The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has settled charges with a former Coinbase product manager and his brother for engaging in insider trading, the agency announced Tuesday.
Ishan Wahi, the former Coinbase employee, and brother Nikhil Wahi, engaged in “a scheme to trade ahead of multiple announcements regarding at least nine crypto asset securities that would be made available for trading on the Coinbase platform,” the SEC stated.
The two brothers were originally charged after the agency filed a complaint on July 21, 2022.
The filing stated that Coinbase treated that information as confidential and warned employees not to trade or tip off others with the information of tokens that were going to be listed on its platform. From June 2021 to April 2022, Ishan repeatedly “tipped the timing and content of upcoming listing announcements” to Nikhil and his friend Sameer Ramani.
Both Nikhil and Ramani allegedly bought at least 25 crypto assets, with nine of them — AMP, RLY, DDX, XYO, RGT, LCX, POWR, DFX and KROM — being securities, and sold them shortly after for profit of about $1.1 million, according to an SEC filing from July 2022.
“While the technologies at issue in this case may be new, the conduct is not,” Gurbir S. Grewal, director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, said in a statement. “The federal securities laws do not exempt crypto asset securities from the prohibition against insider trading, nor does the SEC.”
The two brothers agreed to disgorge their “ill-gotten” gains and pay interest. In addition, they plead guilty to the Department of Justice’s charges for conspiracy to commit wire fraud, with Ishan facing a two-year sentence and Nikhil serving a 10-month sentence. Ishan also has to forfeit 10.97 ether, about $20,900, and 9,440 of the stablecoin USDT. Nikhil has to forfeit $892,500.
The SEC said it is not seeking any other penalties in response to the Wahi brothers’ prison sentences. Ramani is still at large. Although he is a U.S. citizen, he is believed to be in India, according to the SEC.
The settlement answers the question of whether the nine cryptocurrencies were securities or not, which Ishan originally argued against in February. This case could provide clarity for future cases involving cryptocurrencies and legal framework for those involved in the market.
In the past, SEC chair Gary Gensler has stated that almost all cryptocurrencies are securities, with the exception of Bitcoin. While the SEC’s stance has become growingly clearer with each announcement, many players in the crypto industry continue to push back against that ruling in hopes of getting tailored digital asset frameworks opposed to fitting the industry into traditional finance.
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