Blockchain and the Law

SEC Halts DAO’s Registration of Two Stable Tokens as Securities, Alleging Material Deficiencies in the Disclosure

On November 10, 2021, the SEC announced that it had instituted proceedings against a Wyoming-based decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) to halt its registration of two digital tokens, alleging that disclosure in the organization’s registration statement was deficient and contained materially misleading statements. (In the Matter of American CryptoFed DAO LLC, No. 3-20650 (SEC Order Nov. 10, 2021)).  Without the SEC’s latest action, the issuer’s Form 10 filing was scheduled to become effective on November 15, 2021 (sixty days from the initial filing date).  The action against American CryptoFed DAO LLC (“CryptoFed”) serves as a clear reminder that cryptocurrency remains in the SEC’s crosshairs, and token issuers must carefully consider regulatory risk when launching new products. Continue Reading

Treasury Department Steps Up Its Counter-Ransomware Efforts and Simultaneously Issues New Sanctions Compliance Guidance for Virtual Currency Industry

Recently, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), a bureau of the U.S. Treasury Department, released a report on ransomware trends stating that during the first half of 2021, 68 different ransomware variants extracted approximately $600 million from victims across the country. FinCEN identified Bitcoin as the most common ransomware-related payment method in reported transactions and noted that ransomware incidents requesting Monero (XMR) – what FinCEN refers to as an anonymity-enhanced cryptocurrency – are increasing as hackers seek to reduce the transparency and traceability of such transactions.

Given this environment, the White House and Treasury Department have sought to counter the ransomware threat by taking a number of actions, including holding a virtual two-day multinational summit on ransomware, conducting classified threat briefings for critical infrastructure executives, and establishing some expected cybersecurity thresholds for critical infrastructure providers. Compounding these efforts, the Treasury Department is leveraging existing Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) controls that already apply to fiat currency and enforcing them more deliberately toward virtual currency to combat ransomware attacks.

Two days after the White House issued its October 13, 2021 Fact Sheet detailing these anti-ransomware efforts, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued its “Sanctions Compliance Guidance for the Virtual Currency Industry” (“Guidance”). Continue Reading

U.S. Federal Regulators Turn Up the Heat on Cryptocurrency Trading Platforms

With new types of digital assets and related business on the rise, federal authorities have been busy investigating.  Recently, the SEC, FinCEN and the CFTC have imposed some notable settlements involving cryptocurrency trading platforms for allegedly operating without appropriate approvals from financial regulatory authorities.  This may be the start of the next wave of government enforcement activities.

Read the full post on Proskauer’s The Capital Commitment blog.

SEC Brings Charges against Allegedly Fraudulent Unregistered Decentralized Finance Project That Ran on the Ethereum Platform

On August 6, 2021, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced that it had charged two men, Gregory Keough and Derek Acree, and their company, Blockchain Credit Partners, doing business as DeFi Money Market (collectively, the “Respondents”), for unregistered sales of more than $30 million of securities using smart contracts and so-called “decentralized finance” (DeFi) technology and for making false and misleading statements about their business to investors in violation of the federal securities laws. (In re Blockchain Credit Partners, No. 3-20453 (SEC Order Aug. 6, 2021)).

In recent days, many eyeballs were closely watching the drama behind the cryptocurrency taxation and transparency measures contained in the Senate’s infrastructure bill  and are still digesting SEC Chair Gary Gensler’s recent remarks before the Aspen Security Forum that offered some clues on where the agency will go with respect to cryptocurrency regulation and enforcement. Meanwhile, the SEC continued its enforcement efforts to shut down what it deems fraudulent and unregistered securities offerings involving digital assets. After ceasing operations in February 2021, Respondents consented to a cease-and-desist order that includes disgorgement totaling almost $13 million and civil penalties of $125,000 each of the individual Respondents.  The SEC’s order provides another example of how the now-familiar investment contract analysis applies to tokens, with some additional insights on the impact of voting rights under the Howey test and a further analysis of tokens as notes. Continue Reading

SEC Chair’s Remarks Suggest Crypto is the “Wild West,” Signaling Future Enforcement and Desire for Enhanced Regulatory Authority

Gary Gensler, Chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), attracted a lot of attention following his remarks at the Aspen Security Forum earlier this month, asking Congress for more authority “to write rules for and attach guardrails to crypto trading and lending” and opining that for the “volatile” industry to truly prosper it needs more investor and consumer protections.  But make no mistake: Gensler is not waiting around for Congress to act.  In his remarks, Gensler highlighted various areas where the SEC currently has jurisdiction and emphasized that “we have taken and will continue to take our authorities as far as they go.” Continue Reading

When is a Token More Than a Token? SEC Settlement over Anti-Touting Provision Raises Familiar Questions

On July 14, 2021, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) settled an action against the operator of a platform that promoted current and upcoming digital token offerings for violations of the anti-touting provision of the Securities Act of 1933.  In the Matter of Blotics Ltd. f/d/b/a Coinschedule Ltd. (July 14, 2021).  The SEC claimed that the primary source of revenue for the platform operator, Coinschedule Ltd., was compensation received from issuers that paid to list, market, and rate their token offerings on the platform. The SEC charged that Coinschedule’s failure to disclose the consideration it received from token issuers for promoting their token offerings was a violation of the anti-touting provisions (Section 17(b)) of the Securities Act.  The respondent, Blotics Ltd. (successor to Coinschedule Ltd.), was ordered to pay disgorgement of $43,000, plus interest, and a civil penalty of $154,434.

The settlement order does not shed any light on when a digital token is a security.  The anti-touting provisions of Section 17(b) apply only if the instrument being touted is a security, and the order states that some portion of the digital tokens offered and sold on the Coinschedule platform were securities in the form of investment contracts.  However the settlement order does not address how many or which of the 2,500 individual token offerings profiled on the Coinschedule platform involved securities, providing no analysis and only a conclusory statement that “[t]he digital tokens publicized by Coinschedule included those that were offered and sold as investment contracts, which are securities pursuant to Section 2(a)(1) of the Securities Act.” Continue Reading

DOJ Tax Division Shows Sustained Interest in Cryptocurrency

On May 5, 2021, another federal district court, this time for the Northern District of California, permitted the IRS to proceed with a John Doe summons very similar to the one served on Circle last month (the subject of a recent post).  This time, the Summons seeks information on customers of a San Francisco-headquartered digital currency exchange company called Payward Ventures Inc. and Subsidiaries, d/b/a Kraken.  As in the Circle case, the Summons only applies to customers who have engaged in a total of $20,000 or more in transactions with the company between 2016 and 2020.  Also like in Circle, thus far, DOJ is not alleging any wrongdoing by Kraken or its customers.

Read the full post on our Corporate Defense and Disputes blog.

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