Crypto exchange Bittrex pays $24 million to settle SEC’s charges
The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has reached an agreement with cryptocurrency trading platform Bittrex and its co-founder William Shihara over allegations of operating an unregistered exchange.
The SEC stated that Bittrex and its global arm, Bittrex Global, have agreed to settle the legal dispute by paying $14.4 million in disgorgement, $4 million in prejudgment interest, and $5.6 million in civil penalties. However, the settlement still requires court approval.
The SEC’s lawsuit against Bittrex was initially filed in April, accusing the company’s U.S. and overseas entities of running an illegal securities exchange, broker-dealer, and clearinghouse. The overseas entity was alleged to have failed to register as a national securities exchange.
As part of the settlement, Bittrex and Shihara have accepted an order preventing them from violating U.S. securities laws. While the companies did not admit to the SEC’s allegations, the settlement aims to resolve the legal dispute between the parties.
A spokesperson from Bittrex expressed satisfaction with the settlement and indicated that further comments would be made after the court’s approval of the resolution.
“For years, Bittrex worked with token issuers to ‘scrub’ their online statements of any indicia that they were investment contracts — all in an effort to evade the federal securities laws. Today’s settlement makes clear that you cannot escape liability by simply changing labels or altering descriptions because what matters is the economic realities of those offerings,” said SEC enforcement director Gurbir Grewal.
Bittrex’s U.S. entity had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in May, nearly four weeks after shuttering its US business following accusations made by the regulators that it was operating an unregistered securities exchange.
The Seattle-based crypto exchange said the bankruptcy filing would not impact its global brand, Bittrex Global, which is based in Liechtenstein and serves non-US customers. The filing revealed that the exchange’s assets and liabilities were in the range of $500 million to $1 billion.
Bittrex stated that the assets of its US-based users are secure and safe, and the exchange plans to request a limited re-opening of their accounts to distribute the remaining balances back to its holders.
Bittrex had reportedly 600,000 active users in the US and another 600,000 unfunded customer accounts. According to a bankruptcy filing, 16 US-based customers still have at least $1 million in their accounts, with the biggest depositor holding $14.6 million in assets.
The SEC’s complaint alleges that Bittrex was purposefully non-compliant since at least 2014, facilitating the buying and selling of crypto assets that were deemed as securities. The exchange earned over $1.3 billion in revenues, primarily from transaction fees collected between 2017 and 2022, while servicing American investors without registering any of these activities with the financial watchdog.