SEC charges Bittrex, Former CEO for operating an unregistered securities exchange

The United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has charged the crypto asset trading platform, Bittrex and its cofounder and former CEO William Shihara for operating an unregistered national securities exchange.

By Staff

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The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed charges against Bittrex on Monday, alleging the Seattle-based exchange failed to comply with securities law by not registering with the financial watchdog in several areas.

The SEC’s criminal complaint alleges the exchange failed to register as a broker-dealer, exchange, and clearing agency, taking in at least $1.3 billion in illicit revenue between 2017 and 2022.

The lawsuit names Bittrex, Bittrex Global, and Bittrex co-founder and former CEO Bill Shihara. 

The enforcement action comes after Bittrex announced it was shutting down late last month, requesting users withdraw their funds from the platform by the end of this month.

“Bittrex has for years defied the regulatory structures and evaded the disclosure requirements that Congress and the SEC have over the course of decades constructed for the protection of the national securities markets and investors,” the lawsuit states.

The SEC’s attempt to go after Bittrex represents the latest development in a string of enforcement actions brought by U.S. regulators, targeting several cryptocurrency exchanges so far this year, among other firms native to the digital assets industry.

Kraken and Coinbase found themselves squarely in SEC’s sights over products related to staking cryptocurrencies, while the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) has gone after Binance for violating several derivatives trading rules.

“Today’s action, yet again, makes plain that the crypto markets suffer from a lack of regulatory compliance, not a lack of regulatory clarity. Today we’re holding Bittrex accountable for its non-compliance,” SEC Chairman Gary Gensler said in a press release.

The lawsuit also notes that since the exchange’s inception, it offered over 300 digital assets to investors. 

And though many of the tradeable crypto assets on the Bittrex Platform have characteristics that allegedly resemble securities, the lawsuit specifically names six tokens as examples on Bittrex that include OMG Network (OMG), Dash (DASH), Algorand (ALGO), Monolith (TKN), Naga (NGC), and Real Estate Protocol (IHT).

The SEC lawsuit accuses Bittrex of not only failing to register but also putting profits over investor protections in listing certain tokens, well aware of what to avoid in terms of potential SEC scrutiny.

The lawsuit also alleges that during his tenure as CEO of Bittrex, Shihara was at the forefront of a campaign within the company to clean up problematic statements, where the exchange directed the issuers of digital assets to scrub public statements of language that would raise eyebrows at the SEC.

However, even though it began removing certain crypto assets from its platform to avoid SEC scrutiny in April 2019, the exchange allegedly brought back some in an attempt to stay relevant, including DASH and OMG.

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