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

On August 21, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, together with the federal banking agencies, released a statement to clarify banks’ customer due diligence obligations for politically exposed persons. The Statement affirms that (i) there is no regulatory requirement, and no supervisory expectation, for banks’ Bank Secrecy Act / anti-money laundering programs to include “unique, additional due diligence steps” for customers who are PEPs and (ii) there is no regulatory requirement for banks to screen customers and their beneficial owners for PEPs.  Instead, the Statement confirms that PEP customers should be subject to the same risk-based approach to CDD that applies to any other customer, but that PEP status (and screening for PEPs) may be a factor in developing a customer risk profile and assessing money laundering risk.  It also reminds banks of the continued U.S. national security and law enforcement interest in detecting and combatting public corruption and other criminality involving PEPs.

Please click here to read the full alert memorandum.

In a landmark enforcement action related to a bank data breach, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (“OCC”) assessed an $80 million civil monetary penalty and entered into a cease and desist order with the bank subsidiaries of Capital One on August 6, 2020.  The actions follow a 2019 cyber-attack against Capital One.  The Federal Reserve Board also entered into a cease and desist order with the banks’ parent holding company.  The OCC actions represent the first imposition of a significant penalty against a bank in connection with a data breach or an alleged failure to comply with the OCC’s guidelines relating to information security. Continue Reading OCC Imposes $80 Million Penalty in Connection with Bank Data Breach

On July 22, 2020, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (“OCC”) published an interpretive letter clarifying that providing cryptocurrency custody services to customers is a permissible activity for national banks and federal savings associations.  This letter marks an important milestone in the expansion of permissible banking activities related to digital assets. Continue Reading OCC Interpretation Opens the Door for Banks to Enter the Crypto Custody Business

On June 25, 2020, a federal district court in the Eastern District of Virginia held that a bank must produce in discovery a report generated by its cybersecurity forensic investigator following a 2019 data breach involving unauthorized access to personal information of customers and individuals who had applied for accounts.[1]  Even though the report was produced at the direction of outside counsel, the court rejected arguments that the forensic report is protected from disclosure by the work product doctrine.  Instead, the court determined that the report was not produced primarily in anticipation of litigation based on several factors, including the similarity of the report to past business-related work product by the investigator and the bank’s subsequent use and dissemination of the report.  This decision raises questions about the scope of work product protection for forensic expert and other similar reports in the context of an internal investigation. Continue Reading Federal Court Compels Production of Data Breach Forensic Investigation Report

On March 24, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) released its Final Interpretive Guidance on Actual Delivery for Digital Assets (“Final Interpretation”), addressing longstanding questions regarding which digital asset transactions could be deemed “retail commodity transactions” under the Commodity Exchange Act (“CEA”).  The Final Interpretation comes two years after the CFTC issued proposed interpretive guidance (“Proposed Interpretation”). Continue Reading CFTC Issues Final Interpretive Guidance on Actual Delivery for Digital Assets

On January 7, 2020, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (“OCIE”) released its 2020 Examination Priorities (“2020 Priorities”).  While at first blush the themes appear consistent with and predictable from their 2019 priorities, on closer read OCIE has provided some new insights and some unexpected focus areas.  The themes for the 2020 Priorities are:  retail investors, information security, financial technology (“Fintech”) and innovation (including digital assets and electronic investment advice), several areas covering registered investment advisers and investment companies, anti-money laundering, market infrastructure (clearing agencies, national securities exchanges, alternative trading systems, transfer agents), and oversight of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board programs and policies.  OCIE also stressed the challenges it faced in light of last year’s government shutdown and resource constraints, as the Division of Enforcement did in its 2019 Annual Report (see our analysis here), and the challenges in examining non-U.S. advisers due to limits that foreign data protection and privacy laws may place on cross-border information transfers.  In this post, we analyze the highlights in and our takeaways from the 2020 Priorities. Continue Reading From the Expected to the Surprises: Highlights of SEC OCIE’s 2020 Priorities

On October 11, 2019, the leaders of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, and Securities and Exchange Commission issued a joint statement to remind businesses that engage in digital asset activities of their anti-money laundering (“AML”) and countering the financing of terrorism (“CFT”) obligations under the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”).

As market participants increasingly become involved with digital assets and related activities or services, the agencies clarified that their regulatory treatment is determined by the underlying facts, circumstances, uses, and economic realities, and not the label or terminology used to describe them.

In addition to providing a brief overview of the AML/CFT obligations that apply to certain market participants, the statement also emphasized that the nature of companies’ digital asset-related activities is the key factor in determining their registration requirements with the respective agencies. Each agency further highlighted particular concerns:

  • The CFTC reminded introducing brokers and futures commission merchants that they are required to report suspicious activity and implement reasonably-designed AML programs. These requirements apply to digital assets that qualify as commodities or which are used as derivatives, and to activities that are not subject to regulation under the Commodity Exchange Act.
  • The SEC informed broker-dealers and mutual funds of their similar obligations and that the rules are not limited in their application to activities involving digital assets that qualify as securities under the federal securities laws. It also noted that securities market participants that transactions in digital assets present similar or additional risks, including AML/CFT risks, as transactions in cash and cash equivalents.
  • FinCEN called attention to its May 2019 interpretive guidance describing the application of FinCEN regulations governing money services businesses to certain business models involving money transmissions denominated in convertible virtual currencies. FinCEN also clarified that “any person ‘registered with, and functionally regulated or examined by, the SEC or the CFTC,’ would not be subject to the BSA obligations applicable to MSBs, but instead . . . would be subject to the BSA obligations of such a type of regulated entity.”

On September 18, 2019, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) filed its first civil suit alleging violations of broker-dealer registration requirements in U.S. digital asset markets.  In a case filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, the SEC alleged that Defendants ICOBox and its founder, Nikolay Evdokimov, illegally conducted an unregistered public securities offering for their 2017 initial coin offering (“ICO”), and have operated an unregistered brokerage service facilitating the launch of ICOs in digital asset securities since 2017. Continue Reading SEC Files First Suit Against Alleged Unregistered Broker-Dealer Operating in Digital Asset Markets

On July 25, 2019, staff of the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) granted its second no-action letter in the digital asset space to Pocketful of Quarters, Inc. (“POQ”), permitting POQ to sell digital tokens (“Quarters”) recorded on the Ethereum blockchain without satisfying registration requirements under the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (the “Acts”). Like the SEC’s prior no-action letter to TurnKey Jet, Inc. (“TKJ”), which permitted TKJ to sell digital tokens pegged to $1.00 for the limited purpose of purchasing air charter services, Quarters will also be sold at a fixed price and limited to a purely consumptive purpose within the Quarters platform.

Due to these similarities, the POQ letter does little to clarify the SEC staff’s most recent guidance, released with the TKJ letter on April 3, 2019, that lists characteristics of a digital token that may affect its classification as a “security” under the Acts (the “Framework”).[1] The POQ letter merely reemphasizes that projects where the platform is already fully developed and the digital asset is subject to extensive restrictions on secondary trading, like TKJ, are more likely to fall outside the scope of federal securities laws. Continue Reading SEC Provides Second No-Action Letter in the Digital Asset Space