• Posts by Scott H. Kimpel
    Posts by Scott H. Kimpel
    Partner

    Scott brings in-depth knowledge of SEC policies, procedures and enforcement philosophy to each representation. Scott regularly advises clients across a broad sector of the economy facing sensitive reporting, compliance and ...

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On April 17, 2024, Senators Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced a bill entitled the Lummis-Gillibrand Payment Stablecoin Act. The bill is the latest bipartisan effort by the two senators to provide a comprehensive federal oversight regime for the regulation of stablecoins.

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On February 6, 2024, by a 3-2 vote, the US Securities and Exchange Commission adopted new rules that expand the definition of “dealer” under the federal securities laws. Ostensibly adopted to provide the SEC with greater oversight over the market for Treasury bonds, the new rules are not limited to any particular asset class, and may impact the operations of firms that regularly trade in cryptocurrencies or other digital assets that are securities.

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FINRA, the self-regulatory organization overseeing the US broker-dealer industry, recently announced two items of interest for broker-dealers offering crypto asset securities. On January 9, 2024, FINRA published its 2024 Annual Regulatory Oversight Report, which includes a detailed section for broker-dealers conducting a crypto asset business. Then, on January 23, 2024, FINRA published a report detailing the results of a targeted sweep examination on customer communications involving crypto assets, finding potential substantive violations of FINRA Rule 2210 in approximately 70 percent of surveyed communications.

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In a reversal of a policy that has spanned two administrations, on January 10, 2024, the SEC approved applications for 11 Bitcoin spot exchange traded funds, or ETFs. The SEC approved the order by a 3-2 vote, with Chair Gensler forming a majority with the two Republican commissioners, and the two Democratic commissioners voting against the action.

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On January 8, 2024, the CFTC’s Technology Advisory Committee issued a detailed report on decentralized finance, or DeFi. The report, which was authored by the Subcommittee on Digital Assets and Blockchain Technology, notes that DeFi offers both promising opportunities and complex, significant risks to the US financial system, consumers and national security.

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As we begin the new year and reflect on what we learned last year, the Hunton Andrews Kurth Blockchain team would like to provide you with a recap of the top posts we shared throughout 2023. Please visit the links below for these highlights.

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On October 13, 2023, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law AB39, the Digital Financial Assets Law (the Act). The Act provides broad authority to California’s Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (Department) to license, regulate and examine certain businesses transacting in digital financial assets in California.

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On October 16, 2023, the SEC’s Division of Examinations released a reporting detailing its 2024 examination priorities. The document lays out the key risks, topics and priorities that the Division plans to focus on during its upcoming cycle of inspections and examinations of broker-dealers, investment advisers and other regulated securities intermediaries. Among the various areas of focus, once again risks related to crypto assets and blockchain will be an examination priority.

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On September 18, 2023, the New York Department of Financial Services (“DFS”) announced new proposed guidance for BitLicense holders and certain limited-purpose trust companies (“VC entities”) seeking to list virtual currencies on their platforms. The proposed guidance would replace existing DFS procedures and establish new protocols for listing virtual currencies that are not subject to the DFS greenlist.  

The proposed guidance seeks to provide a framework under which VC entities may seek DFS approval to self-certify the listing of new coins. In order to self-certify ...

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On August 28, 2023, the SEC settled enforcement charges against a Los Angeles-based media and entertainment company for conducting an unregistered offering of non-fungible tokens (NFTs). The case represents the SEC’s first foray into the NFT space.

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As we previously reported in our summary of the Ripple case, a federal district court judged determined that under certain circumstances the offering of a digital asset does not create a security. The reasoning in the Ripple case has been criticized by leading to an outcome that places institutional investors ahead of retail investors and employees. In a separate, recently decided case involving digital assets, another federal district judge has declined to follow the ruling in Ripple.

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On May 5, 2023, New York Attorney General Letitia James released proposed legislation that seeks to regulate all facets of the cryptocurrency industry. Entitled the “Crypto Regulation, Protection, Transparency, and Oversight (CRPTO) Act,” if enacted the draft bill would substantially expand New York’s oversight of crypto enterprises conducting business in the Empire State.

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On April 14, 2023, by a 3-2 party-line vote the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) reopened the public comment period and provided supplemental information on amendments proposed in January 2022 to the definition of “exchange” under Rule 3b-16. The SEC previously reopened the comment period in May 2022. The April 2023 action provides supplemental information and economic analysis regarding trading systems that trade crypto asset securities that would be newly included in the definition of “exchange” under the proposed rules.

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On February 15, 2023, by a 4-1 vote, the SEC proposed new rules regarding an investment adviser’s obligation to custody assets. Unlike the existing rules, if adopted, the new rules would apply to all crypto assets.

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As we begin the new year and reflect on what we learned last year, the Hunton Andrews Kurth Blockchain team would like to provide you with a recap of the top posts we shared throughout 2022. Please visit the links below for these highlights.

Our goal is to continue to provide our readers with relevant, real-time information on legal and regulatory developments in the blockchain space. If you would like to receive email alerts when new posts are published to this blog, please enter your email address in the 'Subscribe' field. Thank you for your readership!

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On December 16, 2022, the Financial Stability Oversight Council (Council) published its 2022 annual report. The report highlights a number of key policy recommendations for federal financial regulators, including four recommendations for further legislation or regulation in the digital asset space.

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On December 1, 2022, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (Bureau) made public an administrative order denying Nexo Financial LLC’s (Nexo) petition to modify the Bureau’s civil investigative demand.  The order represents the first publicly known Bureau investigation of a digital asset company, in this case, over Nexo’s “Earn Interest” crypto lending product.

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On November 22, 2022, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed into law a two-year moratorium against granting permits to crypto mining operations that “are operated through electric generating facilities that use a carbon-based fuel.” Renewable sources of energy are not impacted.

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On October 3, 2022, the Financial Stability Oversight Council (“FSOC” or “Council”) released a report outlining the risks posed by digital assets to the financial stability of the United States. The FSOC is charged broadly with identifying emerging threats to financial stability, and is comprised of the heads of each major federal financial regulator, chaired by the Secretary of the Treasury. The FSOC’s initial position in 2015 was that digital assets generally do not pose a significant financial stability risk due to limited use and a lack of ties to the traditional financial system. President Biden asked the FSOC to reconsider their position in his “Executive Order on Ensuring Responsible Development of Digital Assets.”

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The SEC instituted settlement proceedings against Kim Kardashian on Monday, alleging that the reality television star and entrepreneur violated the SEC’s anti-touting statute when she failed to disclose compensation that she received in exchange for an Instagram post endorsing cryptocurrency tokens.  The promotion, which Kardashian posted to her Instagram account on June 13, 2021, encouraged her 225 million followers to visit a website operated by EthereumMax, an online company that offers and sells digital “Emax tokens.” Kardashian’s Instagram post included an ...

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Following up on President Biden’s recent executive order on digital assets, the US Treasury Department recently announced the publication of three reports on digital assets.  The reports address issues relating to The Future of Money and Payments; Implications for Consumers, Investors, and Businesses; and an Action Plan to Address Illicit Financing Risks of Digital Assets.

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In recent months, members of Congress have introduced a wide variety of bills seeking to create a new federal regulatory regime for digital assets. NASAA, which is an umbrella organization for state and provincial securities regulators in the US, Canada and Mexico, recently submitted a letter to Congress critical of one such bill that lays out a series of arguments more broadly against federal action.

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On August 10, 2022, 3-2 majorities of the SEC and CFTC voted to propose amendments to Form PF reporting for certain investment advisers to private investment funds. Among the many proposed amendments to the form, the proposed rules would for the first time require covered investment advisers to report on certain digital asset investments.

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In a series of parallel actions announced on July 21, 2022, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) initiated criminal and civil charges against three defendants in the first cryptocurrency insider trading case.

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On June 8, 2022, New York’s Department of Financial Services released interpretive guidance on the “Issuance of U.S. Dollar-Backed Stablecoins.” The guidance applies to entities that issue stablecoins under DFS supervision, and addresses three broad topics—redeemability, reserve requirements, and monthly attestation by an independent CPA firm.

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On June 1, 2022, the Department of Justice announced its first criminal indictment for insider trading of nonfungible tokens, or NFTs. The case opens yet another front in the Government’s efforts to police the burgeoning marketplace for digital assets and NFTs.

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In one of the first criminal cases brought under US sanctions laws involving cryptocurrency transactions, a federal magistrate judge approved the Department of Justice’s criminal complaint. In the opinion unsealed on May 13, 2022, US Magistrate Judge Zia M. Faruqi ruled that the Department of Justice demonstrated probable cause in accusing an unnamed defendant of transmitting more than $10 million in bitcoin to a “comprehensively sanctioned” country.

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On May 4, 2022, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed executive order N-9-22 regarding blockchain and crypto assets, with the objective to “spur responsible web3 innovation, grow jobs, and protect consumers.” According to the accompanying press release, the executive order “aims to create a transparent regulatory and business environment for web3 companies which harmonizes federal and California approaches, balances the benefits and risks to consumers, and incorporates California values such as equity, inclusivity, and environmental protection.”

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On March 24, 2022, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York announced charges against two defendants and alleged an ongoing fraud involving the sale of nonfungible tokens (NFTs). The federal criminal case is among the first involving NFTs and foreshadows further regulatory scrutiny of the popular digital asset class.

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A series of recent statements by key financial regulators and US senators once again bring cryptocurrency regulation into the spotlight. In this post, we summarize several recent developments.

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The red-hot market for nonfungible tokens, or NFTs, continues to draw regulatory scrutiny. A Department of the Treasury report issued on February 4, 2022, is the latest to focus on potential regulatory issues associated with this digital asset class.

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On January 20, 2022, the Federal Reserve Board published a discussion paper on the potential for a US central bank digital currency, or CBDC.  Entitled “Money and Payments: The U.S. Dollar in the Age of Digital Transformation,” the paper provides further insight into the public policy concerns guiding the Fed as it deliberates whether to adopt a US CBDC.

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The Hunton Andrews Kurth Blockchain team would like to provide you with an update on legal developments in the world of blockchain technology, as posted on this blog. If you wish to receive email alerts when new posts are published, please enter your email address in the subscribe field.

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In connection with a December 14, 2021, hearing of the Senate Banking Committee focused on the topic of stablecoins, Ranking Member Pat Toomey (R-PA) released a collection of principles that he hopes will influence the development of a future legislative framework for the asset class. Senator Toomey’s principles offer a more flexible approach to stablecoins in contrast to the approach embraced in a recent report on stablecoins released by the President’s Working Group, which advocated for limiting stablecoin issuances to entities that are insured depository institutions under the oversight of federal banking regulators.

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On December 1, 2021, Freddie Mac published Bulletin 2021-36 for Freddie Mac sellers to provide updated guidance on eligibility criteria for qualifying mortgages. Freddie Mac publishes such bulletins on a regular basis for loan originators who wish to resell mortgages to Freddie Mac, and Bulletin 2021-36 covers a number of routine topics such as 2022 conforming loan limits, certain credit underwriting criteria and document custody. The bulletin is notable, however, because it specifically addresses requirements related to cryptocurrency’s use in the mortgage qualification process.

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On November 23, 2021, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs sent a series of letters to prominent stablecoin issuers and cryptocurrency exchanges. Citing the recent President’s Working Group on Financial Markets report on stablecoins, the letters seek to clarify basic operational features of various stablecoins which the Committee believes is critical to improving its understanding of digital assets.

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In 15 recent enforcement actions, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) announced charges against various digital asset exchanges for failure to register appropriately as futures commission merchants (FCMs). This series of actions is the latest in an ongoing regulatory crackdown across federal agencies involving cryptocurrency and other digital asset trading platforms.

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On September 13, 2021, New York Attorney General (NYAG) Letitia James announced the entry of a default judgment against crypto platform Coinseed and its CEO. The default judgment includes broad injunctive relief against Coinseed’s future operations in New York state. The case is one of many that regulators have recently brought against crypto trading platforms.

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On August 23, 2021, CFTC Commissioner Dawn Stump released a helpful primer on the CFTC’s regulatory authority over digital assets. The statement emphasizes that the CFTC does not typically regulate the spot market for cash commodities (including digital assets), and instead focuses on oversight of derivatives. But, Commissioner Stump cautioned that the CFTC does retain antifraud authority over the spot markets. Tracing through the CFTC’s authority (and that of other sister regulators) in ten steps, the statement concludes that “with respect to a digital asset, ask not ...

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In a settled enforcement case announced August 9, 2021, the SEC fined Poloniex, LLC, a crypto trading platform, for operating an unregistered securities exchange. Then, on August 10, 2021, the CFTC and FinCEN announced a settled enforcement case against crypto exchange BitMEX for anti-money laundering violations and failure to register with the CFTC as a trading platform. The cases highlight US regulators’ increased focus on cryptocurrency exchanges.

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On July 20, 2021, New Jersey’s Acting Attorney General announced that the State’s Bureau of Securities issued a Summary Cease and Desist Order to stop BlockFi, Inc. from selling unregistered securities in the form of interest-bearing cryptocurrency accounts. While commentators frequently focus on the enforcement activities of the Securities and Exchange Commission in the crypto space, New Jersey’s action against DeFi platform BlockFi serves as a reminder that state securities regulators also actively police this marketplace.

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Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), Chairwoman of the House Committee on Financial Services, recently announced the organization of the Committee’s Digital Assets Working Group. At this time, the working group’s roster appears limited to Democratic Members.

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On May 11, 2021, staff in the Division of Investment Management (IM) at the Securities and Exchange Commission issued a statement (the Statement) on “Funds Registered Under the Investment Company Act Investing in the Bitcoin Futures Market.” The Statement provides a series of warnings to retail investors about certain risks associated with investments in registered mutual funds whose portfolios include Bitcoin futures. But the Statement also provides further insight into the way SEC staff analyze the market for Bitcoin Futures more broadly.

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In a wide-ranging hearing before the House Financial Services Committee on May 6, 2021, SEC Chairman Gary Gensler addressed a number of SEC regulatory priorities, including the recent short-squeeze on so-called “meme stocks,” gamification of securities trading, broker-dealer payment for order flow, and climate change disclosure. During his first testimony before Congress as SEC chair, Gensler also answered a series of questions on cryptocurrency and digital asset regulation.  The statements on crypto regulation begin to shed some light on his official approach to regulating the digital asset security ecosystem.

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A recent rulemaking petition to the SEC requests that the agency issue a concept release on nonfungible tokens, or NFTs. The petition is hopeful that an SEC rulemaking paired with an opportunity for public input will resolve regulatory uncertainty for parties looking to create NFTs and facilitate their sale.

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A recent Bloomberg article reported that average prices for nonfungible tokens, or NFTs, are down approximately 70 percent from recent highs.  NFTs are the latest innovation in digital assets and encompass digital representations of unique works of art, music, or other goods and experiences stored on blockchain.  Unlike other digital assets such as bitcoin, in which each bitcoin is the same as every other one (and thus “fungible”), each NFT is theoretically unique and different from every other one (and thus “nonfungible”).  A wide range of NFTs have begun to enter the marketplace over the past several months.  A digital work of art represented by an NFT recently sold at auction for over $69 million, and even a professional sports league has begun to issue NFTs.  A fascinating debate about the social and economic utility of NFTs has emerged, but what are some of the legal issues associated with this new digital asset class?

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As we have previously reported, the New York Attorney General has been in protracted litigation to enforce an investigative subpoena under New York’s expansive Martin Act against cryptocurrency exchange Bitfinex and its affiliated companies that issue the Tether stablecoin. On February 23, 2021, the Attorney General announced a definitive settlement of the matter.

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In some of her first remarks on the subject of digital assets since Senate confirmation, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen sounded an alarm on Bitcoin. Her views on the regulation of digital assets more broadly are sure to influence policy in the coming years at the various offices and bureaus within the Treasury Department that oversee the asset class, including the OCC, IRS, OFAC and FinCen.

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In the past week, Canadian securities regulators approved the offering of the first two Canadian Bitcoin ETFs. By holding Bitcoin, the Canadian funds intend to provide investors with economic exposure to the US dollar and Canadian dollar price of Bitcoin through an ETF structure. For ETF investors, the structures have the potential to eliminate much of the friction associated with holding Bitcoin or investing in the asset directly. The ETF units have been conditionally approved for listing on the Toronto Stock Exchange. Additional details are available in the respective ETF prospectuses, which are publicly available here and here.

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As has been widely reported, President Biden has nominated Gary Gensler to be the next chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.  After becoming one of the youngest partners at a leading Wall Street investment bank, Gensler transitioned into government service as a senior official in President Clinton’s Treasury Department and as the chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission under President Obama.  While at the CFTC, Gensler was the principal architect of the sprawling Dodd-Frank Act’s provisions regulating the swaps markets, and he worked tirelessly to implement new CFTC rules regulating the space.  He has deep experience both in the financial markets and as a regulator.

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Recently, a group of central bankers issued a report entitled “Central Bank Digital Currencies:  Foundational Principles and Core Features.”  Released on October 9, 2020, the report lays out common foundational principles and core features of a central bank digital currency, or CBDC.  It is a joint product of the Bank of Canada, European Central Bank, Bank of Japan, Swedish Riksbank, Swiss National Bank, Bank of England, the US Federal Reserve and the Bank for International Settlements.

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On October 8, 2020, the Department of Justice’s Cyber-Digital Task Force released an 83-page report entitled “Cryptocurrency: An Enforcement Framework.” In an accompanying press release, Attorney General Barr remarked, “Cryptocurrency is a technology that could fundamentally transform how human beings interact, and how we organize society.  Ensuring that use of this technology is safe, and does not imperil our public safety or our national security, is vitally important to America and its allies.” The DOJ report highlights many of the legal and enforcement risks posed in the burgeoning crypto marketplace, and includes various enforcement case studies as well as informative graphics.

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Providing additional clarity on the role of an alternative trading system (ATS) in the settlement of digital asset security trades, the staff of the SEC’s Division of Trading and Markets issued a no-action letter to FINRA on September 25, 2020.  In brief, the SEC staff endorsed a three-step settlement process for digital asset securities held in a third-party’s custody if certain customer-protection conditions are met.

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In a recent speech entitled “Reinventing the Wheel (with More Automation)”, Andrew Bailey, Governor and chief executive of the Bank of England, discussed the future of digital currencies. According to Governor Bailey, we have reached the point in the cycle of innovation in payments where it is essential that we set the standards and thus the expectations for how innovation will take effect. It should not, in his opinion, happen the other way round, with the standard setting playing catch up.

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As a show of continued interest in the development of cryptoasset solutions, Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, recently sent a letter to Acting Comptroller of the Currency Brian Brooks. Chairman Crapo’s letter requested an update on findings of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and information regarding next steps the OCC intends to take with respect to blockchain and distributed ledger technology.

Referencing the OCC’s June 4 advanced notice of proposed rulemaking on digital activities in ...

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Effective August 1, 2020, Louisiana has adopted a Virtual Currency Business Act. In doing so it becomes the second state after New York to require certain operators of virtual currency businesses to obtain a virtual currency license in order to conduct business in the state.

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As part of its ongoing effort to supervise broker-dealers conducting transactions in digital assets, FINRA recently issued Notice 20-23. The Notice encourages FINRA members to continue to keep FINRA updated on a firm’s activities relating to digital assets that have not been previously disclosed.

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As we previously reported, for over a year the New York Attorney General has been seeking to enforce an investigative subpoena under New York’s expansive Martin Act against cryptocurrency exchange Bitfinex and its affiliated companies that issue the Tether stablecoin. Bitfinex and its affiliates have raised a number of procedural challenges to the NYAG’s authority to conduct its investigation.  In a case addressing important issues about the scope of the NYAG’s investigative authority over cryptocurrency businesses, a New York appellate court on July 9, 2020, rejected Bitfinex’s challenges and authorized the NYAG investigation to proceed.

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On June 30, 2020, the full Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs held a virtual hearing entitled “The Digitization of Money and Payments.” The hearing focused on stablecoins and the prospects for a US central bank digital currency, or CBDC.

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On June 24, 2020, the New York Department of Financial Services (DFS) announced a series of five initiatives involving virtual currency. The announcement was timed to coincide with the five-year anniversary of the launch of New York’s BitLicense for operators of certain virtual currency businesses.

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On May 29, 2020, the Digital Dollar Project, an organization seeking to advance the development of a United States central bank digital currency (CBDC), published a detailed white paper entitled “Exploring a US CBDC.”  The white paper posits that if the US dollar is to remain the world’s primary reserve currency, it cannot remain an analog instrument and unit of account for assets increasingly denominated as digital tokens. Instead, the white paper reasons that the dollar must itself become a digital tokenized currency that measures, supports, and transacts with other digital assets.

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Recently, staff of the US Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations prepared a memorandum for subcommittee members in advance of its April 30, 2020 “Roundtable on Continuity of Senate Operations and Remote Voting in Times of Crisis.” The memo provides a description of Senate proposals to allow senators to participate and vote remotely during crises such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, with an emphasis on potential technological solutions such as blockchain.

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On April 14, 2020, the Financial Stability Board (FSB) issued a consultative paper entitled “Addressing the Regulatory, Supervisory and Oversight Challenges Raised by ‘Global Stablecoin’ Arrangements.” The paper considers various risks and vulnerabilities of global stablecoins, or GSCs, which are defined to include a crypto-asset that aims to maintain a stable value relative to a specified asset, or a pool or basket of assets, in each case with a potential reach and adoption across multiple jurisdictions and the potential to achieve substantial volume. The white paper then surveys existing regulatory, supervisory and oversight challenges, particularly in the cross-border context; contemplates the role of international standard setters in GSC governance; and makes high-level recommendations for regulatory, supervisory and oversight responses.

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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 March 9, 2020, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) introduced H.R. 6154, the Crypto-Currency Act of 2020.  The bill is the latest effort to provide federal oversight to the burgeoning market for crypto-assets.

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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. It remains vigilant to potential risks arising from financial innovations, including those risks related to financial stability, consumer and investor protection, anti-money laundering and countering the financing ...
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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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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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On January 16, 2020, Reps. Suzan DelBene (D-Washington) and David Schweikert (R-Arizona) introduced H.R. 5635, the Virtual Currency Tax Fairness Act of 2020. Under current IRS guidance, taxpayers who sell virtual currency must recognize any capital gain or loss on the sale, subject to any limitations on the deductibility of capital losses. Taxpayers can also recognize gains due to fluctuations in exchange rates between virtual currencies and fiat currencies. H.R. 5635 would provide some relief from this tax treatment to encourage small consumer transactions in virtual ...
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In an investor alert issued on January 14, 2020, staff in the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy warned investors in initial exchange offerings (IEOs) to “use caution before investing  . . . through online trading platforms.”  According to the SEC staff, “Claims of new technologies and financial products, such as those associated with digital asset offerings, and claims that IEOs are vetted by trading platforms, can be used improperly to entice investors with the false promise of high returns in a new investment space.”

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In a recent op-ed, Gita Gopinath, the IMF’s chief economist, posited that “digital currencies will not displace the dominant dollar.” In particular, the dollar’s status is supported by the “institutions, rule of law, and credible investor protection” that the United States provides. She also expressed her view that a synthetic hegemonic currency—a digital basket of reserve currencies recently proposed by outgoing Bank of England governor Mark Carney—faces steep obstacles to implementation. While the world would benefit from a greater role for the euro and the renminbi, Gopinath suggests that their institutions require greater development. Instead, the US may be developing an advantage in making the dollar the dominant digital currency through its efforts to combat money laundering and terrorism.

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On December 10, 2019, FinCEN Director Kenneth Blanco delivered prepared remarks to a banking conference held in Washington, DC. Among topics he discussed were trends in suspicious activity reporting (SARs) since FinCEN published updated guidance on convertible virtual currency (CVC) in May 2019.

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On December 11, 2019, the New York Department of Financial Services (DFS) published proposed guidance regarding adoption or listing of virtual currency by holders of a BitLicense. Specifically, under the proposed guidance, DFS seeks comment regarding two proposed changes affecting coin listings, both of which are intended to streamline and expedite the process.

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On December 10, 2019, the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA) published its inaugural report on market risk in the Swiss economy. The report provides an overview of what FINMA believes are the most important risks currently facing Swiss supervised institutions and describes the resulting focus of its supervisory activity.

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At a mutual fund industry conference held on December 3, 2019, Dalia Blass, director of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Division of Investment Management, previewed a new structure for registered mutual funds seeking to invest substantially in digital assets and related investments.

In particular, Director Blass indicated that an unnamed registered closed-end interval fund with a bitcoin futures strategy is preparing to launch. As a result of recent industry feedback and engagement, and in response to issues the SEC staff previously identified:

  • The fund expects to ...
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In a television interview on November 19, 2019, CFTC Chairman Heath Tarbert discussed digital assets and the importance of U.S. leadership in this space. Notably, he stated:

“I want the United States to lead, particularly in the blockchain technology that underlies digital assets… [U]ltimately I could see it overtaking the internet or being effectively parallel to the internet in using a variety of different kinds of transactions, not just the financial system, but in other types of transactions as well… I think whoever ends up leading in this technology will end up writing ...

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The Federal Reserve Board’s most recent semi-annual Financial Stability Report, issued November 15, 2019, includes a lengthy discussion of potential systemic risks posed by stablecoins. In the report, the Fed observed that innovations fostering faster, cheaper and more inclusive payments could complement existing payment systems and improve consumer welfare if appropriately designed and regulated. But the Fed also warned that the emergence of global stablecoin payment networks introduces important challenges and risks related to financial stability, monetary policy, money laundering and terrorist financing, and consumer and investor protection.

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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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In the wake of the recent controversy surrounding the proposed Libra cryptocurrency, two members of Congress have begun circulating draft bills that would tighten federal regulation of certain stablecoins.

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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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Today the CFTC, SEC and FinCEN issued a joint statement on digital assets. In particular, the joint statement reminds persons engaged in activities involving digital assets of their anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) obligations under the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). The entire joint statement is available here.

 

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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.” The format of the hearing was somewhat unusual in that the sole witnesses were the five sitting SEC commissioners. Though it is common for the SEC chair to testify before Congress, the other commissioners testify very infrequently, and the assembly of all five at a single hearing is extremely rare, with the last such joint testimony coming back in 2007. 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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Continuing a cryptocurrency oversight program begun in 2018, on July 18, 2019, FINRA issued Regulatory Notice 19-24. Under Notice 19-24, FINRA has requested that broker-dealers notify their FINRA Regulatory Coordinator if the member firm, or its associated persons or affiliates, engages, or intends to engage, in activities related to digital assets, including digital assets that are not securities.

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Amid a series of hearings on cryptocurrency scheduled this week in the House of Representatives and Senate, a discussion draft of a bill entitled the “Keep Big Tech Out of Finance Act” has begun to circulate online. The bill appears intended to prohibit several large, well-known technology firms from engaging in various cryptocurrency-related businesses in the United States.

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On July 8, 2019, the SEC’s Division of Trading and Markets and FINRA’s Office of General Counsel (collectively, the Staffs) issued a Joint Statement on Broker-Dealer Custody of Digital Asset Securities. For purposes of the Joint Statement, “digital asset” refers to any asset that is issued and transferred using distributed ledger or blockchain technology, and a “digital asset security” is any digital asset that is also a security for purposes of the federal securities laws. The Joint Statement discusses several provisions of the federal securities laws applicable to registered broker-dealers that may be implicated when such entities custody digital asset securities.

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On June 18, 2019, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) announced the commencement of a civil enforcement action (the Complaint) against two United Kingdom-based defendants, a purported Bitcoin trading company and its principal (collectively, the Defendants). The CFTC alleges that the Defendants perpetrated a wide-ranging fraud involving at least $147 million in Bitcoin from more than 1,000 customers.

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Nevada is the latest state to adopt statutory amendments accommodating blockchain. In the first two weeks of June, Nevada enacted the following new laws:
  • SB161 – The act creates a regulatory sandbox in the Department of Business and Industry for any use of a new or emerging technology, or any novel use of an existing technology, to address a problem, provide a benefit or otherwise offer or provide a financial product or service that is determined by the Director of the Department not to be widely available in Nevada. The act is effective June 13, 2019 for the purpose of adopting any regulations and performing any other preparatory administrative tasks necessary to carry out the provisions of the act, and on January 1, 2020, for all other purposes.
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In May 2019 the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) issued Information Sheet 225, “Initial Coin Offerings and Crypto-Assets” (IS 225). IS 225 provides helpful guidance for Australian entrepreneurs considering whether to raise funds through an initial coin offering (ICO) and for businesses that are involved with crypto-assets such as cryptocurrency, tokens or stable coins in Australia.

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On May 9, 2019, FinCEN, the U.S. federal agency charged with combating money laundering, issued two new interpretive documents of interest to the crypto community. The first is interpretive guidance titled “Application of FinCEN’s Regulations to Certain Business Models Involving Convertible Virtual Currencies” (the “Guidance”). The second document is an “Advisory on Illicit Activity Involving Convertible Virtual Currency” (the “Advisory”).

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As this short video explains, the “initial exchange offering,” or IEO, is the latest innovation in the offer and sale of cryptocurrencies. By partnering with a crypto exchange to aid in marketing and listing efforts, issuers engaging in an IEO hope to obtain better visibility and liquidity for their products. But like the ICOs they seek to replace, IEOs raise a host of potential issues under the US federal securities laws.

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On April 25, 2019, the New York Attorney General announced that it had obtained a court order enjoining iFinex Inc. (operator of the Bitfinex digital asset trading platform), Tether Limited (issuer of the “tether” stablecoin) and their affiliated entities from further violations of New York law in connection with ongoing activities that the Attorney General alleges may have defrauded New York investors that trade in virtual currencies. The Attorney General’s investigation focuses on the potential loss or dissipation of over $850 million in customer funds. Bitfinex subsequently issued its own statement denying the Attorney General’s claims and insisting that “we have been informed that these... amounts are not lost but have been, in fact, seized and safeguarded” by unnamed parties.

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On April 18, 2019, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) announced its first enforcement action against a peer-to-peer virtual currency exchanger, which also included its first civil monetary penalty against a virtual currency exchanger, for failure to file Currency Transaction Reports (“CTRs”). According to FinCEN’s order, the respondent’s virtual currency exchange operated as an unregistered money service business (“MSB”), had no written policies or procedures for ensuring compliance with the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”), and failed to report both suspicious transactions and currency transactions. To settle the enforcement action, the respondent paid a $35,000 civil monetary penalty and agreed to an industry bar that would prohibit him from providing money transmission services or engaging in any other activity that would make him a “money services business” under FinCEN regulations.

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In a letter released to the public on April 10, 2019, New York’s Department of Financial Services (DFS) denied Bittrex’s two separate applications to engage in a virtual currency business and to engage in money transmission activity in New York state. The action came after an extended trial period in which DFS sought to “address continued deficiencies and assist Bittrex in developing appropriate controls and compliance programs commensurate with the evolving nature of the sector.”

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After months of teasing, on April 3 staff of the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) issued a long-awaited Framework for “Investment Contract” Analysis of Digital Assets. The Framework provides further guidance under the SEC’s Howey test as to whether digital assets constitute securities under federal law.

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Writing with former SEC commissioner Troy Paredes, Hunton Andrews Kurth partner Scott Kimpel provides a complete survey of the federal securities laws’ impact on offerings of security tokens.

Read the full article here.

The Hunton Andrews Kurth Blockchain Blog features opinions and legal analysis as we follow the development and use of distributed ledger technology known as the blockchain.

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