Coinbase Faces Charges by the US Securities and Exchange Commission for Unlawful Operations

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Coinbase Faces Charges by the US Securities and Exchange Commission for Unlawful Operations
© The New York Times

In an intensified effort to regulate the cryptocurrency industry, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has taken action against Coinbase, the leading cryptocurrency trading platform in the United States.

The SEC alleges that Coinbase engaged in illicit activities by operating as an unregistered broker, exchange, and clearing agency for investments subject to SEC rules. This allowed the company to avoid oversight and neglect safeguards against conflicts of interest.

In response to these accusations, Coinbase argues that the regulatory guidelines pertaining to its operations lacked clarity. They call for transparent legislation that establishes equitable rules for the entire industry. Paul Grewal, the chief legal officer of Coinbase, emphasizes that the company will continue to conduct its business as usual while actively advocating for unambiguous regulatory frameworks.

Coinbase’s legal ordeal comes shortly after a similar lawsuit was filed against Binance, the largest cryptocurrency trading platform worldwide. The SEC accuses Binance of mishandling customer funds, artificially inflating trading volume, and evading regulations within the United States.

In response to the growing importance of the crypto industry, authorities have made a commitment to enhance their scrutiny of digital assets, arguing that many of these assets operate in a manner comparable to traditional investments and should therefore be subject to regulatory oversight. This heightened level of scrutiny comes in the wake of the collapse of FTX, a significant cryptocurrency exchange, in the previous year. The collapse of FTX resulted in numerous customers being unable to access their funds, prompting the need for increased regulatory measures.

Regulators from ten states, including California and Alabama, took legal action against Coinbase on Tuesday, accusing the platform of operating as an unregistered securities dealer. Gurbir S. Grewal, the director of the SEC’s division of enforcement, claimed that Coinbase knowingly disregarded federal securities laws.

Established in 2012, Coinbase has amassed a customer base exceeding 100 million and handles daily trading volumes of digital assets like Bitcoin amounting to billions of dollars. While the company’s market value soared to nearly $100 billion during the cryptocurrency boom when it went public in 2021, its shares have witnessed a significant decline following the downturn in the crypto market. Presently valued at less than $12 billion, Coinbase encountered a 12% decrease in its share price upon news of the SEC lawsuit.

Coinbase’s legal troubles prompted its customers to withdraw approximately $1.3 billion from the platform, as reported by Nansen, a firm that tracks crypto flows. The company had previously warned about potential legal actions by the SEC and expressed disappointment in the absence of a clear path for crypto firms to register. It even contemplated the possibility of relocating outside the United States, with London being considered as one potential destination.

Mr. Grewal of Coinbase contended that the SEC’s enforcement actions, carried out without clear rules for the digital asset industry, detrimentally impact America’s economic competitiveness. He criticized the SEC’s approach, asserting that Coinbase and similar companies are fully committed to compliance.

Kristin Smith, the CEO of the industry group Blockchain Association, highlighted ongoing discussions in Congress as evidence that laws governing the cryptocurrency industry are still evolving. Smith expressed confidence that the courts will ultimately question the SEC’s allegations, emphasizing that the SEC merely makes accusations without establishing the law.

Mr. Grewal from Coinbase was scheduled to provide testimony in Washington on the same day the SEC filed its lawsuit. His testimony aimed to offer insights into crafting laws for regulating specific types of digital assets. In his prepared remarks, Grewal stated that Coinbase diligently assesses the assets available on its platform to determine if they qualify as securities regulated by the SEC, with the majority of proposals being rejected.


As the legal battle unfolds, the outcome will hold significant implications for the regulatory landscape of the crypto industry and the role played by major platforms like Coinbase in the United States.

The SEC’s lawsuit against Coinbase and the broader crackdown on the crypto industry have sparked debates and raised concerns about the regulatory environment for digital assets. While the SEC seeks to enforce existing rules and safeguard investors, industry participants argue that the absence of clear regulations hinders innovation and economic competitiveness.

Coinbase is currently facing significant legal challenges at a crucial moment for the cryptocurrency industry, which has undergone remarkable growth and widespread adoption in recent years. Boasting over 100 million customers and handling billions of dollars in daily trading volumes, Coinbase has played a significant role in the market. However, the declining value of its shares and the withdrawal of funds by customers following the lawsuit highlight the potential consequences of regulatory actions on industry participants.

The SEC’s actions against Coinbase and Binance indicate a more assertive approach to regulating the cryptocurrency market, as authorities seek to address concerns such as fraud, market manipulation, and investor risks. The collapse of FTX, which left numerous investors in a precarious situation, serves as a stark reminder of the necessity for increased oversight and protective measures within the industry.

Simultaneously, debates regarding the regulatory landscape for cryptocurrencies persist. Coinbase and other industry players advocate for clear and transparent legislation that establishes a fair playing field for all participants. They argue that regulatory ambiguity stifles innovation and drives businesses to operate in jurisdictions outside the United States that are more favorable towards cryptocurrencies.

On the opposing side, regulators contend that digital assets should be subject to existing securities laws due to their resemblance to traditional investments. They stress the significance of safeguarding investors and upholding market integrity, particularly in a swiftly evolving and occasionally volatile market.

The outcome of the Coinbase lawsuit and the ongoing discussions in Congress are expected to shape the future regulatory framework for cryptocurrencies in the United States. The industry eagerly anticipates clarity regarding the rules that will govern its operations, ensuring compliance while promoting innovation and competition.

As the cryptocurrency market matures, striking a balance between regulation and innovation becomes increasingly crucial. While protecting investors is of utmost importance, policymakers must also cultivate an environment that fosters responsible growth and technological advancements. Achieving this delicate equilibrium will necessitate collaboration among industry stakeholders, regulators, and lawmakers.

The legal proceedings against Coinbase represent a pivotal moment for the crypto industry, instigating contemplation on its future trajectory and the role of regulatory oversight. As the case unfolds, the courts will ultimately determine the legality of Coinbase’s operations, establishing significant precedents for the broader industry.


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