SEC Enforcement Director: 'We're Not Concerned With the Labels' in Crypto Cases

Gurbir Grewal spoke about the SEC's recent actions during a panel Friday.

AccessTimeIconJun 16, 2023 at 3:35 p.m. UTC

"Regulation by enforcement" is "a catchy but tired refrain that's used effectively by crypto market participants and lobbyists," said the head of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission's Enforcement Division Friday.

The SEC has been enforcing existing rules and regulations, said Gurbir Grewal to an audience of academics and lawyers during a panel co-hosted by the Lowenstein Sandler law firm and Rutgers Law School, in some of his first public remarks since the SEC brought charges against crypto exchanges Coinbase and Binance.

The moderators asked about the SEC's recent actions and the concept of regulation by enforcement. The regulator, who used to be the Attorney General in New Jersey, said the agency was continuing to oversee the crypto industry but that it was focused on activities within the sector, rather than the tokens themselves.

"We're not concerned with the labels. We're concerned with the offerings, the labels are not important to us," Grewal said. "The technology is important. What's underneath the hood, because when we look underneath the hood, when we kick the tires, we've seen plenty ... DeFi [decentralized finance] offers that are neither decentralized nor finance but rather just straight [fraud]."

He also spoke to the rise in recent enforcement actions within the crypto sector.

"I think what you've seen is that the crypto markets in the downturn, the increase in risk has forced us to focus our efforts here. Maybe that's been perceived as an uptick, but I think it's us just doing our jobs as we have been for the last few years," he said.

"We will extend our jurisdiction as far as the law allows," Grewal said. "We have tremendous cooperation with a lot of regulators. We meet with them frequently, we have MOUs [memoranda of understanding] with a lot of regulators that facilitate our ability to collect evidence abroad. And I think the more we do that, the more cooperation that exists among regulators, the less space that there is between us and the [U.K.'s] FCA and [Australia's] ASIC and others that we work [with]... I think the less opportunity [there is] for regulatory arbitrage by bad actors."


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Nikhilesh De

Nikhilesh De is CoinDesk's managing editor for global policy and regulation. He owns marginal amounts of bitcoin and ether.