On November 8, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) imposed a cease-and-desist order against Zachary Coburn for causing his former company, EtherDelta, to operate as an unregistered securities exchange in violation of Section 5 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“Exchange Act”).  Notably, EtherDelta, a trading platform specializing in digital assets known as Ether and ERC20 tokens,[1] was not operated like a traditional exchange with centralized operations, as there was no ongoing, active management of the platform’s order taking and execution functions. Instead, EtherDelta was “decentralized,” in that it connected buyers and sellers through a pre-established smart contract protocol upon which all operational decisions were carried out.

In the SEC’s view, EtherDelta met Exchange Act Rule 3b-16(a)’s definition of an exchange notwithstanding the lack of ongoing centralized management of order taking and execution.  Robert Cohen, the Chief of the SEC’s Cyber Unit within the Division of Enforcement stated after the order’s release, “The focus is not on the label you put on something . . . The focus is on the function . . . whether it’s decentralized or not, whether it’s on a smart contract or not, what matters is it’s an exchange.” This functional approach echoes prior SEC guidance and enforcement actions in the digital asset securities markets in emphasizing that the Commission will look to the substance and not the form of a market participants’ operations in evaluating their effective compliance with U.S. securities laws. Continue Reading SEC Brings First Enforcement Action Against a Digital Assets Trading Platform for Failure to Register as a Securities Exchange

For the first time, the SEC’s staff issued guidance last week under its rule governing audit committees for listed issuers.  The guidance addresses the composition of audit committees for issuers that are listed in both Brazil and the United States, and it takes the form of an interpretive letter from the Division of Corporation Finance to law firms Cleary Gottlieb and Simpson Thacher.

Please click here to read the full alert memorandum.

On November 2, the SEC’s Enforcement Division released its annual report detailing the facts and figures of its enforcement efforts in fiscal year 2018.  At first blush, this year’s report looks strikingly similar to those from recent years, as the headline numbers in most categories are nearly indistinguishable from 2015, 2016, and 2017.  This consistency may be surprising given that 2018 is the first such report reflecting exclusively the enforcement priorities of the Commission since it was reconstituted under Chair Jay Clayton.

But a closer examination of the report, including the components feeding into the top-line facts and figures and commentary by Division co-directors Stephanie Avakian and Steven Peikin, reveals a clear shift in priorities by the Division.  These range from a philosophical shift in its mission to the reallocation of resources during a hiring freeze.  We address here the most notable of these subtle but important changes.  Continue Reading Retail, Remedies, Resources and Results: Observations From the SEC Enforcement Division 2018 Annual Report

On October 16, 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission released a Report of Investigation that cautioned public companies to consider cyber threats when designing and implementing internal accounting controls.  The report was based on an investigation of nine victims of email cyber-fraud schemes for potentially failing to have adequate internal accounting controls, in violation of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.  The report highlights the need for companies to reassess their controls in light of the current cybersecurity risk environment.  By describing the remedial steps taken by the investigated companies, it further provides guidance about the key areas that companies should consider when assessing their own policies and procedures. Continue Reading SEC Investigative Report Urges Public Companies to Guard Against Cyber Threats When Implementing Internal Accounting Controls

On Friday, October 12, 2018, during remarks at the NYU School of Law Program on Corporate Compliance and Enforcement Conference on Achieving Effective Compliance, Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Department of Justice announced new guidance, issued on October 11, relating to the imposition and selection of corporate compliance monitors in Criminal Division matters. Acknowledging the significant burden that monitors place on corporations, Benczkowski announced that the new guidance is intended to ensure the Criminal Division is acting in a consistent and responsible manner when it imposes a compliance monitor and is designed to “further refine the factors that go into the determination of whether a monitor is needed, as well as to clarify and refine the monitor selection process.”

Please click here to read the full alert memorandum.

Last month, Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales effectively shut down the operation of the UN-operated International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (called by its Spanish initials, “CICIG”) by declining to renew its mandate past its September 2019 expiration date and by barring the head of CICIG, Iván Velásquez, from re-entering the country.  CICIG, a uniquely independent organ of the United Nations (“U.N.”), was created in 2007 to support and assist Guatemalan institutions in identifying, investigating, and prosecuting public corruption.  Over the past decade, it has investigated nearly 200 public officials, and its efforts led to the prosecution and ultimate resignation of former Guatemalan President, Otto Pérez Molina.[1]  Continue Reading Anti-Corruption in Guatemala: A Critical Moment for CICIG

On September 27, 2018, in remarks delivered at the 5th Annual Global Investigations Review New York Live Event, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Matthew S. Miner reported on the accomplishments of the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) over the course of the last twelve months.  Importantly, he also discussed recent changes to the DOJ’s policies on prosecution of business organizations and how those changes have been implemented.[1]  Miner highlighted the DOJ’s efforts to incentivize and provide guidance to companies to self-report, cooperate and remediate corporate misconduct while underscoring the importance of robust compliance programs to detect and prevent wrongdoing and to obtain full credit in resolving investigations by the DOJ. Continue Reading DOJ Remarks Highlight Changes to White Collar Policy

On September 26, 2018, a federal court in the District of Massachusetts found that virtual currencies are a commodity under the Commodity Exchange Act, 7 U.S.C. § 1 et seq, (“CEA”). This marks the second time that a court has accepted the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s (“CFTC”) position and upheld the agency’s authority to regulate unleveraged and unmargined spot transactions in virtual currency under the agency’s anti-fraud and manipulation enforcement authority.  Most notably, however, the reasoning behind its decision potentially expands the scope of the CFTC’s oversight of the market. Continue Reading Second District Court Determines Virtual Currencies Are Commodities

On July 31, 2018, in response to a review of the Bribery Act 2010 (the “Bribery Act”) conducted by the UK Government, the Law Society, the City of London Law Society and the Fraud Lawyers Association published a joint response (the “Joint Response”) to the UK Government’s call for evidence on the enforcement and effectiveness of the legislation.[1] Continue Reading Law Society, CLLS and Fraud Lawyers Association Respond to UK Government Review of the Bribery Act

Over the past year, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) has increasingly scrutinized initial coin offerings (“ICO”) and certain digital assets.  On September 20, 2018, the SEC’s Enforcement Division co-Director, Stephanie Avakian, gave a speech in which she addressed the Division’s approach to dealing with these new forms of tradeable assets.  This speech came only days after the SEC settled its first case charging an unregistered broker-dealer for facilitating the sale of digital tokens from several ICOs since the 2017 DAO Report.  In her speech, Avakian provided three key insights into the Division’s enforcement strategy. Continue Reading SEC Enforcement Division Co-Director Provides Insight Into Commission’s Approach to ICOs and Cryptocurrencies