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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations


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  • SEC opens comment period on defining “exchange”

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On April 14, the SEC reopened the comment period on proposed amendments to the statutory definition of “exchange” under Exchange Act rule 3b-16, which now includes systems that facilitate the trading of crypto asset securities. (See also SEC fact sheet here.) The comment period was reopened in response to feedback requesting information about how existing rules and the proposed amendments would apply to systems that trade crypto asset securities and meet the proposed definition of an exchange, or to trading systems that use distributed ledger or blockchain technology, including such systems characterized as decentralized finance (DeFi). The SEC also provided supplement information and economic analysis for systems that would now fall under the new, proposed definition of exchange. The reopened comment period allows an opportunity for interested persons to analyze and comment on the proposed amendments in light of the supplemental information. Comments are due 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.

    “[G]iven how crypto trading platforms operate, many of them currently are exchanges, regardless of the reopening release we’re considering today,” SEC Chair Gary Gensler said. “These platforms match orders of multiple buyers and sellers of crypto securities using established, non-discretionary methods. That’s the definition of an exchange—and today, most crypto trading platforms meet it. That’s the case regardless of whether they call themselves centralized or decentralized.” He added that crypto-market investors must receive the same protections that the securities laws afford to all other markets. Commissioners Mark T. Uyeda and Hester M. Peirce voted against reopening the comment period. Uyeda cautioned against expanding the definition of an “exchange” in an “ambiguous manner,” saying it could “suppress further beneficial innovation.” Peirce also dissented, arguing that the proposal stretches the statutory definition of an “exchange” beyond a reasonable reading in an attempt to “reach a poorly defined set of activities with no evidence that investors will benefit.”

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Federal Issues Digital Assets Securities SEC Securities Exchange Act Decentralized Finance Blockchain Cryptocurrency Fintech

  • SEC proposes to expand EDGAR filings

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On March 22, the SEC proposed amendments intended to “modernize” filing procedures through the use of electronic filings on EDGAR using structured data as appropriate. (See also SEC fact sheet here.) Currently, registrants must submit many forms required by the Securities Exchange Act, as well as other materials and submissions, in paper form. The proposed rule would require covered self-regulatory organizations (SROs) to submit these filings electronically, and would apply to national securities exchanges, national securities associations, clearing agencies, broker-dealers, security-based swap dealers, and major security-based swap participants. The proposed rule also would require SROs to make certain submissions in a structured, machine-readable data language, and would amend certain provisions regarding the Financial and Operational Combined Uniform Single Report to harmonize it with other rules, make technical corrections, and provide clarifications. Additionally, the announcement noted that the proposed rule would require, in certain circumstances, withdrawal of notices “filed in connection with an exception to counting certain dealing transactions toward determining whether a person is a security-based swap dealer.” Comments on the proposed rule will be accepted 30 days after publication in the Federal Register or until May 22, whichever is later.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Federal Issues SEC Securities EDGAR Securities Exchange Act

  • Software company to pay $3 million to SEC for misleading disclosures about ransomware attack


    On March 9, the SEC charged a South Carolina-based donor data management software company with allegedly making materially misleading disclosures about a 2020 ransomware attack. According to the SEC’s cease-and-desist order, the company issued statements that the ransomware attack did not affect donor bank account information or social security numbers. It was later revealed that the attacker had accessed and exfiltrated the unencrypted sensitive information. However, the SEC maintained that due to the company’s alleged failure to maintain disclosure controls and procedures, employees did not inform senior management responsible for public disclosures. As a result, the company’s quarterly report filed with the SEC allegedly omitted material information about the scope of the attack and “misleadingly characterized the risk of exfiltration of such sensitive donor information as hypothetical,” the SEC said. The company did not admit or deny the SEC’s findings, but agreed to pay a $3 million civil penalty and said it would cease and desist from committing violations of the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.

    Securities SEC Enforcement Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security Ransomware Securities Act Securities Exchange Act

  • SEC fines gaming company $4 million as successor to a company charged with FCPA violations


    On March 6, the SEC announced that an Ireland-based global gaming and sports betting company, as successor-in-interest to a company it acquired in 2020 (the “acquired company”), agreed to pay a $4 million civil money penalty to settle claims that the acquired company violated the books and records and internal accounting controls provisions of the FCPA by using third-party consultants in Russia. According to the SEC’s order, the acquired company operated several gaming brands, including an online poker website. The SEC said that between May 26, 2015 and May 15, 2020, while the acquired company’s shares were registered with the SEC, it paid roughly $8.9 million to consultants in Russia in an effort to legalize poker in the country. During this time period, the SEC explained, the acquired company lacked sufficient internal accounting controls over its Russian operations with respect to third-party consultants, and failed to “consistently make and keep accurate books and records regarding its consultant payments in Russia.” Many of these third-party consultants, the SEC said, were “retained without adequate due diligence or written contracts, and paid without adequate proof of services.” The order indicated that certain payments were inaccurately recorded as lobbying fees, and that some payments went towards reimbursements for gifts given to individuals, including Russian government officials, and to a Russian state agency responsible for administering internet censorship filters. The SEC charged the Ireland company, as successor-in-interest to the acquired company, with violating Sections 13(b)(2)(A) and 13(b)(2)(B) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The resolution requires the Ireland company, which neither admitted nor denied the allegations, to pay a $4 million civil money penalty. The SEC recognized the Ireland company’s cooperation and remedial efforts.

    Securities Financial Crimes SEC FCPA Bribery Of Interest to Non-US Persons Securities Exchange Act

  • SEC brings charges in connection with alleged $45 million crypto fraud


    On January 4, the SEC filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan against a cryptocurrency operation and connected individuals and entities (collectively, defendants), alleging that they were involved in a fraudulent scheme that generated more than $45 million. According to the complaint, the defendants falsely claimed that investors could generate extravagant returns by investing in a blockchain technology that would be sold for trillions of dollars. More specifically, from at least 2019 to 2022, the defendants allegedly disseminated false and misleading statements to investors regarding the purported value of the blockchain technology, the parties involved in the supposed sale of the blockchain technology, and the use of investment proceeds. The complaint further alleges that the defendants collectively misappropriated millions of dollars of investor funds for personal use. These activities violated the antifraud and registration provisions of the Securities Act and Exchange Act and other requirements, according to the SEC. The SEC’s complaint seeks disgorgement plus pre-judgment interest, penalties, and permanent injunctions against all defendants, and officer and director bars against the individuals, in addition to a conduct-based injunction against one of the individuals.

    Securities SEC Enforcement Digital Assets Courts Securities Exchange Act Cryptocurrency Blockchain

  • CFTC, DOJ, SEC file charges in crypto fraud scheme

    Federal Issues

    On December 13, the SEC filed a complaint against the former CEO/co-founder (defendant) of a collapsed crypto exchange for allegedly orchestrating a scheme to defraud equity investors. According to the SEC, from May 2019 to November 2022, the defendant raised over $1.8 billion from investors who bought an equity stake in his company in part because they believed his representations that the platform had “top-notch, sophisticated automated risk measures in place.” The complaint alleged, among other things, that the defendant orchestrated “a massive, years-long fraud” to conceal (i) the undisclosed diversion of customers’ funds to the defendant’s privately-held crypto hedge fund; (ii) the undisclosed special treatment afforded to the hedge fund on the company platform, including providing it with a virtually unlimited “line of credit” funded by the platform’s customers; and (iii) the undisclosed risk stemming from the company’s exposure to the hedge fund’s significant holdings of overvalued, illiquid assets, such as the platform-affiliated tokens. The complaint further alleged that the defendant used commingled funds at his hedge fund to make undisclosed venture investments, purchase lavish real estate purchases, and give large political donations. The SEC’s complaint charged the defendant with violating the anti-fraud provisions of the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The SEC is seeking injunctions against future securities law violations; an injunction that prohibits the defendant from participating in the issuance, purchase, offer, or sale of any securities, except for his own personal account; disgorgement of his ill-gotten gains; a civil penalty; and an officer and director bar.

    The defendant was also indicted by a grand jury in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on wire fraud, commodities fraud, securities fraud, money laundering, and campaign finance charges.

    The CFTC also filed a complaint against the former CEO/co-founder, in addition to the collapsed crypto exchange and the hedge fund for making material misrepresentations in connection with the sale of digital commodities in interstate commerce. Specifically, the CFTC alleged that the exchange’s executives, at the former CEO’s direction, created a number of exceptions to benefit his hedge fund, including adding features in the underlying code to permit the hedge fund to “maintain an essentially unlimited line of credit” on the trading platform through an “allow negative flag,” which allowed the hedge fund to withdraw billions of dollars in customer assets from the company. The CFTC is seeking restitution, disgorgement, civil monetary penalties, permanent trading and registration bans, and a permanent injunction against further violations of the Commodity Exchange Act and CFTC regulations, as charged.

    Later, on December 21, the SEC and CFTC filed charges (see here and here) against the former CEO of the hedge fund and the former chief technology officer of the collapsed crypto exchange for their roles in the scheme to defraud equity investors. The agencies stated that investigations into other securities law violations and into other entities and persons relating to the alleged misconduct are ongoing.

    Federal Issues Digital Assets Securities SEC CFTC DOJ Cryptocurrency Enforcement Securities Act Securities Exchange Act Commodity Exchange Act Fraud

  • DOJ, SEC reach $460 million FCPA settlement with global technology company

    Financial Crimes

    On December 2, the DOJ announced that it fined a Swiss-based global technology company $315 million to settle criminal charges related to allegations that, from 2015 to 2017, the company engaged in a bribery scheme with an electricity provider owned by the South African government. As part of the scheme, the company arranged to use a third party to pay a high-ranking South African government official at the electricity provider in exchange for awarding business to the global technology company. The settlement was the DOJ’s first coordinated resolution with authorities in South Africa. Authorities in South Africa separately brought corruption charges against the high-ranking South African government official. In addition to the financial penalty, the company entered into a three-year deferred prosecution agreement in connection with a criminal information charging the company with conspiracy to violate the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions, conspiracy to violate the FCPA’s books and records provisions, and substantive violations of the FCPA. Two of the company’s subsidiaries located in Switzerland and South Africa each pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA.

    The next day on December 3, the SEC announced that the company agreed to pay $75 million to settle the SEC’s claims. The company consented to the SEC’s cease-and-desist order which stated that it violated the anti-bribery, books and records, and internal accounting controls provisions of the FCPA and the Exchange Act. The SEC also ordered the company to pay more than $72 million in disgorgement. However, the Commission deemed the disgorgement order satisfied by the company’s reimbursement of its ill-gotten gains to the South African government as part of an earlier civil settlement based largely on the same underlying facts as the SEC’s action.

    Financial Crimes Securities SEC DOJ Enforcement Securities Exchange Act Bribery FCPA Of Interest to Non-US Persons

  • SEC charges investment operation targeting Muslim community


    On November 2, the SEC filed a complaint against the founder of a capital investment company, alleging that the defendant targeted Muslim investors in a multimillion dollar fraudulent scheme. According to the complaint, the defendant started the company with the intention of providing purported investment expertise to members of the New York metropolitan area’s Muslim community. The defendant allegedly “offered investors promissory notes that claimed to offer guaranteed, significant returns on investments” in the company. The SEC claimed the defendant received roughly $8 million from investors by promising that the funds would be invested in Quran-compliant investments. However, the defendant allegedly misappropriated all of the funds to either make Ponzi-like payments to investors or to be used for his own personal use, including purchasing luxury vehicles and expensive jewelry or paying gambling debts. The complaint charges the defendant with violations of the antifraud provisions of the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The SEC’s announcement noted that the defendant consented to the entry of a judgment (subject to court approval) that imposes a permanent injunction and monetary relief to be determined at a later date. Concurrently, in a parallel action involving the same conduct, the DOJ announced criminal charges against the defendant who pleaded guilty to wire fraud, wire fraud conspiracy, and money laundering.

    Securities SEC Enforcement Fraud Courts DOJ Securities Act Securities Exchange Act

  • SEC files charges against crypto-asset seminar operation


    On September 19, the SEC filed a complaint against a two individuals and the companies they controlled (collectively, “defendants”) in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas for allegedly operating an on-going fraudulent and unregistered crypto-asset offering targeting Latino investors. According to the SEC, the defendants allegedly raised more than $12 million from over 5,000 investors who paid for seminars to learn how to build wealth through crypto-asset trading. However, the SEC claimed that one of the individual defendants—who founded the company and actually had no education or training in investments or crypto assets—used the seminars to solicit investors to give their money to the company and then supposedly used the funds to conduct crypto asset and foreign exchange trading. In total, the SEC alleged the individual defendants made roughly $2.7 million in Ponzi payments, diverting nearly $8 million for their own personal use. The complaint charges the defendants with violating, or aiding and abetting violations of, the antifraud provisions of the Securities Act of 1933, the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, and the Securities Act. The company’s founder is also charged with violating the Investment Advisers Act of 1940. The complaint seeks a permanent injunction against the defendants, civil penalties, disgorgement of ill-gotten gains with prejudgment interest, and bars. The SEC stated in its announcement that, at the Commission’s request, the court issued a temporary restraining order to stop the offering, in addition to temporary orders freezing assets and granting additional emergency relief.

    Securities Courts Digital Assets SEC Enforcement Cryptocurrency Fraud Securities Act Securities Exchange Act Investment Advisers Act

  • SEC charges bank holding company with over-issuance of securities


    On September 29, the SEC announced a cease and desist order against a London-based bank holding company and its subsidiary (collectively, “respondents”) for engaging in unregistered offers and the sale of securities as a result of a failure to implement internal controls to track such transactions. According to the SEC’s order, after the SEC settled an action against an affiliate of the subsidiary, the subsidiary lost its status as a well-known seasoned issuer. As a result, it had to quantify the total number of securities that it anticipated offering and selling and pay registration fees for those offerings upon the filing of a new registration statement. The SEC further noted that, given this requirement, the subsidiary’s “personnel understood the consequences of this status change, including that they should consider implementing a mechanism to track offers and sales of securities off any shelf, relative to the registered amount of securities available to be offered or sold off that shelf, in order to ensure that no securities in excess of the amount registered were offered or sold.” However, according to the SEC, no internal controls were established. According to the SEC’s order, as a result of this failure, the subsidiary allegedly offered and sold approximately $17.7 billion of securities in unregistered transactions. The SEC noted that the subsidiary self-reported its over-issuances to regulators, voluntarily provided documents during the SEC investigation, and subsequently commenced a rescission offer. The SEC found that the subsidiary violated provisions of the Securities Act of 1933 and that both respondents violated provisions of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings, the respondents agreed to cease-and-desist from violating the charged provisions and to comply with certain undertakings designed to effect compliance with Section 5 of the Securities Act, in addition to paying the $200 million civil penalty. The subsidiary also agreed to pay disgorgement of $149 million and prejudgment interest of $11 million deemed satisfied by its offer of rescission.

    Securities Enforcement SEC Bank Holding Companies Securities Act Securities Exchange Act


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