Cryptocurrency firm Tether will pay $41 million in an agreement with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) to settle charges that it misled investors when it claimed its stablecoins were 100 percent backed by fiat currencies like the U.S. dollar and the euro.
From at least 2016 to 2019, Tether claimed it had sufficient U.S. dollar reserves to back every Tether stablecoin in circulation when, in fact, “Tether reserves were not ‘fully-backed’ the majority of the time,” the CFTC said Friday in a press release. Tether was instead at times backed by “unsecured receivables and non-fiat assets in its reserves,” the agency said.
In addition, Tether “falsely represented that it would undergo routine, professional audits to demonstrate that it maintained ‘100% reserves at all times’ even though Tether reserves were not audited,” the CFTC alleged.
The CFTC also fined Bitfinex, a cryptocurrency exchange, $1.5 million for allowing U.S. users to trade on its platform from at least 2016-18 in violation of the Commodity Exchange Act and CFTC rules. As part of the settlement, Bitfinex must comply with certain undertakings by December 31, 2021, “including implementing, as necessary, and maintaining systems and procedures reasonably designed to prevent” most U.S. citizens from engaging in retail commodity transactions.
“This case highlights the expectation of honesty and transparency in the rapidly growing and developing digital assets marketplace,” said Acting CFTC Chairman Rostin Behnam in the press release. “The CFTC will continue to take decisive action to bring to light untrue or misleading statements that impact CFTC jurisdictional markets.”
Tether is incorporated under several names in the British Virgin Islands and Hong Kong, while Bitfinex is incorporated in the British Virgin Islands. Both are owned by the same parent company, iFinex.
In a statement, Tether noted the allegations focused on activities that occurred before February 2019, when its terms of service were updated. Bitfinex stopped serving U.S. citizens in December 2018, the statement said.
“This inquiry arose during a markedly different time in our ecosystem and focused on the same types of challenges that many in our industry faced at the time,” the statement said. “As many companies around the world do, Tether agreed to resolve this matter in order to move forward and focus on the future. We are grateful that the market has consistently demonstrated its trust and confidence in Tether.”
In February, the New York Attorney General’s Office fined Tether and Bitfinex $18.5 million and banned the companies from operating in the state for allegedly covering up $850 million in losses. New York Attorney General Letitia James similarly criticized Tether’s claims its stablecoin was always backed by U.S. dollars as “a lie.”
Friday’s enforcement action is the latest in a wave of increased scrutiny of cryptocurrency firms from U.S. regulators.