On March 24, 2020, federal Judge P. Kevin Castel issued a long-anticipated opinion in the SEC’s ongoing efforts to block Telegram’s $1.7 billion initial coin offering. Judge Castel found that Telegram’s planned distribution of Gram tokens constitutes a securities offering under federal law for which no exemption from registration is available. He therefore granted the SEC a preliminary injunction blocking Telegram from distributing its Gram tokens to investors.
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On February 20, 2020, the federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) announced a Bank Secrecy Act enforcement action against a federal savings bank (Bank). This is one of the first, if not the first, public enforcement actions against a bank related to banking cryptocurrency-related operations. Banks that currently provide banking services to cryptocurrency-related companies, or are considering providing banking services to such companies in the future, should carefully review this enforcement action and consider where the quality of the bank’s AML compliance program is commensurate with these high-risk customers.
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The US Treasury Department recently announced its 2020 National Strategy for Combating Terrorist and Other Illicit Financing (the 2020 Strategy). The 2020 Strategy identifies the US government’s top anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism priorities and serves as a roadmap of Treasury’s plan to stay ahead of evolving illicit finance threats. Digital assets feature heavily in the 2020 Strategy.
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At the conclusion of its February meeting in Riyadh, the Group of Twenty (G20) Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors issued a communiqué discussing a wide range of topics, including digital assets and stablecoins. The G20 reiterated its view that technological innovations can deliver significant benefits to the financial system and the broader economy.
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As has been widely reported, SEC Commissioner Hester Peirce (aka “Crypto Mom”) recently delivered a thoughtful speech entitled “Running on Empty: A Proposal to Fill the Gap Between Regulation and Decentralization,” including with it a model rule on digital token sales. The model rule has made waves in the crypto community because it proposes a three-year safe harbor from SEC registration while a development team builds out a functional, decentralized network.
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On January 1, the Blockchain Technology Act went into effect in the state of Illinois, creating a statewide framework for the use of blockchain technology and blockchain based contracts, or “smart contracts.” Similar to other recent state legislation addressing the use of blockchain and smart contracts, the Act recognizes the validity of smart contracts and blockchain based records and signatures in commerce. The legislation also prevents smart contracts both from being denied legal effect and from being excluded as evidence in a legal proceeding solely because a blockchain was used to create, store or verify the contract.
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In connection with its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, on January 24, 2020, the World Economic Forum announced the creation of a Global Consortium for Digital Currency Governance. The initiative is touted as the first of its kind “to bring together leading companies, financial institutions, government representatives, technical experts, academics, international organizations, NGOs and members of the Forum’s communities on a global level.” The consortium will focus its efforts on developing solutions for what it describes as a fragmented regulatory system.
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In 2019, Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP’s structured finance and securitization team closed a number of substantial transactions, developed novel structures for our clients and advised on important tax, regulatory and other industry developments, including emerging uses of blockchain solutions.
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