The SEC has put Coinbase on notice for allegedly breaking securities laws

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The SEC’s letter suggests a next step could come soon, while execs say they’re prepared to defend its crypto staking product Coinbase Earn and other products in court.

Illustration of the Coinbase wordmark on a teal, blue, and black background with circular patterns.

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Coinbase execs revealed today that the crypto exchange has received a “Wells Notice” from the Securities and Exchange Commission, indicating that after an investigation, the agency’s staff plan to recommend some kind of enforcement action. That could include charges or lawsuits, but none of that has happened yet.

Last month, the SEC reached a settlement with Kraken over its crypto staking operation, where the company paid a $30 million fine and shut down US operations right around the same time it sent another Wells Notice to the crypto firm Paxos over its minting of the Binance USD (BUSD) token.

According to Coinbase, the issue is “an undefined portion of our listed digital assets, our staking service Coinbase Earn, Coinbase Prime, and Coinbase Wallet.” Coinbase chief legal officer Paul Grewal shared a copy of the letter (PDF) the company received from the SEC, complaining that “Over the past 9 months, CB has met with the SEC more than 30 times, sharing details of our business to build a path to registration. During this time, the SEC hasn’t given basically 0 feedback on what to change, or how to register. Instead, today we received a Wells notice.”

Coinbase had similar notes when it received a Wells letter about the Lend program before trying to launch it in 2021, saying the SEC hadn’t provided clear information on what is security or how the company could register. Grewal and Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong’s tweet threads about the letter say Coinbase prepared to defend its stance (that the products it offers shouldn’t be considered securities) in court, but so far, no lawsuits or injunctions have been filed.

For now, the company’s blog post tells customers and investors that “Rest assured, Coinbase products and services continue to operate as usual — today’s news does not require any changes to our current products or services.”

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