• By Amy Castor and David Gerard

“All financial complexity is a footnote to ‘don’t hand all your money to some random guy promising high returns.’”

Matt Levine on Celsius Network

Coinbase takes on the SEC

Crypto bitterly resents any possible regulation. It’s an industry of proud scofflaws. This presents some difficulties to regulators, who are used to financial firms that listen to them.

Coinbase keeps demanding “regulatory clarity.” What this means is that they want special permission to do things that are presently just illegal.

FTX blew up spectacularly in November, and its CEO and top execs were indicted for fraud. In the wake of FTX’s collapse, the SEC has the political backing it needs to get much more serious about making crypto exchanges comply with rules that have always been there.

In the meantime, the SEC’s lack of jackbooted statist enforcement over the last decade has allowed Coinbase to grow larger and larger — which means that Coinbase has bigger guns to challenge the regulator with.

In July 2022, Coinbase petitioned the SEC to make a clear framework for crypto asset trading. Coinbase handwaved that putting unregistered securities on a blockchain was “a paradigm shift from existing market practices, rendering many of the Commission rules that govern the offer, sale, trading, custody, and clearing of traditional assets both incomplete and unsuitable for securities in this market.” [Petition, 2022, PDF]

The SEC didn’t respond — because this claim is just stupid — and in the time since have stated repeatedly that they think the Howey test of what is a security in the US is just fine.

In March, the SEC sent Coinbase a Wells notice saying that they were going to file an enforcement action. Coinbase promptly filed a petition for a writ of mandamus to try to force the SEC to respond to their July 2022 letter. [CNBC; Writ of Mandamus, PDF]

The petition pounds on the table and cites an extensive range of blog posts as legal authorities. The introduction sets the tone:

“Contrary to the prior actions and statements of the Commission and its officials, the SEC Chair now claims that it is ‘clear’ the securities laws already apply to digital assets and platforms.”

Never mind the DAO Report from 2017, let alone the past century of judicial precedent that securities laws apply to what you do, not what you call the assets you are trading. A security is a security is a security.

And the SEC has been very clear — it’s saying that most crypto tokens are securities. There are rules for trading in those securities, and Coinbase needs to comply — or stop trading in them.

As Gary Gensler’s latest dad joke video puts it: “Many crypto platforms are just pretending that these investment contracts that they offer are more like goldfish … It’s not a lack of regulatory clarity.” [Twitter, video]

Coinbase pivots to video

Coinbase has also put up its response to the SEC’s Wells notice. [Response, PDF]

The exchange claims that the SEC approving the company’s S-1 filing to go public surely constitutes approval of all its possible business lines — a claim that crypto pumpers have been promoting heavily. This theory is, in legal jargon, on crack.

Coinbase also confidently asserts that none of what’s listed on the exchange is a security. None of it! Coinbase’s theory is that a given asset is a security only if and when it’s determined in court to be one — despite extensive legal precedent that something can be a security before it’s registered or has come to the SEC’s attention.

It’s just not possible to run a digital assets exchange trading in securities that follow SEC rules, Coinbase pleads. Apparently, this is a problem for the SEC, not for the violators.

Coinbase has threatened the SEC with a scorched earth legal battle: “if the Commission pursues this matter, it will face a well-resourced adversary that will necessarily be motivated to exhaust all avenues” — much as Ripple has been. We think this is unlikely to get the SEC to back down.

So confident is Coinbase in its legal position in the Wells notice that it’s making videos to reassure its user base that all is well. This just makes Coinbase look desperate and clownish — winners don’t make promotional videos for their legal filings. [YouTube]

Why is Coinbase so insistent on trading unregistered securities? Because Coinbase’s business is in deep trouble. Trading volume on the exchange is through the floor — it’s dropped to $26.8 billion so far in April. March was $49 billion in total. This is the lowest volume on the exchange since the crypto crash. [FT]

The Voyager sinks

Binance US pulled out of its $1 billion purchase of Voyager Digital. On Tuesday, April 25, Binance sent Voyager a letter canceling the sale. [Twitter; Doc 1345, PDF]

Voyager will now proceed to liquidation — as it probably should have when it first declared bankruptcy in July 2022 — and give the creditors whatever’s left.

Voyager’s lawyers said in a Wednesday hearing that they were surprised by the letter — Binance was still talking with them about the deal up to the previous Friday. Likely recoveries for Voyager creditors are in the range of 40% to 65%. [CoinDesk]

Imagine how much creditors’ money Voyager could have saved on expensive bankruptcy professionals if they’d just gone straight for liquidation nine months ago. Recoveries would have been on the order of 70%.

The ongoing good news for Terra-Luna

Terraform Labs has answered the SEC’s February suit, which claims that the collapsed UST stablecoin and its free-floating twin LUNA were offered as securities. The SEC’s case asserts that UST was part of Terraform’s Anchor Protocol investment scheme because you had to first buy UST to get into Anchor.

Terraform wants the suit dismissed on the grounds that digital assets can’t be securities — good luck with that one, guys! — and even if they can, UST was a stablecoin, and therefore can’t be a security. Terraform’s motion appears to be written in crayon. [Notice of motion, PDF; Memorandum, PDF

Crypto VC firm Paradigm submitted an amicus brief in support of Terraform’s very stupid theory. Paradigm argues that SEC’s premise for treating stablecoins as securities would “radically and impermissibly” expand the definition of a security. [Amicus, PDF; Docket

Terraform Labs co-founder Daniel Shin was finally indicted in South Korea along with nine others. Shin is facing charges that include violating capital markets laws. Do Kwon, the other co-founder of Terra, was arrested in Montenegro last month. [YNA; Bloomberg

All the good news for Binance

The legal net around Binance tightens. Last month the CFTC filed a civil suit against them. A long-running criminal investigation is being led by the Justice Department’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section and prosecutors in the US attorney’s office in Seattle. The SEC is conducting a parallel investigation.

Binance and CZ have lawyered up and are in discussion with regulators and the Justice Department: [NYT, archive]

“In February, Patrick Hillmann, its chief strategy officer, revealed the exchange was in talks with regulators about a settlement to resolve the various legal investigations with a fine or some other penalty. He said the company was ‘highly confident and feeling really good’ about the discussions. A month later, the C.F.T.C. filed its lawsuit.”

David Silver thinks Binance is screwed: “The truth will come out,” he said. “And Binance will be held culpable.”

Binance has resumed its support for Russian-issued credit and debit cards after Russian cards were cut off for the past year. Payments go via Qiwi. The withdrawal limit is 200,000 RUB (about $2,486). [Meduza

Other good news for bitcoin

The FBI has searched the Washington, DC, home of former FTX executive Ryan Salame on the morning of Thursday, April 27. It’s not clear what they were looking for. Salame was the first FTX insider to turn on Sam Bankman-Fried. [NYT]

Gemini wants to set up a non-US crypto derivatives exchange. Their first product would be BTC-GUSD perpetual futures, with ETH-GUSD to follow. [Bloomberg; Gemini]

The US Justice Department has charged North Korean bank official Sim Hyon Sop for his role in two crypto laundering conspiracies. “The IT workers gained employment at U.S. crypto companies using fake identities and then laundered their ill-gotten gains.” [Press release; Sop indictment, PDF; Sop et al indictment, PDF]

Digital Currency Group subsidiary Genesis is bankrupt. Creditors have noticed that DCG is substantially cashed-up compared to Genesis and are insisting that DCG put more money toward the bankruptcy estate — particularly given how much control DCG clearly exercised over Genesis. So Genesis has filed for mediation over the amount that DCG will need to contribute to the reorganization. [CoinDesk]

Bloomberg writes about Celsius Network creditors and how they’re feeling. Their money is just gone, and it’s not coming back. Mashinsky et al. stole some of it and set the rest on fire through ineptitude. All the creditors have left is hope. Celsius really should have liquidated rather than declared Chapter 11. [Bloomberg]

David Rosenthal has written a marvelous summary of his decades in the world of blockchains: “Crypto: My Part In Its Downfall.” [blog post]

Image: Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong. Photo by Steve Jennings (Getty Images for TechCrunch) enhanced for (regulatory) clarity.

One thought on “Crypto collapse: Coinbase rattles sabres at the SEC, Voyager sale collapses, Terra-Luna, Binance

  1. The SEC & the Chair Gary Gensler have become much more anti-crypto recently. Each time SEC has taken an action or Gensler made a decision, this would somehow benefit the Wall Street (or SBF & FTX Alameda in past). In general, the establishment Wall Street finance & banking system has always viewed cryptocurrencies and the blockchain tech as the potential foe and threat. Therefore, this finance lobby power had indirectly (with the help of political lobbyists and favorable Fed bureaucrats) blocked or slowed crypto regulatory & legal processes/procedures. That’s why the US crypto market has to operate under legal uncertainty where each US Federal agency treats them differently in terms of how this agency legally views cryptocurrencies – some treating crypto as assets, others as securities or a property.
    The EU is far ahead of the US with the MICA Act. That’s why the US has to move swiftly and adopt much cleaner & well-defined set of rules and regulations, overall regulatory framework. And this is an absolute must for the crypto mass adoption, blockchain tech’s more rapid growth & development.
    And those on the Wall Street who saw significant potential in the crypto & blockchain have become major actors, investors and crypto asset holders. This is exactly what had fueled the past bull run, the entrance of the smaller scale and individual organizational money & funds.
    Hopefully more crypto-knowledgeable and crypto friendly politicians lead this policy debate and legal & regulatory changes.
    Gensler did an extremely good job in not answering any questions during the grilling and that’s precisely what he was there at the hearing for: Not to answer any questions! I don’t think the crypto & blockchain community of USA will see any significant policy shifts very soon.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s