by Greg Barker
Friday, 29
July 2022
Debate
07:00

The Coinbase investigation spells trouble for crypto

Authorities are moving in on the industry
by Greg Barker
Is crypto’s time up? Credit: Getty

This week, it was revealed that the crypto exchange Coinbase is facing an investigation from the U.S Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) over allowing its users to speculate on unregistered securities. Reports claimed that regulatory officials began taking a “closer look” at Coinbase when it enabled trading of an additional 100 tokens on its platform. How this was the first red flag to provoke a serious examination remains a mystery to outside observers.

If the S.E.C concludes that every token listed on Coinbase is, in fact, an unregistered security, every crypto entity will gulp in fear. By facilitating the trading of crypto tokens, they will now be illegally engaging in what computer science professor Nicholas Weaver dubbed as “securities fraud as a business”.

Crypto bears agreed. ‘All of the insider trading, pump & dump schemes and Ponzis will become illegal overnight’, crypto critic Dare Obasanjo tweeted. ‘Coinbase marketed their products as securities to investors but never registered [them]’, added RebellionPac director Brianna Wu. “We have laws for that. It’s a classic fraud felony.”

Coinbase has already done everything contra to what you’d expect from a pro-crypto entity. Looking back, it has committed every one of crypto’s deadly sins. For starters, Coinbase insiders regularly snitch on their crypto brethren for insider trading, which is verboten in crypto circles. In an even more treasonous move, company executives have cozied up to the establishment, taking meetings with high-up government officials from the U.S Congress and Federal Reserve, such as Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi and Fed Chair Jerome Powell. This week, the execs revisited D.C — and tweeted about it.

But there’s only so much Coinbase can do at this stage. The company has been marked out for some time, especially after The Intercept published a damning report last month that permanently altered crypto’s perceptions toward one of its largest players. According to ‘contract documents’ obtained by Intercept reporters, Coinbase, the world’s largest crypto exchange, had sold intelligence tools to the U.S government. By utilising Coinbase Tracer, the crypto company’s intelligence-gathering software, Homeland Security’s Investigations Division (ICE) now had more chance of connecting cryptocurrency addresses to ‘real-world entities’. Coinbase, a prominent crypto entity, had now helped erode the privacy of its own ecosystem.

Handing over blockchain data to the Feds was yet another sin that Coinbase committed, which it did to get in the authorities’ good books. Presumably, they thought they were immune from overarching levels of regulatory scrutiny.

Is this SEC investigation the catalyst that will bring down what is essentially an unregulated Ponzi ecosystem? Judging by Coinbase’s stock, which has fallen over 20% on the news, investors think so. That could explain why even crypto mega-bull Cathie Wood dumped roughly a million and a half of Coinbase shares close to the news coming out.

It’s indeed plausible that an unhealthy amount of sanctions and fines will be dumped on Coinbase, with agencies like FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) gaining the power to supervise crypto. This would be a disastrous outcome for the crypto community because if the power structures deem cryptocurrencies as unregistered securities, then not just Coinbase, but the wider crypto industry will succumb. For, if something is regulated that only has value because it operates in a legal grey area, it eliminates any reason for that thing to exist.

Greg Barker is an independent journalist and quant, who also writes under the name Concoda. You can find him on Substack and Twitter at @concodanomics.

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Peter B
Peter B
11 days ago

“This would be a disastrous outcome for the crypto community …”.
Who are this so-called “crypto community” ? It’s another misuse of the word “community”. I suggest these are essentially a load of spivs, chancers, criminals, tax dodgers and speculators. Not the sort of “community” anyone should wish to join or support.
You don’t have to follow crypto news that closely over the past 6 months to realise just how many of these exchanges were run by scammers and crooks.
This would certainly be a very good outcome for the law-abiding and tax-paying majority. And long overdue.

N T
N T
11 days ago
Reply to  Peter B

This is so ignorant that it makes my hair hurt.
Starting at the end, and constraining our discussion to Coinbase, since that firm is the subject of this article, ALL transactions are reported to the IRS, AND scraped from the various Blockchain ledgers by a third party because…the ledgers are public. That is how deFi, or crypto works. The ledger is public and not under any one party’s control (the 51% rule notwithstanding).
Crypto is also not taxed like regular income, but like a security, so short-term capital gains are treated differently than long-term, and fees aren’t deductible as a cost of doing business.
Unlike with your favorite fiat currency, there aren’t narcos flying planeloads of bundled cash, or Martin and Wendy Byrd laundering your ill-gotten gains, because…public ledger. “Mixers” have had limited success because it is very difficult to do something like that when anyone can see the moves and do the math and surveil a wallet to piece it all back together. You can’t hand someone a Franklin, or a stack of them, and the secrecy you have come to expect from your bank does not exist. The only anonymity you have is because the wallets you control have not been tied to you, yet (except by CoinTracker, and the IRS, etc.)
The scams are the scams. Ever hear of Madoff?

Peter B
Peter B
11 days ago
Reply to  N T

Really ?
Perhaps you should look at the proportion of crypto trading and exchange companies that are scams as a percentage of the total and then compare that to the same ratio in regulated securities. It’s at least an order of magnitude higher. Stuff like Celsius.
Perhaps you should look at the history of some of the people running these crypto businesses. In a regulated industry, they would be disqualified.
The lack of regulation is an open invitation to scams and fraud. No wonder it was accepted.
I was addressing this from a UK perspective. Perhaps the IRS have this covered. But this is primarily a UK site. Are you quite so confident that HMRC are recovering all the taxes due on crypto transactions ?
If crypto in the US is indeed “taxed as a security”, then it seems only reasonable that it should be regulated as a security.
Finally, anyone who invests in an unregulated market has no one to blame but themselves.

ralph bell
ralph bell
10 days ago
Reply to  N T

Great comment

Justin Clark
Justin Clark
11 days ago

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nXM96J5gE2Y
Matthew Kratter of Trader University has some great insight to Coinbase and Others…

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
10 days ago

many of us have no blind clue as to what kriptau is?