An FBI sting operation ensnared an unlawful non-U.S. based securities dealer that offered securities-based swaps without registering. The Austrian-based defendant operated an internet-based platform that offered contracts for difference, which operated as securities-based swaps based on publicly-traded U.S. equity and indexes. An undercover FBI agent opened an account with nothing more than a username and a password and traded CFDs with bitcoin. The platform served as the counterparty and collected the bid-ask spreads. The SEC charges the platform with failing to register the securities offering and the platform as a broker dealer. The SEC also asserts that the CFDs were required to be traded on a registered securities exchange.
OUR TAKE: We love innovation and technology. However, when you apply new technologies to a highly regulated industry, you must follow the same rules as everybody else. Trading in securities with U.S. persons implicates the whole panoply of U.S. securities regulation including the regulation of the offering, the parties, and the venue. Also, never assume that law enforcement or the regulators won’t find you. Your competitors and clients have an interest in helping the investigators find those who are cutting regulatory corners.