US securities federal regulator the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charged Singapore-based Terraform Labs PTE Ltd and Do Hyeong Kwon on 17 February 2023 with orchestrating a multi-billion dollar crypto asset securities fraud involving an algorithmic stablecoin and other crypto asset securities. This comes after recent actions against the likes of Kraken and rumors of an industry-wide crackdown on the centralized staking of stablecoins, among other things.
According to the SEC’s complaint, from April 2018 until the scheme’s collapse in May 2022, Terraform and Kwon raised billions of dollars from investors by offering and selling an inter-connected suite of crypto asset securities, many in unregistered transactions.
These included “mAssets,” security-based swaps designed to pay returns by mirroring the price of stocks of US companies, and Terra USD (UST), a crypto asset security referred to as an “algorithmic stablecoin” that supposedly maintained its peg to the U.S. dollar by being interchangeable for another of the defendants’ crypto asset securities, LUNA. The complaint further alleges that Terraform and Kwon offered and sold investors other means to invest in their crypto empire, including the crypto asset security tokens MIR—or “mirror” tokens—and LUNA itself.
The SEC’s complaint alleges that Terraform and Kwon marketed crypto asset securities to investors seeking to earn a profit, repeatedly claiming that the tokens would increase in value. For example, they touted and marketed UST as a “yield-bearing” stablecoin, which they advertised as paying as much as 20 percent interest through the Anchor Protocol.
Kwon and Terraform “committed fraud” with “misleading statements”
The SEC’s complaint also alleges that, while marketing the LUNA token, Terraform and Kwon repeatedly misled and deceived investors that a popular Korean mobile payment application used the Terra blockchain to settle transactions that would accrue value to LUNA. Meanwhile, Terraform and Kwon also allegedly misled investors about the stability of UST.
In May 2022, UST dramatically depegged from the U.S. dollar, and the price of it and its sister tokens plummeted to close to zero.
“We allege that Terraform and Do Kwon failed to provide the public with full, fair, and truthful disclosure as required for a host of crypto asset securities, most notably for LUNA and Terra USD,” said SEC Chair Gary Gensler. “We also allege that they committed fraud by repeating false and misleading statements to build trust before causing devastating losses for investors.”
Gensler says defendants tried to prevent information-gathering
“I commend the SEC’s hard-working staff who remained vigilant in such an important investigation, even when the defendants attempted to prevent us from obtaining important information about their business,” Chair Gensler added. “This case demonstrates the lengths to which some crypto firms will go to avoid complying with the securities laws, but it also demonstrates the strength and commitment of the SEC’s dedicated public servants.”
“Today’s action not only holds the defendants accountable for their roles in Terra’s collapse, which devastated both retail and institutional investors and sent shock waves through the crypto markets, but once again highlights that we look to the economic realities of an offering, not the labels put on it,” said Gurbir S. Grewal, Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement. “As alleged in our complaint, the Terraform ecosystem was neither decentralized, nor finance. It was simply a fraud propped up by a so-called algorithmic “stablecoin” – the price of which was controlled by the defendants, not any code.”
The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, charges the defendants with violating the registration and anti-fraud provisions of the Securities Act and the Exchange Act.