SEC charges crypto exchange Bittrex for violating US securities laws

The Commission alleges the company coordinated with crypto issuers to delete "problematic statements."

Dado Ruvic / reuters

The Securities and Exchange Commission has charged Bittrex and former CEO William Shihara with operating an unregistered securities exchange. In a complaint filed on Monday, the SEC alleges the crypto exchange, once one of the largest in the US, earned at least $1.3 billion in revenue between 2017 and 2022 while offering the services of a broker, exchange and clearing agency. It did so without registering with the Commission, in violation of federal law, the SEC alleges.

Additionally, the SEC claims Bittrex “coordinated” with crypto issuers to delete “problematic statements” Shihara believed would prompt a regulator like the SEC to investigate the exchange. In one instance, the Commission states Shihara instructed a potential issuer to erase comments that referenced “price predictions” and “expectation of profit.”

“Today’s action, yet again, makes plain that the crypto markets suffer from a lack of regulatory compliance, not a lack of regulatory clarity,” said SEC Chair Gary Gensler. “As alleged in our complaint, Bittrex and issuers that it worked with knew the rules that applied to them but went to great lengths to evade them by directing issuer-applicants to ‘scrub’ offering materials of information indicating that certain crypto assets were securities.”

As Coindesk notes, Bittrex, citing “continued regulatory uncertainty,” announced last month it would exit the US market at the end of April. Over the weekend, the company told The Wall Street Journal it was recently notified by the SEC of potential enforcement action by the Commission. David Maria, the company’s general counsel, said Bittrex would challenge the lawsuit unless the Commission offered “a reasonable settlement offer.” Last year, the US Treasury fined Bittrex $29 million for previously failing to comply with US money laundering and sanction laws.

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