According to a recent report, the cryptocurrency exchange Bittrex received a Wells notice from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in March, signaling a potential lawsuit. The SEC’s enforcement division sent the Wells notice prior to Bittrex deciding to wind down its operations in the United States.
‘Lack of Regulatory Clarity’ in the U.S. Adds Uncertainty for Cryptocurrency Exchanges
On Sunday, April 16, 2023, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported that the cryptocurrency exchange Bittrex was informed of a potential lawsuit and enforcement action in the form of a Wells notice. A Wells notice is essentially a letter from the U.S. SEC that informs an individual or company of the regulator’s intent to take enforcement action against them. The notice provides the recipient with a chance to respond and often does not result in litigation. At the start of April, Bittrex informed the public that it “made the difficult decision to wind down U.S. operations, effective April 30, 2023.”
Bittrex’s general counsel, David Maria, stated that the Wells notice pertains to alleged violations of investor-protection laws. According to the WSJ report by Dave Michaels and Mengqi Sun, Bittrex has been under investigation by the SEC since 2017, and during this time, the exchange has received “multiple subpoenas” from the U.S. securities regulator. Maria revealed that the notice disclosed SEC attorneys’ claims that Bittrex conducted activities as an exchange, broker-dealer, and clearinghouse without registering with the SEC.
Bittrex’s general counsel also mentioned that last year, the exchange looked into registering with the regulator but discovered that it would not be feasible. Maria informed the WSJ that the regulations surrounding cryptocurrency in the United States are unclear. “The lack of regulatory clarity results in significant costs and uncertainty about what can and cannot be offered,” the lawyer stated. He revealed that the exchange is unsure if the SEC will pursue litigation. If the securities regulator does decide to sue Bittrex, Maria said that the exchange would contest the action in court unless the government “presented a reasonable settlement offer.”
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