The Securities and Exchange Commission and U.S. Department of Justice took legal actions Thursday against a former Coinbase (NASDAQ:COIN) product manager, his brother, and his friend for engaging in insider trading of certain crypto assets before the cryptocurrency exchange announced their availability. The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York filed criminal charges against the three, calling it the "first ever cryptocurrency insider trading tipping scheme."
While employed at Coinbase (COIN) Ishan Wahi helped coordinate the company's public listing announcements that included what crypto assets or tokens would be available for trading, the SEC said. Even though the company told employees to keep such information confidential, Wahi "repeatedly tipped the timing and content of upcoming listing announcements to his brother, Nikhil Wahi, and his friend Sameer Ramani," the SEC complaint alleges.
"In nearly a year, the defendants collectively earned over $1.1 million in illegal profits by engaging in an alleged insider trading scheme that repeatedly used material, nonpublic information to trade ahead of Coinbase listing announcements," said Carolyn M. Weishhans, acting chief of enforcement of
The SEC complaint, filed in federal district court in Seattle, charges Ishan Wahi, Nikhil Wahi and Ramani with violating the antifraud provisions of the securities laws and seeks permanent injunctive relief, disgorgement with prejudgment interest, and civil penalties. The DOJ charged the three with wire fraud conspiracy and wire fraud in connection with their plan to commit insider trading in crypto assets.
Coinbase (COIN) said it had started an internal investigation into the alleged frontrunning of certain assets ahead of company announcements. Once it had collected enough evidence, the company provided it to the U.S. Department of Justice and terminated the employee, CEO Brian Armstrong said in a blog update.
"Coinbase takes allegations of improper use of company information very seriously, as demonstrated by our rapid investigation of this matter," he said. "Again, we have zero tolerance for this kind of misconduct and will not hesitate to take action against any employee when we find wrongdoing."
In May, the DOJ charged a former CFO of Immunedics with insider trading for passing along results of a clinical trial before they were publicly available.