Binance, Coinbase navigate challenges; FTX drama takes new turn; sustained regulatory efforts | Weekly Recap

Hong Kong, Australia, and Venezuela took center stage as regulatory actions rocked the scene. Meanwhile, Sam Bankman-Fried’s parents face lawsuits while Binance and Coinbase navigate challenges. 

Hong Kong ramps up efforts

During the Shanghai Blockchain International Week, Duncan Chiu, a member of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, announced the forthcoming implementation of stablecoin regulations in Hong Kong by mid-2024. This endeavor stands in stark contrast to China’s rigorous cryptocurrency policies. 

Authorities in Hong Kong previously apprehended 11 individuals linked to a cryptocurrency fraud case associated with the JPEX platform.

This decisive response was prompted by complaints of illicit activities amounting to 1 billion Hong Kong dollars ($127.8 million). 

The Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) underscored its vigilant oversight of the unfolding events. A few days later, subsequent reports suggested that the number of arrested individuals had increased to 11.

Australian agency sues Kraken, ByBit hits roadblock in the UK

Shifting our focus beyond Asia, news emerging from Australia revealed that The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) filed a lawsuit against Bit Trade Pty Ltd, the operator of the Kraken exchange in Australia. 

The allegations pertain to Bit Trade’s alleged non-adherence to Australian financial regulations. ASIC contended that Bit Trade’s margin trading, which lacked proper target market identification, contributed to losses estimated at $12.95 million for its Australian clientele. 

Bybit, a Dubai-based exchange, recently decided to suspend its services for customers in the U.K. due to the country’s new regulations regarding crypto advertising and promotions. 

Bybit announced that U.K. users have until Jan. 8, 2024, to close their positions or risk liquidation. New U.K. registrations will cease on Oct. 1, and deposit functions will be disabled for existing customers from Oct. 8.

ByBit’s announcement came up a day after the U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) delivered a stern final warning to companies promoting crypto assets to customers in the country. 

Despite prior outreach efforts, the FCA appears frustrated by the lackluster response from unlicensed crypto firms abdoad, with a meager 24 out of 150 even bothering to reply to their inquiries. The agency warned that all firms take heed or prepare for some regulatory turbulence from Oct. 8.

Venezuela confiscates illicit Bitcoin mining machines

This week, Venezuelan security forces conducted a raid on the Tocorón prison, controlled by a notorious criminal gang, seizing Bitcoin (BTC) mining machines alongside weapons such as grenades and rocket launchers. 

The government deployed over 11,000 personnel to retake the prison, which had become the operating headquarters of the feared Tren de Aragua gang, notorious for a range of illegal activities. 

Among the prison’s extravagant facilities, including a zoo and casino for inmates, were Bitcoin mining machines used for illicit mining. 

Journey to Bankman-Fried’s FTX trial

The crypto scene also witnessed several developments on the journey to FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried’s fraud trial in the U.S. This week, prosecutors raised objections to Bankman-Fried’s extensive jury selection queries for the upcoming trial. 

They argued that these questions could prolong the selection process and potentially bias jurors in favor of the defense. They described the proposed questions as unnecessary, time-consuming, repetitive, and argumentative. 

Meanwhile, Bankman-Fried is looking to make a second attempt to secure his release from the Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center ahead of the trial. 

His defense team will appear before another U.S. Appeals Court, aiming to convince judges that staying in detention hampers his defense preparation. This comes after a Southern District of New York court denied his pretrial release. 

However, in a surprising turn of events, District Judge Lewis Kaplan blocked several key witnesses, including British barrister Lawrence Akka and University of Michigan professor Andrew Di Wu, from testifying in Bankman-Fried’s upcoming trial. 

The trial had relied on these witnesses to shed light on FTX’s terms of services and obligations. Judge Kaplan’s decision came in response to prosecutors’ concerns raised in late August, who argued that these individuals did not meet the criteria for expert testimony.

Family feud

The current FTX management took the unexpected step of accusing Sam Bankman-Fried’s parents, Joseph Bankman and Barbara Fried, of improperly redirecting millions of dollars and contributing significantly to FTX’s implosion.

Per court documents, the Stanford Law School professors weren’t just bystanders; Joseph Bankman held a key decision-making role, while Barbara Fried influenced the company’s political donations, they said.

To add more twist to the matter, court filings from this week shed light on how Joseph was originally offered a $200,000 annual salary at FTX, and had grander ambitions, seeking $1 million a year for his role in the company. He even enlisted the help of SBF’s mother, Barbara Fried, in these negotiations.

Binance vs. SEC

Binance’s challenges spilled into this week. Reports on Sept. 19 indicated that Binance is facing increased scrutiny from the SEC amid the departure of several executives, including the CEO of its U.S. arm. 

The SEC is pushing for a deeper investigation into Binance’s activities, specifically regarding asset custody at the exchange. The agency described Binance’s opposition to its motion as “half-hearted.” 

This legal tug-of-war continues as Binance maintains that its counsel narratives and documents should suffice, dismissing remaining concerns as baseless.

The SEC is also concerned about how Binance’s U.S. arm, BinanceUS, handles customer assets.

The core of this clash centers on an entity known as Ceffu. The SEC asserted that Ceffu is another Binance entity, rebranded and used for the custody of BinanceUS customer assets. However, Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao refuted these claims, claiming that BinanceUS has never utilized Ceffu or Binance Custody. 

Binance requests dismissal of charges

Binance and Zhao filed a motion on Sept. 21 requesting the dismissal of the SEC’s lawsuit. They argued that the agency is overstepping its authority, further citing lack of regulatory clarity in the crypto industry.

They asserted that the SEC’s attempts to apply its authority retroactively to crypto asset sales dating back to July 2017, without prior public cryptocurrency guidance, are unjustified. 

Binance’s legal team further contended that the SEC is misinterpreting securities laws in an attempt to gain regulatory control over the crypto sphere. Adding to this legal saga, on the same day, BinanceUS also filed a separate request for charges to be dismissed.

Coinbase explores overseas growth

While Binance grapples with regulatory challenges, Coinbase — one of the largest crypto exchanges in the U.S. — looked to expand abroad.

Coinbase added another feather to its European cap by snagging an operational license from the Bank of Spain. This move allows the exchange to be a registered exchange for Bitcoin and other crypto assets. With this nod from the Bank of Spain, Coinbase is now a licensed custody wallet provider and can serve both retail and cooperate clients in Spain.

Coinbase has been eyeing licenses in Europe for quite some time, especially in the derivatives market. Apparently, the exchange showed interest in acquiring FTX’s European arm shortly after the FTX empire went bankrupt.

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