The brother of a former Coinbase employee has been sentenced to 10 months in prison for his role in a groundbreaking insider trading scheme involving cryptocurrency.
Nikhil Wahi was sentenced to prison and ordered to repay $892,500 in forfeiture by a U.S. District Court judge, U.S. Attorney Damian Williams announced Tuesday in a press release. Wahi, brother of former Coinbase manager Ishan Wahi, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud conspiracy in September.
The scheme, which began in October 2020, involved Ishan Wahi passing along confidential information about which cryptocurrency assets were about to be listed on Coinbase’s platform to his brother, who then bought the assets before they were listed. Nikhil Wahi would then sell the assets at a profit after they were listed, prosecutors said.
“At a time when the cryptocurrency markets have been plagued by fear, uncertainty, and doubt, insider trading creates the impression that everything is rigged and that only people with secret advantages can make a real buck,” said Williams in the press release. “Today’s sentence makes clear that the cryptocurrency markets are not lawless. There are real consequences to illegal insider trading, wherever and whenever it occurs.”
Ishan Wahi was arrested in July and charged with two counts of wire fraud and two counts of wire fraud conspiracy for his role in allegedly passing along insider tips to his brother and a friend, Sameer Ramani. Ishan Wahi was released on bail in August; his case is pending.
Ramani has not been arrested and is still at large, according to court records.
The SEC filed a related complaint in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington regarding violations of federal securities law against Ishan Wahi, Nikhil Wahi, and Ramani. The charges, including those against Nikhil Wahi, are still pending, according to court records.
The insider trading scheme netted the three men between $1 to $1.5 million in ill-gotten gains, prosecutors said.
When asked for comment, Coinbase referred to an April blog post written by Chief Executive Brian Armstrong, which was updated in July, defending the company and claiming it had “zero tolerance” for insider trading on its platform and that it “takes allegations of improper use of company information very seriously.”
The blog noted ways in which Coinbase has improved its processes for the listing of cryptocurrency assets on its platform, including investing more money in screening assets to prevent potential frontrunning and delisting assets that “appear to be experiencing bad activity.”
“We work hard to ensure all market participants have access to the same information, not only to protect our company but to protect our customers. We are committed to doing our part to ensure all traders are operating on an even playing field, which is critical to furthering Coinbase’s mission of promoting economic freedom,” Armstrong wrote on the blog.