These past 12 months haven’t been very good for cryptocurrency. These past two days have been especially rough for cryptocurrency exchanges operating in the U.S.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced(opens in a new tab) that it was suing the U.S.’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, Coinbase, in federal court. The SEC alleges that Coinbase was selling unregistered securities, violating securities laws. The SEC lawsuit against Coinbase comes just one day after the SEC also filed a similar suit against the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, Binance.
“Since at least 2019, Coinbase has made billions of dollars unlawfully facilitating the buying and selling of crypto asset securities,” reads the SEC press release regarding the lawsuit against Coinbase.
The SEC lawsuit covers Coinbase’s exchange, which it alleges sold unregistered securities, as well as Coinbase’s staking-as-a-service program, which rewards users for holding their cryptocurrency with the company.
In addition to the federal lawsuit from the SEC, additional action(opens in a new tab) has been taken against Coinbase as well at the state level. A “multi-state task force of ten state securities regulators” are ordering Coinbase to prove why the crypto exchange should continuing operating over the next 28 days or cease and desist operations. The task force, which worked with the SEC, was “led by California” and included Alabama, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, South Carolina, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.
The SEC is alleging both Binance and Coinbase broke securities laws around unregistered securities. However, there are some pretty significant differences between the two cases.
In addition to the securities allegations, SEC is also alleging(opens in a new tab) Binance and its CEO Changpeng Zhao aka “CZ” engaged in market manipulation and fraud. Unlike in the Binance case, the SEC has not included Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong in its lawsuit.
According to the suit, Binance and CZ “defrauded equity, retail, and institutional investors” with “manipulative trading” on the Binance.US(opens in a new tab) platform, “which were in fact virtually non-existent.” The lawsuit also claims that CZ’s trading firm, Sigma Chain, inflated trading volumes on Binance.US(opens in a new tab) through “wash trading,” which is basically when the same entity sells and buys the same crypto token or other financial asset in order to falsely prop up market activity.
Regulators in the U.S. have had a renewed interest in the crypto industry after last year’s market collapse after the failure of stablecoin Terra and its sister crypto token Luna, followed by the implosion of numerous crypto lenders and the fraudulent FTX crypto exchange.