The Securities and Exchange Commission announced this morning that it will add 20 positions to its Crypto Assets and Cyber Unit. This unit is responsible for protecting investors in the crypto market, as well as keeping them safe from cybercrimes. According to Axios, current Cyber Unit, Chief Kristina Littman, is stepping down with plans to leave in early June.
The Unit, which has existed for five years, has initiated enforcement actions against 80 fraudulent and unregistered crypto-asset offerings and platforms seeking more than $2 billion in monetary relief. Indeed, in February, lending protocol BlockFi was subjected to the largest penalty in history—$100 million—for violating the Investment Company Act of 1940. Another high profile SEC lawsuit, SEC v. Ripple, is expected to go to trial in November 2022.
The SEC’s move is in response to the continued growth and popularity of digital currencies and assets. Retail firms and Wall Street are increasingly pouring cash into crypto. Fidelity, the largest retirement plan provider in the US, announced that by mid-2022 it will allow employers to offer up to 20% of their investors’ 401(k) retirement funds in bitcoin.
With the 20 additional positions, the SEC unit will now have a total of 50 dedicated positions and will seek to increase its focus on the $1.7 trillion crypto market, with particular focus on:
- Crypto asset offerings
- Crypto asset exchanges
- Crypto asset lending and staking products
- Decentralized finance (DeFi) platforms
- Non-fungible tokens (NFTs)
“The U.S. has the greatest capital markets because investors have faith in them, and as more investors access the crypto markets, it is increasingly important to dedicate more resources to protecting them,” said SEC Chair Gary Gensler. “The Division of Enforcement’s Crypto Assets and Cyber Unit has successfully brought dozens of cases against those seeking to take advantage of investors in crypto markets. By nearly doubling the size of this key unit, the SEC will be better equipped to police wrongdoing in the crypto markets while continuing to identify disclosure and controls issues with respect to cybersecurity.”
The SEC’s additions are part of the growing regulatory framework around crypto, and they may provide some additional certainty and remedies for investors who are harmed by fraud in the space. SEC Enforcement Director Gurbir Grewal previously referred to the crypto space as the “Wild West,” and others have compared it to the stock market in 1920. The SEC, as well as other federal agencies, have all been trying to assert regulatory dominance over the space, which—as a global currency—may not always be within the US Federal Government’s reach.
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