After months of indications the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) would sue US crypto giant Coinbase, it’s finally happened.
The lawsuit (1:23-cv-04738) filed Tuesday in the Southern District of New York accuses Coinbase and its parent company, CGI, of breaking securities law by acting as an unregistered broker for its main crypto trading platform, its Coinbase Prime product, and the Coinbase Wallet. In addition to those alleged violations, the SEC is suing over Coinbase’s staking-as-a-service platform that allows its customers to earn a return for participating in “proof of stake” blockchains.
Coinbase has not yet responded to requests for comment on the lawsuit. However, its CEO, Brian Armstrong, and chief legal officer, Paul Grewal, previously responded to the SEC’s “Wells Notice” of securities law violations. Grewal wrote in a blog post, “Coinbase does not list securities or offer products to our customers that are securities … We remain confident in the legality of our assets and services, and if needed, we welcome a legal process to provide the clarity we have been advocating for and to demonstrate that the SEC simply has not been fair or reasonable when it comes to its engagement on digital assets.”
This filing drops one day after the SEC sued the world’s largest crypto exchange, Binance, saying it illegally operated in the US (among many, many other things detailed here). Reuters reports that data firm Nansen tracked over $790 million pulled from Binance and its US affiliate since that lawsuit was filed.
There are 13 tokens named by the SEC that it says Coinbase “has made available for trading crypto assets that are being offered and sold as investment contracts, and thus as securities.” Among them are tokens for Solana (SOL), the Axie Infinity game (AXS), the Polygon blockchain (MATIC), virtual world The Sandbox (SAND), and the “Chiliz” (CHZ) token operated by fan token company Socios.
In a statement, SEC chair Gary Gensler said, “We allege that Coinbase, despite being subject to the securities laws, commingled and unlawfully offered exchange, broker-dealer, and clearinghouse functions.”
Gesler continued, “Coinbase’s alleged failures deprive investors of critical protections, including rulebooks that prevent fraud and manipulation, proper disclosure, safeguards against conflicts of interest, and routine inspection by the SEC. Further, as we allege, Coinbase never registered its staking-as-a-service program as required by the securities laws, again depriving investors of critical disclosure and other protections.”