On May 3, 2022, the SEC announced that it was renaming the Division of Enforcement’s Cyber Unit as the Crypto Assets and Cyber Unit, and significantly increasing its size with the addition of 20 new positions.[1]  In the same announcement, the SEC articulated specific areas of focus within the digital assets space, including:  (i) crypto asset offerings; (ii) crypto asset exchanges; (iii) crypto asset lending and staking products; (iv) decentralized finance (“DeFi”) platforms; (v) non-fungible tokens (“NFTs”); and (vi) stablecoins.
Continue Reading SEC Nearly Doubles Size of Digital Asset Enforcement Team

On March 9, 2022, President Biden signed a wide-ranging Executive Order on Ensuring Responsible Development of Digital Assets (the “Order”).  While the Order does not mandate any particular regulatory prescriptions, it lays out key policy goals for a whole-of-government approach to digital asset regulation and directs the U.S. Government to assess the potential for a

February 17, 2022 was a busy day for the Department of Justice and its growing cyber portfolio.  First, Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco delivered remarks at the Annual Munich Cyber Security Conference, stressing the Department’s efforts to confront cyber criminals and its increasing focus on disruption and prevention, even if doing so would limit criminal prosecutions.  Additionally, the Department announced the appointment of the first Director of the National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team, which was established to address criminal misuse of cryptocurrencies and digital assets.
Continue Reading Developments at Justice: The Deputy Attorney General Talks Cybersecurity and the National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team Gets its First Director

On November 8, 2021, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated a virtual currency exchange, Chatex, and its infrastructure support providers on the list of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (SDN List) for their role in facilitating financial transactions for ransomware actors.[i]  The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) also released an updated advisory on ransomware and the use of the financial system to facilitate ransomware payments.[ii]  These actions were taken in furtherance of a coordinated “whole-of-government” effort to disrupt criminal ransomware actors and the virtual currency exchanges used to launder ransom payments around the world.
Continue Reading OFAC Ramps up Targeting of Ransomware-linked Actors and FinCEN Updates Ransomware Advisory

On September 21, 2021, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC): (i) issued an updated advisory on potential sanctions risks for facilitating ransomware payments; and (ii) designated SUEX OTC, S.R.O. (SUEX), a virtual currency exchange, on the list of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (SDN List) for its role in facilitating financial transactions for ransomware actors.[1]  These actions demonstrate the U.S. government’s increasing focus on virtual currencies as a key means of facilitating ransomware payments and related money laundering, as well as OFAC’s commitment to combating ransomware attacks and other malicious cyber activities.
Continue Reading OFAC Updates Ransomware Advisory and Sanctions Virtual Currency Exchange

On August 9, 2021, the SEC issued a cease-and-desist order against digital asset exchange Poloniex, Inc. for allegedly operating an unregistered exchange in violation of Section 5 of the Exchange Act in connection with its operation of a trading platform that facilitated the buying and selling of digital asset securities.[1]

In the cease-and-desist order, the SEC alleged that Poloniex met the definition of an “exchange” because it “provided the non-discretionary means for trade orders to interact and execute through the combined use of the Poloniex website, an order book, and the Poloniex trading engine.”  The SEC also found, based on internal communications, that Poloniex decided to be “aggressive,” ultimately listing token(s) it had internally determined carried a “medium” risk of being considered securities under the Securities Act of 1933 pursuant to the test set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in SEC v. W.J. Howey.[2]  However, the SEC did not identify what digital asset(s) it determined were securities nor why, simply stating that Poloniex facilitated trading of “digital assets that were investment contracts and therefore securities.”

Without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings, Poloniex agreed to the entry of the order and a payment of $10,388,309 in disgorgement, prejudgment interest, and a civil penalty.
Continue Reading SEC Enforcement Action Against Poloniex Signals Heightened Scrutiny for Crypto Exchanges

While large financial institutions have traditionally been hesitant to enter new areas of financial products, particularly virtual assets, many more banks and companies have expressed interest in virtual currencies as cryptocurrency has become increasingly mainstream.  Given the use of such services by terrorist groups, it is important for banks and other financial institutions to consider

On February 18, 2021, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a $507,375 settlement with BitPay, Inc. (BitPay), a payment processor for merchants accepting digital currency as payment for goods and services, for 2,102 apparent violations of multiple sanctions programs between 2013 and 2018.[1] The settlement highlights that financial service providers facilitating digital currency transactions must not only establish sanctions compliance programs to screen their own customers but also must monitor third-party non-customer transaction information.
Continue Reading OFAC Settles with Digital Currency Payment Processor for Sanctions Violations

On March 3, 2021, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) Division of Examinations (the “Division”)—formerly the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations—released its 2021 Examination Priorities (“2021 Priorities”).  The 2021 Priorities generally retain perennial risk areas as the Division’s core focus, but do include several new and emerging risk areas reflecting broader policy shifts under new SEC leadership.

The 2021 Priorities include:  retail investors; information security and operational resilience; financial technology (“Fintech”), including digital assets; anti-money laundering; transition from the London Inter‑Bank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”); several areas covering registered investment advisers and investment companies; market infrastructure; and oversight of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board programs and policies.  Although not formal priorities, the Division will also focus on climate-related risks and environmental, social and governance (“ESG”) matters in light of recent market developments and broader attention in these areas.
Continue Reading Turning the Page: Highlights of the SEC’s Division of Examination’s 2021 Priorities

On September 15, 2020, the Securities and Exchange Commission issued a cease‑and‑desist order against Unikrn, Inc. concerning its 2017 initial coin offering  of UnikoinGold .  The SEC found that the Unikrn ICO violated the prohibition in Section 5 of the Securities Act of 1933 against the unregistered public offer or sale of securities.  The SEC imposed several remedies, including requiring Unikrn to permanently disable the UnikoinGold token and a civil money penalty of $6.1 million.
Continue Reading SEC Issues Enforcement Action Against Unikrn, Inc. for its ICO, Prompting Rare Public Dissent from Commissioner Hester Peirce