Enforcement of corporate crimes, which languished for two years during the COVID-19 pandemic, will grow more vigorous this year and may be accompanied by significantly tougher penalties, partners with Vinson & Elkins’ (“V&E”) Government Investigations & White Collar Defense practice say.
Speaking at the Munich Cyber Security Conference on February 17, 2022, Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco announced that the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) plans to prioritize “cyber disruption,” foster international partnerships, and increase its investigative and deterrent capabilities to bolster its crypto-enforcement arsenal and to combat cyber threats.
On March 9, 2022, President Joe Biden issued an Executive Order on Ensuring Responsible Development of Digital Assets that directs federal officials to consider the effects of “distributed ledger technology,” popularly known as “blockchain” or “crypto,” on a host of important policy areas such as data privacy, financial stability, and even climate change.
As a strong signal that it intends to increase its focus on illicit crypto transactions, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) announced the creation of an enforcement team, the National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team (“NCET”), on October 6, 2021.
Larry Dean Harmon, the founder and operator of Helix, a darknet-based cryptocurrency “mixer” or “tumbler,” recently admitted that Helix partnered with darknet marketplaces to provide bitcoin money laundering services for darknet market customers.
On August 3, 2021, Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) Chair Gary Gensler made headlines when he dubbed the current cryptocurrency landscape the “Wild West.”
On June 24, 2021, UK law enforcement seized a record-setting £114 million (nearly $160 million) in cryptocurrency as part of an ongoing money laundering investigation.
On February 18, 2021, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) announced a half-million dollar settlement with BitPay, Inc. (“BitPay”), a U.S. company that processes digital currency transactions, for apparent sanctions violations involving buyers located in embargoed jurisdictions.
Two weeks ago, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) announced two significant enforcement actions and shut down NetWalker and Emotet, powerful tools that had been used by alleged criminal networks engaging in widespread ransomware extortion schemes.
The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) recently hit the founder and primary operator of both Helix and Coin Ninja with a $60 million civil monetary penalty.
On October 8, 2020, the Attorney General’s Cyber-Digital Task Force (“the Task Force”) issued its Cryptocurrency Enforcement Framework (the “Report”), which offers background on virtual assets, enforcement milestones, and plans for increasing scrutiny into the use of cryptocurrency, following the Task Force’s inception in 2018.
A recent decision out of the Southern District of New York emphasizes the importance of considering all obligations under the federal securities laws for any transaction that might involve a “security.”