Skip to main content
Menu Icon Menu Icon
Close

InfoBytes Blog

Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

Filter

Subscribe to our InfoBytes Blog weekly newsletter and other publications for news affecting the financial services industry.

  • SEC issues $18.5 million civil penalty for unregistered digital token offering

    Securities

    On June 26, the SEC announced a settlement with two offshore entities, resolving allegations that the entities violated federal securities laws by raising more than $1.7 billion in unregistered digital token offerings. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in October 2019, the SEC obtained a temporary restraining order, halting the offerings. According to the SEC, the entities violated Sections 5(a) and 5(c) of the Securities Act by failing to register its offers and sales of securities with the SEC. Prior to the restraining order, the entities had sold approximately 2.9 million digital tokens worldwide, including more than 1 billion tokens to 39 U.S. purchasers. The settlement requires the entities to return more than $1.2 billion to investors in “ill-gotten gains” from the token offerings. Additionally, the parent company is required to pay an $18.5 million civil penalty and give proactive notice to the SEC before participating in any digital asset issuances for the next three years. The entities entered into the settlement without admitting or denying the allegations in the SEC’s complaint.

    Securities Digital Assets SEC Initial Coin Offerings Blockchain Virtual Currency

    Share page with AddThis
  • NYDFS launches virtual currency initiatives

    State Issues

    On June 24, NYDFS launched several virtual currency initiatives, including a Memorandum of Understanding with the State University of New York to launch a virtual currency program, a proposed conditional licensing framework, final guidance concerning a licensee’s ability to self-certify the use of new coins, and additional resources intended to help virtual currency market participants. Among other things, NYDFS requested comments on the proposed framework, which will allow an entity to apply for a conditional license when partnering with an existing NYDFS-authorized entity to engage in virtual currency business activity during the term of the conditional license. NYDFS seeks comments on, among other things, the types of operational, staffing, and other support the existing licensed entity should provide to the conditional licensee until it is able to obtain a full NYDFS virtual currency license of its own. Comments on the proposed framework are due August 10.

    NYDFS also announced final guidance regarding licensees’ ability to self-certify the use of new coins. As previously covered by InfoBytes, last December NYDFS issued proposed guidance regarding coin adoption or listing options for virtual currency licensees. The final guidance provides a framework for entities to create firm-specific policies for the adoption or listing of new coins through self-certification, without NYDFS’s prior approval, and establishes that NYDFS will maintain a list of coins approved for use, and their permitted uses, available for adoption and use by licensees more generally. 

    Finally, NYDFS released additional resources, including a notice of NYDFS practices designed to create “a more transparent and timely process” for evaluating virtual currency license applications, as well as new virtual currency-related Frequently Asked Questions that will be updated on an ongoing basis.

    State Issues NYDFS Virtual Currency Licensing

    Share page with AddThis
  • CFTC approves final interpretative guidance on “actual delivery” in virtual currency transactions

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On March 24, the CFTC approved final interpretive guidance concerning the term “actual delivery” in the context of retail virtual currency transactions. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the CFTC reaffirmed its belief that virtual currencies are commodities, and thus certain transactions involving these types of currencies are subject to CFTC oversight. In order to demonstrate the “actual delivery” of virtual currency in connection with retail commodity transactions, the final interpretive guidance sets forth two primary factors that market participants must demonstrate:

    • A customer has (i) the ability to secure “possession and control of the entire quantity of the commodity, whether it was purchased on margin, by using leverage, or any other financing arrangement”; and (ii) “the ability to use the entire quantity of the commodity freely in commerce (away from any particular execution venue) no later than 28 days from the date of the transaction and at all times thereafter”; and
    • “The offeror and counterparty seller (including any of their respective affiliates or other persons acting in concert with the offeror or counterparty seller on a similar basis) do not retain any interest in, legal right, or control over any of the commodity purchased on margin, leverage, or other financing arrangement at the expiration of 28 days from the date of the transaction.”

    CFTC Chairman Heath P. Tarbert stated that he anticipates a 90-day period before the CFTC begins initiating enforcement actions related to the final interpretive guidance that may not have been plainly evident in prior guidance, enforcement actions, and case law.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Federal Issues CFTC Virtual Currency Fintech Securities

    Share page with AddThis
  • Chinese nationals sanctioned and charged with laundering over $100 million in cryptocurrency from hacked exchange

    Financial Crimes

    On March 2, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Orders 13694, 13757, and 13722 against two Chinese nationals for allegedly laundering over $100 million in stolen cryptocurrency connected to a North Korean state-sponsored cyber group that hacked cryptocurrency exchanges in 2018. According to OFAC, the two individuals “materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, a malicious cyber-enabled activity” or in support of the North Korean cyber group, which was designated by OFAC last September (covered by InfoBytes here). OFAC stated that it closely coordinated its action with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation Division. As a result of the sanctions, “all property and interests in property of these individuals that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons must be blocked and reported to OFAC.” OFAC further noted that its regulations “generally prohibit all dealings by U.S. persons or within the United States (including transactions transiting the United States) that involve any property or interests in property of blocked or designated persons,” and warned foreign financial institutions that knowingly facilitating significant transactions or providing significant financial services to the designated individuals may subject them to U.S. correspondent account or payable-through sanctions.

    On the same day, the DOJ unsealed a two-count indictment against the two individuals, charging them with money laundering conspiracy and operating an unlicensed money transmitting business. The indictment claims that the individuals converted virtual currency traceable to the hack of a cryptocurrency exchange into fiat currency or prepaid Apple iTunes gift cards through accounts in various exchanges linked to Chinese banks and then transferred the currency or gift cards to customers for a fee. According to the indictment, neither individual was registered as a money transmitting business with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, which is a federal felony offense. The complaint seeks forfeiture of 113 virtual currency accounts belonging to the individuals.

    Financial Crimes Digital Assets Department of Treasury OFAC Cryptocurrency Of Interest to Non-US Persons Sanctions DOJ Anti-Money Laundering Virtual Currency

    Share page with AddThis
  • SEC commissioner proposes cryptocurrency safe harbor

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On February 6, SEC Commissioner Hester M. Pierce announced her proposal for a three-year safe harbor rule applicable to companies developing digital assets and networks. Pierce suggested that not only would the rule provide regulatory flexibility “that allows innovation to flourish,” but it would also protect investors by “requiring disclosures tailored to their needs” while still maintaining anti-fraud safeguards, allowing investors to participate in token networks of their choice. Proposed Securities Act Rule 195 would allow companies to sell or offer tokens without being subject to the Securities Act of 1933, and without the tokens being subject to the registration requirements of the Securities Act of 1934. In order to qualify for these exemptions, the proposed rule requires that a company developing a network must, among other things, (i) “intend for the network on which the token functions to reach network maturity…within three years of the date of the first token sale”; (ii) disclose key information on a freely accessible public website,” including applicable source code and descriptions of how to search and verify transactions on the network; (iii) offer and sell its tokens in order to allow access to or development of its network; (iv) make “good faith and reasonable efforts to create liquidity for users”; and (v) “file a notice of reliance” with the SEC’s EDGAR system within 15 days of the company’s first token sale made in reliance on the safe harbor. Pierce suggested that the three-year grace period for qualifying companies would allow time for the development of decentralized or functional networks, and, at the end of the three years, a successful network’s tokens would not be regulated as securities.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Digital Assets SEC Securities Cryptocurrency Safe Harbor Blockchain Virtual Currency Fintech Federal Issues

    Share page with AddThis
  • Brainard addresses FedNow and other payment issues

    Federal Issues

    On February 5, Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard spoke at the “Symposium on the Future of Payments” to discuss benefits and risks associated with the digitalization of payments and currency. Noting that some of the new players in this space are outside financial regulatory guardrails and offer new currencies that “could pose challenges in areas such as illicit finance, privacy, financial stability, and monetary policy transmission,” Brainard stressed the importance of assessing new approaches and redrawing existing parameters. Emphasizing, however, that no federal agency has broad authority over the payments systems, Brainard stated that Congress should review how retail payments are regulated in the U.S., given the growth in ways that money is able to move around without the need for a financial intermediary. Banking agencies may oversee nonbank payments “to the extent there is a bank nexus” or bank affiliation, Brainard noted, however, she cautioned that “this oversight will be quite limited to the extent that nonbank players reduce or eliminate the nexus to banks, such as when technology firms develop payments services connected to digital wallets rather than bank accounts and rely on digital currencies rather than sovereign currencies as the means of exchange.” According to Brainard, “a review of the nation’s oversight framework for retail payment systems could be helpful to identify important gaps.”

    Among other topics, Brainard stated that the Fed is currently reviewing nearly 200 comment letters concerning the proposed FedNow Service announced last summer, which would “facilitate end-to-end faster payment services, increase competition, and ensure equitable and ubiquitous access to banks of all sizes nationwide.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.) Brainard also discussed the possibility of creating a central bank digital currency (CBDC). While noting that the “prospect for rapid adoption of global stablecoin payment systems has intensified calls for central banks to issue digital currencies in order to maintain the sovereign currency as the anchor of the nation’s payment systems,” Brainard stressed the importance of taking into account private sector innovations and considering whether adding a new form of central bank liability would improve the payment system and reduce operational vulnerabilities from a safety and resilience perspective. She noted that the Fed is “conducting research and experimentation related to distributed ledger technologies and their potential use case for digital currencies, including the potential for a CBDC.”

    Federal Issues Federal Reserve Payments Digital Commerce Of Interest to Non-US Persons Nonbank Nonbank Supervision Virtual Currency Payment Systems Affiliated Business Relationship Fintech Digital Assets

    Share page with AddThis
  • NYDFS proposes to streamline coin listings for licensed virtual currency firms

    State Issues

    On December 11, NYDFS issued proposed guidance to create two “coin adoption or listing options” for virtual currency licensees. According to NYDFS, these proposed guidelines are intended to provide “regulatory clarity and efficiency, and to ensure that [NYDFS’s] approach to regulating virtual currency businesses reflects the realities of an evolving market.” Recognizing that its virtual coin licensees “have asked to list new virtual currencies . . .  in addition to those included in their initial applications to [NYDFS],” NYDFS proposes, among other things, to provide a list of coins on an NYDFS web page that have been approved for permitted use. Virtual currency licensees may choose to list any of these coins as long as the licensee provides notice to the Department and the listed coins are not modified, divided, or changed after being listed on the NYDFS webpage. The proposal would also allow licensees to create their own  “company coin-listing policy” tailored to their specific business models and risk profiles that, if approved by NYDFS would permit a licensee to self-certify the listing or adoption of new coins without prior approval. According to NYDFS Superintendent Linda Lacewell, the proposal is “designed to make it easier for those who have obtained a New York license to periodically add new coins to their existing products.” The deadline for submitting comments on the proposed guidance is January 27, 2020.

    State Issues NYDFS Virtual Currency Fintech

    Share page with AddThis
  • FinCEN director discusses CVC compliance requirements

    Financial Crimes

    On November 15, Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) Director Kenneth Blanco delivered remarks at the Chainalysis Blockchain Symposium to discuss, among other things, the agency’s focus on convertible virtual currency (CVC) and remind attendees—particularly financial institutions—of their compliance obligations. Specifically, Blanco emphasized that FinCEN applies a “technology-neutral regulatory framework to any activity that provides the same functionality at the same level of risk, regardless of its label.” As such, money transmissions denominated in CVC, Blanco stated, are money transmissions. Blanco discussed guidance issued by FinCEN in May (previously covered by InfoBytes here) that reminded persons subject to the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) how FinCEN regulations relating to money services businesses apply to certain business models involving money transmissions denominated in CVC. Blanco also highlighted the agency’s recent collaboration with the CFTC and the SEC to issue joint guidance on digital asset compliance obligations. (Previous InfoBytes coverage here.) Highlights of Blanco’s remarks include (i) suspicious activity reporting related to CVC has increased, including “filings from exchanges identifying potential unregistered, foreign-located money services businesses”; (ii) compliance with the “Funds Travel Rule” is mandatory and applies to CVC; (iii) for anti-money laundering/combating the funding of terrorism purposes, accepting and transmitting activity denominated in stablecoins falls within FinCEN's definition of “money transmission services” under the BSA; and (iv) administrators of stablecoins must register as money services businesses with FinCEN.

    Financial Crimes FinCEN Of Interest to Non-US Persons Fintech Anti-Money Laundering CVC Virtual Currency Bank Secrecy Act Money Service / Money Transmitters

    Share page with AddThis
  • FATF discusses terror finance risks, virtual currency regulation, and global AML/CFT deficiencies

    Financial Crimes

    On October 18, the U.S. Treasury Department released a public statement issued by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) following the conclusion of its plenary meeting held October 16-18. Topics discussed by attendees included Iranian terrorist financial risks, guidance related to “stablecoins” and virtual assets, and reports related to anti-money laundering/countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT). Specifically, the FATF discussed the re-imposition of countermeasures on Iran as well as enhanced due diligence strategies due to the country’s AML/CFT deficiencies. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the FATF issued a public statement last June that called upon members and urged all jurisdictions to require increased supervisory examination for branches and subsidiaries of financial institutions based in Iran. Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes Marshall Billingslea issued a statement in Treasury’s press release that “countries will be called upon to impose further financial restrictions to protect the international financial system if Iran hasn’t ratified and fully implemented the key treaties related to fighting money laundering and terrorist financing.”

    The FATF also issued a public statement to clarify that standards adopted last June (InfoBytes coverage here) apply to “stablecoins” and their service providers. Additionally, the FATF adopted changes to its methodology on how it will assess whether countries are complying with the relevant requirements. Specifically, the FATF noted in the plenary meeting outcomes that “assessments will specifically look at how well countries have implemented these measures. Countries that have already undergone their mutual evaluation must report back during their follow-up process on the actions they have taken in this area.”

    Additionally, the FATF (i) provided an updated report on measures for combating ISIL and Al-Qaeda financing; (ii) called upon all countries to apply countermeasures on North Korea due to ongoing AML/CFT and weapons of mass destruction proliferation financing risks to the international financial system; and (iii) noted it will publish reports by year end related to AML/CFT and counter-proliferation financing legal frameworks for both Russia and Turkey, along with a review of implementation measures undertaken by the countries.

    Financial Crimes Department of Treasury FATF Anti-Money Laundering Combating the Financing of Terrorism Of Interest to Non-US Persons Virtual Currency

    Share page with AddThis
  • SEC obtains temporary injunction against unregistered digital token offering

    Securities

    On October 11, the SEC announced it obtained a temporary restraining order through an emergency action filed against two offshore entities that allegedly raised more than $1.7 billion of investor funds. According to the complaint, the entities sold approximately 2.9 million digital tokens worldwide, including more than 1 billion tokens to 39 U.S. purchasers. The entities promised that the tokens would be delivered upon the launch of its own blockchain by the end of October 2019. The SEC alleges the entities violated Sections 5(a) and 5(c) of the Securities Act by failing to register its offers and sales of securities with the SEC. In addition to the emergency relief, the SEC is seeking a permanent injunction, disgorgement, and civil penalties against the offshore entities.

    Securities Digital Assets SEC Initial Coin Offerings Blockchain Virtual Currency

    Share page with AddThis

Pages