The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on Thursday slapped $30 million in penalties and fees on cryptocurrency exchange Kraken, part of the agency’s ongoing pushback against unregistered crypto products.
Since 2019, Kraken, the business alias of Payward Ventures and Payward Trading, offered clients the chance to lock up, or “stake,” their cryptocurrency tokens. The clients could then validate other blockchain transactions with their staked crypto assets and earn up to 21 percent interest. While investors who affirmed blockchain transactions received rewards, those who did not risked having the value of their staked crypto assets “slashed” or even destroyed, according to the SEC’s complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
The SEC said the arrangement represented an investment contract and should have been registered with the agency. It said investors were depending on Kraken’s platform and strategies to turn a profit on the arrangement and essentially lost control of their tokens, taking on the “risks associated with those platforms, with very little protection.”
Without admitting or denying the allegations, Kraken agreed to pay $30 million in disgorgement, prejudgment interest, and civil penalties, along with ceasing the offering of asset staking services or staking programs.
“Whether it’s through staking-as-a-service, lending, or other means, crypto intermediaries, when offering investment contracts in exchange for investors’ tokens, need to provide the proper disclosures and safeguards required by our securities laws,” said SEC Chair Gary Gensler in a press release. “Today’s action should make clear to the marketplace that staking-as-a-service providers must register and provide full, fair, and truthful disclosure and investor protection.”
The SEC’s case against Kraken is the latest in a string of enforcement actions regarding unregistered crypto products. BlockFi ($50 million) and Nexo Capital ($22.5 million) have each reached settlements with the agency in the past year over unregistered crypto lending products.
The SEC filed a lawsuit in January against Genesis Global Capital and Gemini Trust Company, alleging the two crypto firms sold a crypto lending product to investors as an unregistered security. That case is still pending. In September 2021, the SEC blocked publicly traded crypto exchange Coinbase from offering a crypto lending product, called Lend, with a Wells Notice. At the time, Coinbase’s chief legal officer noted many of its competitors were offering similar products.
In a blog post published Thursday, Kraken said its agreement with the SEC only applied to U.S. citizens, and its staking service program would continue for foreign citizens through a separate subsidiary. The company said it would “unstake” crypto assets of any U.S.-based clients, and that those clients would cease to earn staking rewards.