Commodity Futures Trading Commission

US court approves settlement against Binance, firm to pay $2.7B to CFTC

Former Binance CEO Changpeng “CZ” Zhao has been ordered to pay $150 million, while Binance will pay $2.7 billion to conclude the CFTC enforcement action.

A United States court has entered an order against crypto exchange Binance and its former CEO, Changpeng “CZ” Zhao, that will see Binance pay $2.7 billion and CZ pay $150 million to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC).

In a Dec. 18 statement, the CFTC announced that the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois had approved the previously announced settlement and concluded the enforcement action first issued by the CFTC in November. 

“The court finds Zhao and Binance violated the Commodity Exchange Act (CEA) and CFTC regulations, imposes a $150 million civil monetary penalty personally against Zhao, and requires Binance to disgorge $1.35 billion of ill-gotten transaction fees and pay a $1.35 billion penalty to the CFTC,” wrote the CFTC in a statement. 

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Taiwan officials launch inquiry into crypto betting on election results: Report

Several Taiwanese residents were reportedly using the decentralized betting platform Polymarket, the same platform that saw record-breaking trading volumes during the 2020 United States election.

With the upcoming Taiwan presidential on Jan. 13, 2024, residents of Taiwan have been reportedly warned against using cryptocurrency betting platforms to wager on the election outcome. This advice comes amid an ongoing investigation, with several individuals already called for questioning.

According to a recent local report, a number of Taiwanese citizens have participated in the decentralized betting platform Polymarket to place bets on the upcoming presidential election.

“The community reported that several individuals have been summoned for investigation by prosecutors and investigators for participating in Polymarket bets,” the report stated.

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Here’s how the CFTC could prevent the next FTX

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission should be responsible for preventing companies like FTX from taking root in the future.

FTX declared bankruptcy this month with $900 million in assets against $9 billion in liabilities. Its founder and former CEO, Sam Bankman-Fried, is being questioned by police in the Bahamas, and many customers are unable to withdraw their deposits. Its holdings of Serum’s SRM, a token Bankman-Fried developed, dropped from a value of more than $2 billion to less than $100 million. Things got worse over the weekend after FTX was apparently hacked, leading to the loss of an additional several hundred million. Some commentators are already calling it cryptocurrency’s “Lehman moment,” referring to the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers that signaled we were in a financial crisis. 

In the wake of this epic collapse, Congress should get its head out of the sand and pass the Digital Commodities Consumer Protection Act designating the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, or CFTC, to regulate the crypto industry. The agency, which regulates commodities and derivatives trading, has already taken on a role in regulating crypto, sharing duties with the Securities and Exchange Commission, or SEC. Both agencies are on shaky ground, as no legislation designates either as an enforcement agency or defines whether crypto is a security or a derivative. Both have launched probes into FTX’s handling of customer accounts.

Federal crypto regulation is currently conducted through enforcement actions — lawsuits, fines and audits conducted after an event. But these actions are dependent on the agency’s ability to make a case. As a result, it isn’t always clear what rules are being enforced. Moreover, many actions resulting in crackdowns on crypto firms are legal for traditional firms under certain circumstances. Granting statutory authority to a sole regulator would give the industry clarity and stability. The CFTC is preferable because Chairman Rostin Behnam is perceived as friendlier to the industry than SEC Chair Gary Gensler.

Related: Will SBF face consequences for mismanaging FTX? Don’t count on it

Many of the activities that went on between FTX and Alameda Research that got the firms in trouble were either already illegal or highly regulated for firms dealing in conventional securities or derivatives, and the lack of clear rules in the United States encourages companies to set up shop in countries with little oversight, so risky practices had no consequences until the collapse. Some commentators have compared FTX’s balance sheet to the creative accounting that resulted in the collapse of Enron in 2001.

In particular, its practice of inventing tokens and then basing the value of its own holdings on the value of the small number it sold was similar to Enron’s mark-to-market accounting. FTX issued various tokens, including SRT and FTX Token (FTT), bought some from itself, then used that price to set their valuations. The stock of tokens was then listed as an asset on FTX’s balance sheets or deposited with sister company Alameda Research, an investment firm, to use as collateral.

About $14.4 billion of FTX’s $19.6 billion in assets before last week were represented by coins and tokens FTX created, while just $5.2 billion was in conventional assets. Customer liabilities totaled about $9 billion. Moreover, FTX lent around (at least) $10 billion of its depositors’ money to Alameda. It went under, nonetheless.

Officials such as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen are already calling for greater regulation to prevent another FTX-style crash. Yellen said the collapse “shows the weakness of this entire sector.”

Agencies like the SEC and CFTC ensure compliance with regulations by requiring firms to report on their activities regularly, by investigating tips from whistleblowers, and, when all else fails, with enforcement actions that can involve fines, lawsuits or getting a judge to subpoena companies’ records. Since the Enron scandal, accounting firms also have compliance they need to conduct. Destroying documents is a federal crime. Most importantly, the agencies have rules on how securities and commodities can be marketed to the general public, with some being restricted to only firms, individuals with specific attainments like certified financial analysts, and “accredited investors” — people wealthy enough they’re regarded as knowing what they’re doing.

Related: Binance’s victory over FTX means more users moving away from central exchanges

One of the consequences is that prospectuses must be clear on actual risks and expected returns, and ones that are too optimistic can indicate an attempt to defraud people. For instance, Alameda Research reportedly promised investors annual returns of 15% with no risk — an impossibility that would have alerted U.S. regulators when it was made in 2018.

CFTC Chairman Behnam has said that the SEC and CFTC are capable of working together to regulate crypto, but designating one regulator would help clear up confusion immediately and avoid jurisdictional conflicts or institutional “siloing” that could prevent the agencies from communicating with each other.

Quality, sensible reforms will be key to restoring confidence in crypto firms and preventing future problems from spiraling out of control.

Brendan Cochrane, Esq., CAMS, is the blockchain and cryptocurrency partner at YK Law LLP. He is also the principal and founder of CryptoCompli, a startup focused on the compliance needs of cryptocurrency businesses.

This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal or investment advice. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.

SEC boss worries crypto bill undermines financial protections

A provision in the bill gives authority over some cryptocurrencies to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), with the agency head saying it cares about having “rigorous oversight of markets.”

United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chair Gary Gensler said he’s worried that a proposed bill to create a regulatory framework for cryptocurrencies could weaken investor protections in the traditional financial market.

Speaking at The Wall Street Journal’s CFO Network Summit on Tuesday, Gensler was asked his thoughts regarding a recent bill introduced on June 7 by Senators Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).

He responded, saying “we don’t want to undermine the protections we have in a $100 trillion capital market,” adding:

“We don’t want our current stock exchanges, mutual funds, or public companies to, sort of inadvertently by a stroke of a pen, say ‘you know what, I want to be non-compliant as well, I want to be outside of this regime that I think has been quite a benefit to investors and economic growth over the last 90 years.’”

The bipartisan Lummis-Gillibrand “Responsible Financial Innovation Act” aims to address many facets of crypto regulation such as tax treatment of digital assets, stablecoins, and agency jurisdiction.

One provision of the bill gives “clear authority” to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) over digital asset spot markets, Gensler has long been adamant in declaring most cryptocurrencies are securities, subject to the SEC’s authority.

The Senators have mostly agreed with Gensler’s point, saying some altcoins would likely be considered securities under the proposed law, with Bitcoin (BTC) and Ether (ETH) considered to be commodities.

At the summit, Gensler said the SEC wasn’t looking to extend its jurisdiction and that some cryptocurrencies are already under the jurisdiction of the agency since they qualify as being a security:

“We’re just looking out for the retail public […] These tokens are being offered to the public, and the public is hoping for a better future. That’s the characteristics of an investment contract.”

Meanwhile, CFTC commissioner Christy Goldsmith Romero — who says she hasn’t yet read the Lummis-Gillibrand bill — welcomed regulatory action by Congress when speaking at an event on Tuesday.

Related: SEC reportedly launches investigation into insider trading on exchanges

Romero, also a former senior counsel in the SEC’s enforcement division, was asked if the view that the CFTC was a more laissez-faire regulator in comparison to the SEC was accurate.

“No, not at all […] they’re actually pretty similar,” she said, adding that the CFTC has brought multiple enforcement actions in the crypto space, and each agency cares about having “rigorous oversight of markets.”

Explaining the differences she’s witnessed, Romero said the CFTC has allowed more cryptocurrency products to trade on its regulated exchanges, with 18 products trading across 11 regulated entities:

“What that means is that the CFTC is pretty experienced and how to regulate trading in this market, and that’s really, really helpful as we move forward. It’s still going to take cooperation and coordination with the SEC, I’m 100% committed to that, that’s my former home.”

Gillibrand and Lummis state that most altcoins are securities

“Most cryptocurrencies go to the SEC […] Bitcoin and Ether would be certainly commodities, and that’s agreed upon,” said U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

United States Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Cyntia Lummis believe that most altcoins would likely be considered securities under their proposed new legislation, but they confirmed that Bitcoin (BTC) and Ether (ETH) will be classified as commodities. 

Lummis and Gillibrand both agreed with U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Gary Gensler’s assessment that most cryptocurrencies are securities under the Howey Test, with Gillibrand stating:

“Most cryptocurrencies go to the SEC […] Bitcoin and Ether would be certainly commodities, and that’s agreed upon. That’s agreed with Chairman Gensler as well as the chairman of the CFTC.”

Gillibrand pushed back on reports characterizing the legislation as making the Commodity Futures Trading Commission the primary regulator. “I don’t think CFTC is the primary regulator,” she said. “They just have the obligation to regulate Bitcoin and Ether, the majority of cryptocurrencies today.”

The pair made the comments during a Washington Post event on Wednesday, a day after releasing the details of the Responsible Financial Innovation Act.

Rostin Behnam, chair of the CTFC, was also at the event and took a slightly different view on the proportion of altcoins that are securities. He said that while there are “probably hundreds” of coins that replicate security coins, there are also many commodity coins, such as BTC and ETH, that should be regulated by the CFTC.

“It’s pretty clear that many of the digital assets themselves replicate or look like commodities. They’re more like stores of value than they are securities.”

Tony Tuths, head of the digital assets team at KPMG US, told Cointelegraph that the legislation, under its current form, is unlikely to “move forward” in the foreseeable future, adding it was unclear what coins will ultimately fall within the purview of the SEC versus the CTFC.

“On the regulatory side the legislation calls for the CFTC to be the primary regulator but then carves out a wide swath of tokens that have attributes similar to securities for regulation by the SEC. It will be a struggle to decipher what exactly is in the SEC bucket but it could be the exception that swallows the rule.“

Related: Class action suit against Coinbase alleges unregulated securities sales

The new bipartisan bill is expected to lean heavily on the Howey Test to determine whether a particular coin is classed as a security or a commodity.

“We’re trying to just fit the digital asset world into our current regulatory framework. […] We spent a lot of time on the definition of the modern Howey Test,” said Senator Lummis during a CNBC interview on June Tuesday.

The Howey Test is a framework set by the U.S. Supreme Court to determine whether a transaction qualifies as an investment contract, and thus considered a security.

The Howey Test has become a focal point in the SEC’s case against Ripple, which began in December 2020, alleging that the company used its digital token XRP to raise funds in 2013 and was an unregistered security token at the time.