On October 28, 2019, staff in the SEC’s Division of Trading and Markets provided a no-action letter to Paxos Trust Company, LLC permitting it to pilot a blockchain-based clearance and settlement platform for a limited number of U.S.-listed equity securities for 24 months. The staff’s action enables the further development and commercialization of a blockchain platform for clearing and settling U.S. securities trades.
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A recent speech by Fed Governor Lael Brainard entitled “Digital Currencies, Stablecoins, and the Evolving Payments Landscape” discusses a number of topics of interest to the crypto community, including the development of stablecoins and their potential impact on the global payments system. In particular, Governor Brainard opined that the widespread adoption of stablecoins could have implications for the role of central banks and monetary policy.
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On October 3, 3019, the Liechtenstein Parliament unanimously approved the Token and TT Service Provider Act (the Act). The Act, sometimes referred to as “TVTG” based on its German acronym, provides a comprehensive framework regulating the issuance, storage and conveyance of blockchain tokens in Liechtenstein. According to Liechtenstein’s embassy in Washington, Parliament’s approval began a 30-day public comment period that runs through November 8, 2019. If there is no adverse public comment by the citizens of Liechtenstein, the embassy anticipates that the Act will take effect soon thereafter.
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On October 9, 2019, the Internal Revenue Service (Service) released Revenue Ruling 2019-24. The revenue ruling considers whether taxpayers should realize gross income under two common scenarios involving cryptocurrency and includes a number of illustrative examples. The Service concluded that a so-called “hard fork” on a cryptocurrency blockchain does not create taxable income if a taxpayer does not subsequently receive new units of cryptocurrency, but taxable ordinary income is generated by “airdrops” following a hard fork that delivers new units of cryptocurrency to a taxpayer.
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On September 19, 2019, the House of Representatives by voice vote approved H.R. 2613, a bipartisan bill entitled the “Advancing Innovation to Assist Law Enforcement Act.” The bill instructs the director of FinCEN to study and prepare a report to Congress on emerging technologies, including blockchain, in an effort to combat money laundering and other forms of illicit finance. Though somewhat modest in scope, the bill is among the first to be approved by one of the chambers of Congress on the topic of blockchain.
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On September 24, 2019, the House Financial Services Committee held an oversight hearing entitled “Oversight of the Securities and Exchange Commission: Wall Street’s Cop on the Beat” in which each of the five SEC commissioners were called as witnesses. While the hearing covered a wide range of issues related to securities regulation and enforcement, it also touched on a number of topics of particular interest to crypto and blockchain businesses, including the application of the securities laws to digital assets.
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On September 13, 2019, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions targeting three North Korean state-sponsored malicious cyber groups responsible for North Korea’s malicious cyber activity on critical infrastructure. As part of the sanctions, OFAC alleges that the entities conducted successful operations targeting more than 16 organizations across 11 countries, including the SWIFT messaging system, financial institutions and cryptocurrency exchanges.
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As we first reported in April, the New York Attorney General has been locked in a complicated dispute with a virtual currency exchange operator over the authority of the Attorney General to investigate its activities.  In its defense in court proceedings, the crypto exchange asserted that the Attorney General lacked both personal jurisdiction and subject matter jurisdiction over it because of its efforts to avoid doing business in New York state. In a ruling ultimately siding with the Attorney General, a New York trial court on August 19 permitted the regulatory investigation to continue. The judge’s opinion underscores the difficulty faced by crypto entrepreneurs seeking to avoid contacts with U.S. customers in order to avoid the jurisdiction of U.S. courts and regulators.
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