In a terse press release issued July 26, 2018, the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (“FINMA”) announced that it has launched enforcement proceedings against an ICO issuer based on evidence that the company may have “breached financial market law.” According to FINMA, the proceedings focus in particular on possible breaches of Swiss banking law resulting from the potentially unauthorized acceptance of public deposits. FINMA noted that, in the context of its ICO, the subject company “accepted funds amounting to approximately one hundred million francs from more than 30,000 investors in return for issuing EVN tokens in a bond-like form.” Continue Reading Switzerland Announces ICO Enforcement Action
In a lengthy order issued on July 26, 2018, by a 3-1 vote the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) denied an application by the CBOE Bats BZX Exchange, Inc., (“BZX”) seeking to list and trade shares of the Winklevoss Bitcoin Trust. The denial marks the culmination of a two-year effort by the Winklevoss brothers to launch the first bitcoin-based exchange-traded fund, or ETF, in the United States. In denying the application, the SEC cited various concerns about the lack of oversight in the underlying bitcoin market, and ruled that BZX did not demonstrate that bitcoin and bitcoin markets are uniquely resistant to manipulation, or that alternative means of detecting and deterring fraud and manipulation are sufficient in the absence of a surveillance-sharing agreement with a significant, regulated market related to bitcoin. Continue Reading SEC Denies Application for Bitcoin ETF
On July 16, 2018, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) issued a customer advisory on digital tokens. Citing various studies and reports, the advisory identified high rates of fraud in some initial coin offerings, and warned investors to be on the lookout for the following risks associated with investing in digital tokens:
- The potential for forks in open-source applications that could split away market participants, increase the number of digital coins or make coins obsolete.
- Decrease in mining or validation costs (if price is tied to those factors).
- Acceptance of other currencies, coins or tokens for offered goods and services.
- The link between the value of a digital coin or token and the offered product or service.
- Adoption of the digital coin or token as a broad medium of exchange or store of value.
- Future competitors or technological changes that could disrupt the underlying business.
- Future demand or uses for an application, network, product or service.
- Liquidity in the market for a specific digital coin or token.
- Changes to the underlying technology that could devalue digital coins or tokens.
- Risk of theft from hacking.
The CFTC has largely ceded enforcement authority for digital tokens that are securities to the Securities and Exchange Commission, but the advisory reminds readers that “digital tokens and coins can also be derivatives or commodities, depending on how they are structured.”
On July 11, 2018, in an emergency cease and desist order, the Texas securities commissioner took action against several individuals and affiliated companies based in Utah to halt the offering of unregistered cryptocurrency mining investments to Texas residents. The order alleges numerous violations of the registration and antifraud provisions of the Texas Securities Act. Continue Reading Texas Shuts Down Offering of Interests in Cryptocurrency Mining Businesses
On June 25, 2018, a magistrate judge of the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Florida released a report finding that cryptocurrency tokens issued in an initial coin offering (“ICO”) by the startup company, Centra Tech, are securities under the federal securities laws. This report was released in connection with a class action lawsuit filed by former investors claiming that Centra Tech and its founders violated the federal securities laws through a token sale that ultimately raised $30 million in cryptocurrencies. The former investors allege that the sale of the Centra Tech tokens was an unregistered offer and the sale of securities was in violation of the Securities Act of 1933 (“Securities Act”). Continue Reading U.S. Judge Finds That Centra Tech Token Is a Security
While ICO issuers have understandably been focused recently on the latest pronouncements from the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and other regulators, a second group of potential litigants has largely avoided notice. Seeing a potential bonanza, private plaintiffs law firms have become aggressive in soliciting disgruntled investors as clients and filing lawsuits against issuers of digital tokens. Continue Reading Private Plaintiff Lawyers Are Actively Targeting ICOs
The Securities Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and Commodities Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) are not the only U.S. government agencies exerting regulatory jurisdiction over initial coin offerings (“ICOs”) and cryptocurrencies. In an article written by Hunton Andrews Kurth lawyers in Crowdfund Insider, Richard Garabedian and Shaswat Das discuss the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network’s (“FinCEN’s”) guidance, enforcement actions and related compliance issues. In 2013, FinCEN, a bureau of the U.S. Department of Treasury, began issuing guidance on virtual currency, explicitly stating that virtual currency exchangers and administrators are money transmitters and must comply with the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”) and related regulations. Most recently, on February 13, 2018, FinCEN sent a letter to U.S. Senator Ron Wyden that sought to clarify its role as a regulator of virtual currencies and ICOs. In the letter, FinCEN asserted that individuals involved in certain ICOs must register as money services businesses (“MSBs”) and consequently comply with the corresponding BSA and anti-money laundering (“AML”) compliance requirements. The FinCEN letter notes that ICOs that are otherwise regulated by the SEC or CFTC should comply with the AML and related requirements imposed by those agencies. Despite this attempt at clarifying the state of regulatory play for ICOs and virtual currencies, federal and state MSB registration requirements remain fluid and should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis for ICOs and those issuing cryptocurrencies. Continue Reading AML and Sanctions Compliance Issues Facing Cryptocurrency Companies
On June 14, 2018, Bill Hinman, Director of the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance, delivered a speech to an industry conference providing additional insights into how SEC staff analyze crypto assets under the Supreme Court’s Howey test. Since issuing the DAO Report nearly one year ago, the SEC has largely avoided providing additional guidance on the rapidly evolving world of ICOs. Hinman’s remarks represent a welcome departure from this position and provide critical insights into several areas of interest to the crypto community. Continue Reading Senior SEC Official Discusses Token Offerings
Last week, SEC Chairman Jay Clayton gave an interview during which he provided his thoughts on initial coin offerings (“ICOs”) and cryptocurrencies. He applauded the “incredible promise” of distributed ledger technology as a driver of efficiencies, and also attempted to clarify the SEC’s position on its role in regulating ICOs and token offerings. Continue Reading SEC Chairman Jay Clayton Interviewed on ICOs and Cryptocurrencies
2018 continues to be a busy year for initial coin offerings, notwithstanding recent announcements from capital markets regulators in the US. In this alert, we chronicled developments at the Securities and Exchange Commission, Commodity Futures Trading Commission, state securities regulators and others. And here we discussed recent SEC guidance on trading platforms for crypto assets. Although the rules seem to be multiplying exponentially, it is still possible to structure and complete an ICO that is legally compliant.