Crypto Rating Council
While there are many hurdles that need to be cleared in the world of blockchain, there continues to be a recurring question that has plagued companies big and small.
What makes a token/coin a security?
This is not a simple question to answer, despite the SEC’s continuing stance that the existing regulations are clear.
In an effort the help both, companies and investors alike, a group of industry leaders have formed, what they are calling, the ‘Crypto Rating Council’. This council has taken it upon themselves to create a framework designed to ‘objectively assess whether any given crypto asset has characteristics that make it more or less likely to be classified as security in the U.S. federal securities laws’.
The ‘Howey Test’, which refers to a set of rules determining if an asset is a security, was long ago established by the SEC.
As this test is still the primary basis, to this day, for determining an asset’s status, the Council has structured their own framework around it. The council indicates that this developed framework, as a whole, looks at these assets through the same lens as the SEC. In doing so, they state that there are dozens of yes/no questions that they apply when determining asset classification.
Various noteworthy companies involved with blockchain form the founding members of the Crypto Rating Council. The following are only a few, listed by Coinbase, to be taking part.
- Grayscale Investments
While the list of assets evaluated will continue to grow, the Council has launched their initial ratings with of 20 popular tokens/coins already evaluated.
Once looked at through their developed framework, the assets are given a rating, which indicates the likelihood of the asset being deemed a security. These ratings range from 1-5 (5 being the most likely to be deemed a security). In their initial 20 ratings, there were a few noteworthy assets living on the extremes.
A few assets receiving a 1 (not a security), include Bitcoin, Litecoin, and Monero.
A few assets at the other end of the spectrum (most likely a security), receiving a 4.5, include POLY, XRP, and Maker.
Unsurprisingly, the SEC has stated in the past that they do not view Bitcoin as a security, justifying the 1/5 it received. Also unsurprisingly, assets such as XRP received a 4.5/5. This is not unexpected, as Ripple is in the midst of an ongoing lawsuit which would see XRP deemed a security.
Why it is Needed
Clearly, despite the SEC saying otherwise there is still industry confusion with regards to what constitutes a digital security. If this were not the case, we would not see nearly as many instances of these assets being improperly distributed. It is also important to note that it is not just ‘mickey-mouse’ companies being caught doing this – there are also well funded teams still falling into the trap.
While the council does not hold any true authority, hopefully, they will be able to at least provide some level of guidance moving forward to companies looking to distribute a digital asset.
On behalf of themselves, and the others joining them in the Council, Coinbase commented in a blog post on their announcement. The following is what they had to say on the importance of legal characterization, along with expected growth moving forward.
“The proper legal characterization of a crypto token — as a currency, a commodity, a security, or something else — can have a meaningful impact on how crypto businesses operate. Whether a token is a security under U.S. federal securities laws, in particular, will significantly impact registration, licensing, and operating obligations for financial services firms that offer crypto services like exchange, investment management, or trading.”
“In the coming months, we expect to add more members, review more assets, and publish more and revised asset scores. As we continue to grow, we may develop similar tools for non-U.S. jurisdictions.”
In the past year, we have reported on various events entailing the SEC laying charges upon companies. These have primarily stemmed around the improper issuance of what the SEC believes are securities. The following are a few examples of this, along with companies that could have very well benefited from a service now being created by the Crypto Rating Council.
SEC Charges Opporty for 2018 ICO
This week, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) continued its ICO crackdown. This time, the firm levied charges against project Opporty Founder and Brooklyn-resident Sergii Grybniak. The firm alleges that Grybniak broke the law when his firm raised approximately $600,000 during its 2018 ICO.
News of the charges first broke via Jan. 21 press release. In the release, the SEC reveals the charges laid against Grybniak in detail. Importantly, the primary charge is participating in the unregistered sale of securities. Additionally, the SEC claims that Grybniak made false statements in order to encourage more investor participation.
These statements include a myriad of exaggerated and completely fake claims. In one instance, Opporty claimed that its 2018 ICO was “100% SEC-compliant.” Unfortunately, this claim proved to be the tip of the iceberg. Apparently, Opporty also claimed to have thousands of “verified providers” who were ready to work with the platform.
This claim became so overblown that in one piece of marketing material, Opporty suggested it had a business database that included around 17 million participants. In actuality, the firm had no partnerships. Unfortunately, these claims served one main purpose, to push more investment capital into the ICO.
Major Software Firm
As if the shower of lies put forth weren’t enough, Opporty also made some very specific partnership claims that proved to be bunk as well. According to the SEC, the firm lied about a partnership with a major software company. This lie was to help ease investor doubt about the ability of developers to deliver on their hefty platform promises.
SEC Steps In – Opporty
It doesn’t take much research to see why Opporty ended up in the SEC’s crosshairs. Now, the SEC seeks injunctions against all future digital offerings by the company. On top of the cease-and-desist, regulators require Opporty to return all the funds the company raised during its 2018 ICO. Also, the firm is to face a variety of civil penalties for its actions.
Opporty executives sold the concept to investors as a blockchain-based ecosystem for small businesses. The platform was to provide these small-to-medium sized companies with access to advanced blockchain systems. For example, businesses could list their services and lock in their clients via smart contracts.
United States Investors
Aside from the obvious scamming that took place, Opporty made another key error in its strategy. You see, unlike many similar ICOs, the offering did not explicitly exclude U.S. investors from participating. The 2018 ICO included investments from around 200 US citizens. In this way, the firm invited the SEC to monitor its actions throughout its entire crowdfunding campaign.
An Oppurty Lost
Given the long list of violations this firm now faces, it’s easy to imagine a scenario in which Opporty decides to close its doors. Already, numerous SEC-charged firms have taken similar measures prior to refunding clients’ funds. For now, Opporty has a long legal battle and hefty fines to deal with. You can expect to hear more from this case as the SEC pursues its charges against Grybniak.
Disguises, Fake Identities, and an Illegal ICO – The SEC Looks to Lay Charges
The SEC is hard at work ousting, and holding accountable, those in the world of blockchain that have breached securities laws. Most recently, the SEC has turned their attention to an ICO hosted by a pair of companies operated by a duo of devious individuals.
- CG Blockchain Inc.
- BCT Inc.
This pairing of companies was marketed as developing technology to disrupt hedge funds, and the way they operate.
The Ring Leaders
- Boaz Manor (alias ‘Shaun Macdonald)
- Edith Pardo (alias ‘Edith Mehler’)
In all endeavours, it is believed that Boaz Manor was at the helm, with Edith Pardo acting as a ‘front-woman’, deflecting attention from Manor’s past.
In this particular case, the pair of companies, and the aforementioned individuals, are accused of facilitating/hosting a ‘fraudulent and unregistered offering of digital asset securities’.
$30 million worth of these securities were sold to investors, under the guise of a utility token ‘BCT’. Beyond simply selling illegal securities, those responsible flat out lied to their investors on a variety of fronts.
- Fake Identities
- Fake chain of command
- Product state of development
- Product Adoption
- Investments by founders
The list goes on. Simply put, they were not who they said they were, and the companies did not have a developed product gaining traction within the industry.
This next bit is not an everyday occurrence – rather, it was something you would see in a movie. Knowing full well that their activities were in violation of various securities based laws, Manor and Edith Pardo felt it prudent to hide their identities.
In order to do this, and distance themselves from their past activities (more on that, later), the pair went to great lengths. The SEC states,
“During the scheme, Manor employed a number of deceptive devices related to his fake identity and to the concealment of his background and role.”
Some of the tactics used to conceal their identities included dying hair, growing beards, attaining fake identification under the alias ‘Shaun MacDonald’, etc.
There are few reasons to justify hiding one’s identity in the manner that Manor did – either you’ve done something bad, or are doing something bad. In this particular case, Manor is guilty of both.
We’ve discussed the illegalities associated with his actions in the aforementioned ICO, however Manor has a history of such activity. Dating back to 2005 in Canada, Manor was found to be running a fraudulent hedge fund, valued at nearly $750 million.
When light was shed upon his operation, Manor proceeded to flee the great white north, becoming a fugitive in the process. After eventually returning, and completing a prison sentence of 1 year, Manor went on his way, staying out of the limelight until now.
Due to the great lengths gone to by the pair to partake in the aforementioned illegal activities, in addition to the sum of money raised, the SEC is taking a strong stance. The following is an excerpt from their court filing.
“Unless Defendants are restrained and enjoined, they will again engage in the acts, practices, transactions, and courses of business set forth in this Complaint or in acts, practices, transactions, and courses of business of similar type and object.”
The Securities and Exchange Commission is a United Stated based regulatory body, tasked with creating, an enforcing, regulation surrounding securities. The goal of which is to foster and maintain a fair, transparent, and efficient market for all participants.
Chairman, Jay Clayton, currently oversees company operations.
EMURGO Starts New Blockchain Task Force in Uzbekistan
This week, the blockchain arm of Cardano, EMURGO announced the creation of a special task force to assist the Uzbekistani government with security token integration. The newly developed team’s tasks will include researching, developing, and instituting new security token solutions into the market. Additionally, the team will guide Uzbeki officials on the creation of a regulatory framework to support a shift towards digital assets within the country’s financial sector.
News of the new taskforce first emerged via Cardano’s official blog. In the post, the company announced the creation of its new “strategic blockchain task force.” The post took a moment to describe the overall goals of the group. These goals include the development of a legal framework for STOs and security token trading. As such, the team will need to complete its market research in order to determine the best pathway towards providing solutions for the security token market locally.
Given the remarkable size and importance of the task at hand, it’s no surprise to learn that EMURGO made important strategic partnerships. To date, the firm works with the government of Uzbekistan’s National Agency of Project Management (NAPM), Infinity Blockchain Holdings and the KOBEA group.
KOBEA – Blockchain Education
Notably, the Korean-based blockchain firm, KOBEA will assist EMURGO in the development of an educational structure. The new blockchain-based courses will be available at universities and community centers in the very near future. This structure is necessary to further the local markets’ access to blockchain professionals.
Discussing the importance of the partnerships, the CEO of the EMURGO Group, Ken Kodama took a moment to express the “great honor” his firm feels after receiving the official go-ahead with the project. He also explained why Uzbekistan is one of the best places for blockchain development to occur. Notably, he touched on the government’s willingness to push the adoption of new technology. He even stated that “Uzbekistan is more willing than ever to adopt innovation.”
For its part, EMURGO will provide advisory services to the Uzbek government. Additionally, the firm will look into how to best integrate Cardano’s third generation blockchain into infrastructure projects. Blockchain infrastructure projects are on the rise. Despite the unprecedented growth within the sector over the last year, many analysts still see a lack of infrastructure as the main choke point towards full-scale blockchain adoption.
EMURGO and KOBEA
Interestingly, both EMURGO and KOBEA will provide additional insight into the digital asset banking markets. This data, coupled with a new educational initiative across all major Uzbek universities, should provide the country with a treasure trove of highly-trained professionals.
Cardano continues to impress with its 4th generation blockchain’s capabilities. Now, it appears that the firm has caught the attention of more than just your typical crypto investors. Given the sheer magnitude of its latest project, you can expect to see Cardano remain dominant in the crypto space for years to come.