Bittrex Global CEO Says Firm Will Fight SEC Charges, Did Not Serve U.S. Customers

The Securities and Exchange Commission has accused Bermuda-regulated Bittrex Global of failing to register as a securities exchange in a lawsuit targeting U.S.-based Bittrex Inc.

AccessTimeIconApr 26, 2023 at 2:56 p.m. UTC
Updated Apr 26, 2023 at 3:43 p.m. UTC

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is “mistaken” in charging crypto exchange Bittrex Global GmbH with breach of local securities law, Chief Executive Officer Oliver Linch said during a phone interview with CoinDesk on Monday.

On April 17, the SEC charged Bittrex Inc. and its former CEO William Shihara with operating an unregistered securities exchange, broker and clearing agency in the U.S. In the same complaint, the regulator accused Bittrex Global GmbH of failing to register as a securities exchange “in connection with its operation of a single shared order book” with U.S.’ Bittrex.

The regulator alleged both Bittrex and Bittrex Global should have registered as an exchange because they “brought together” securities orders of multiple buyers and sellers “using established, non-discretionary methods under which such orders interacted.”

“Bittrex also provides Bittrex Global with the technology to operate its trading platform, including a single matching engine and order book that Bittrex Global shares with Bittrex, both of which are maintained by Bittrex personnel in the United States,” the complaint said.

The complaint added that the “design and functionality of the Bittrex Platform is similar to those of properly registered national securities exchanges,” from its display and order book to order matching and trading rules.

“We've not really seen an explanation as to what the SEC’s thinking is there, why that is of significance,” Linch said, referring to allegations of a shared order book. “Suffice to say, we think that they're mistaken in the way they conceive of it legally and in terms of facts.”

Bittrex Global didn’t know it was the subject of an SEC probe until it received notice that the agency had “reached a preliminary conclusion,” according to Linch. He added the regulator didn’t give the firm an opportunity to “explain the facts.”

'Never' served U.S. customers

Linch, who was appointed Bittrex Global CEO last year, said the firm “never purported to offer services” in the U.S. and that it will “vigorously” defend its position that it does not have any customers in the country.

The SEC is facing questions from the industry after a string of recent enforcement actions and notices of scrutiny prompted a couple of firms, including Bittrex Inc., to shutter some or all operations in the country. The industry has criticized the SEC for choosing to regulate by enforcement instead of providing regulatory clarity to firms.

After filing suit against Bittrex, SEC Chair Gary Gensler said the agency’s action “makes plain that the crypto markets suffer from a lack of regulatory compliance, not a lack of regulatory clarity" because the complaint alleged Bittrex’s former CEO Shihara worked with crypto issuers to remove wording that indicated the assets in question were securities.

While it was a “sad day” for Bittrex, its shuttering does not affect his firm’s operations globally, Linch said.

“Bittrex was an entirely separate legal entity and only provided services in the U.S. and only served U.S. customers. And they're the ones that have had to shut down their operations … Global continues on providing the services to rest-of-world clients as it ever has,” he said.

The SEC has said it believes Binance.US is operating an unregistered securities exchange. While its global counterpart Binance maintains the U.S. entity is separate and distinct, with the action against Bittrex Global it’s unclear if the regulator will also take aim at other players in the industry.

Linch didn’t comment on specific firms but praised crypto regulatory regimes in other jurisdictions.

“What we're seeing is a growing realization that the most successful regulatory regimes are ones that have created a framework for crypto on a bespoke basis,” Linch said. “Now, that's why we're regulated in Liechtenstein in Bermuda, because what those jurisdictions did really early on is really get to grips with crypto, what the product is, what services, what the risks are, and say to people, ‘OK, well, we can identify and manage. Here's how you do it safely.’”

Last week, SEC’s Gensler faced tough questions from U.S. lawmakers on his handling of the crypto sector, while the European Parliament voted through its landmark crypto licensing regime.

The Markets in Crypto Assets (MiCA) framework will apply to the European Union’s 27 member states as well as the three additional states – Liechtenstein, Norway and Iceland – that make up the European Economic Area. The regime sets out requirements for crypto service providers and issuers that must be implemented on a national level.

In addition to the EU, jurisdictions from Dubai to Hong Kong are looking to supervise crypto in a holistic way, Linch said, adding that his years of experience as a financial regulatory lawyer in the U.K. taught him that bad cases make for bad law.

“Ultimately, this is for Congress to sort. If it wants to set up a regulatory regime, set up a regulatory regime,” Linch said of the U.S.

The SEC declined to comment “beyond the public filings.”

Edited by Parikshit Mishra.


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Sandali Handagama

Sandali Handagama is CoinDesk's deputy managing editor for policy and regulations, EMEA. She does not own any crypto.