties were appropriate remedies. In addition to the civil monetary penalty of $141,410 per defendant, the court held the defendants jointly and severally liable for disgorgement of $141,410 plus pre-judgment interest.
On June 27, the Connecticut governor signed HB 6752 (the “Act”) to establish certain requirements for owners or operators of virtual currency kiosks in the state. Among other things, the commissioner has the authority to establish regulations, forms, and orders that govern the use of digital assets, such as virtual currencies and stablecoins, by regulated entities and individuals. When adopting, amending, or rescinding any such regulation, form, or order, the commissioner may consult with federal financial services regulators, regulators from other states, as well as other stakeholders and industry professionals to promote the consistent treatment and handling of digital assets. Definitions for “virtual currency address,” “virtual currency kiosk,” and “virtual currency wallet” have also been added.
The Act further provides that prior to engaging in an initial virtual currency transaction with a customer, the owner or operator of a virtual currency kiosk is required to provide clear and conspicuous written disclosures in English regarding the material risks associated with virtual currency. These disclosures should cover several key points, including a prominent and bold warning acknowledging that losses resulting from fraudulent or accidental transactions may not be recoverable, transactions in virtual currency are irreversible, and that the nature of virtual currency may lead to an increased risk of fraud or cyber-attack. Disclosures must also address a customer’s liability for unauthorized virtual currency transactions, a customer’s right to stop payment for a preauthorized virtual currency transfer (along with the process to initiate a stop-payment order), and circumstances in which the owner or operator will disclose information regarding the customer’s account to third parties, unless required by a court or government order. Additionally, customers must be provided upfront information relating to the amount of the transaction, any fees, expenses, and charges, and any applicable warnings. It is the responsibility of the owner or operator of a virtual currency kiosk to ensure that every customer acknowledges the receipt of all disclosures mandated by the Act, and to provide receipts upon completion of any virtual currency transaction. The Act is effective October 1.
On June 23, Representative Maxine Waters solicited viewpoints, analysis, and recommendations in letters sent to the Department of Treasury and the SEC regarding a recently introduced discussion draft of cryptocurrency framework. In her letters, Waters requested insight on how the proposed legislation would impact the federal regulators’ ability to conduct oversight, among other things. Waters specifically asked the SEC for recommended amendments to existing law, outside of the bill, to further protect investors in the digital assets space. In her letter to the Treasury, she asked for insight on how the bill would address or conflict with its policy recommendations, and if the bill or specific provisions of it are needed. Waters requested that both regulators provide a written response by June 30 and be prepared to brief the House Financial Services Committee.
Introduced on June 2, the discussion draft to which Waters referred would impact the jurisdiction of the CFTC over digital commodities and the SEC’s authority over digital assets. Committee Chairman Patrick McHenry is a co-author of the discussion draft and also the primary sponsor of newly proposed bills regarding financial statement requirements of emerging growth companies that if passed, will indirectly impact regulators’ oversight in the crypto space. HR 2608 would limit the financial information an emerging growth company would be required to submit to the SEC, among other things. Specifically, “an emerging growth company is not required to present a financial statement for any period prior to the earliest audited period of the emerging growth company in connection with its initial public offering, such as a statement for an acquired company.” Additionally, HR 2610 would amend the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, so emerging growth companies would only need to submit the last 2 years of their profit and loss statements (previously 3 years). Among other things, the bill allows an issuer of securities to submit a draft registration statement to the SEC for confidential review prior to a public filing. Both bills have passed the House.
In June, the Texas governor signed HB 1666 (the “Act”) to add practice restrictions to digital asset service providers, defined as electronic platforms that facilitate the trading of digital assets on behalf of a digital asset customer and maintain custody of the customer’s digital assets. The Act applies to a digital asset service provider conducting business in Texas that holds a money transmission license and either services more than 500 digital asset customer in the state or has at least $10 million in customer funds. Digital asset service providers are required to comply with certain provisions in order to obtain and maintain a money transmission license including provisions relating to the commingling of funds, customer access to funds, accounting requirements, annual reporting requirements. The Texas Department of Banking has the authority to suspend and revoke a license if these requirements are not met and may impose a penalty for violations of the Act. The commissioner also has examination authority and may promulgate rules to administer and enforce the Act’s provisions. The Act is effective September 1. Certain financial institutions and entities not required to hold a money transmission license are exempt.
On June 13, the Louisiana governor signed SB 185 (the “Act”), which amends provisions relating to the regulation and licensure of virtual currency businesses and is effective immediately. The Act adds and amends several definitions, including “acting in concert,” “affiliate,” “blockchain,” “mining,” “non-fungible token,” “responsible individual,” “unsafe or unsound act or practice” “virtual currency business activity,” and “virtual currency network.” With respect to licensure, the Act now requires applicants to provide a copy of their business plan, detailing, among other things, the anticipated volume of virtual currency business activities in the state, the expected number of virtual currency locations (including kiosks) in the state, and information on surety bonds and tangible net worth. Applicants must also provide audited financial statements and certificates of coverage for each liability, casualty, business interruption, and cybersecurity insurance policies (applicable policies for affiliates, agents, and control persons are required as well) with respect to an applicant’s virtual currency business activities. The Act also adds numerous licensing conditions and includes new requirements relating to background checks/criminal records/character fitness and fees and costs. Applicants will now be required to provide their financial services-related regulatory history, including information concerning money transmission, securities, banking, insurance, and mortgage-related industries. The Act extended the time that the state’s office of financial institutions has after the completion of an application to notify an applicant of its decision from 30 days to 60 days. If the office denies a license application, an advanced change of control notice, or an advanced change of responsible individual notice, an applicant has 30 days to appeal. Information on submitting annual licensing renewal applications, as well as guidance on providing appropriate disclosures is also included.
Furthermore, the Act outlines provisions to protect residents’ assets, including prohibitions on selling, transferring, and assigning virtual currency and commingling assets belonging to a resident with assets belonging to a licensee. Also stipulated within the Act are authorities granted to the commission relating to examinations, investigations, and enforcement activity, as well as the authority to coordinate and share information and conduct joint examinations with other state regulators of virtual currency business activities.