US senators write to banking regulators about potential crypto discrimination

Four United States Republican senators led by Bill Hagerty have written a letter to the heads of federal banking regulatory agencies, questioning the ideological motivation behind recent regulatory moves in regard to cryptocurrency. They compared the regulators’ policies to the Obama administration’s Operation Choke Point.

The senators addressed Federal Reserve Board Chair Jerome Powell, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) Chair Marty Gruenberg and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) Acting Comptroller Michael Hsu. The March 9 letter said that their agencies, along with the White House, have issued statements on heightened supervision that have resulted in unfortunate consequences for the cryptocurrency sector, such as the closing of crypto firms’ bank accounts.

The senators were referring to the joint statement released by those agencies on Jan. 3 that said in part, “Issuing or holding as principal crypto-assets […] is highly likely to be inconsistent with safe and sound banking practices.” In addition, they pointed to a February Fed policy statement that said, making specific reference to crypto, that “legal permissibility is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition” for banking activity, and the Biden administration’s January “road map” that called for agencies to “ramp up enforcement.”

“This coordinated behavior seems disturbingly reminiscent of Operation Choke Point,” the senators wrote. In that operation, “federal regulators applied pressure on financial institutions to cut off financial services to certain licensed, legally operating industries simply because certain regulators and policymakers disfavored those industries.” They added:

“We are especially worried that overreaching behavior by the banking regulators will inevitably bleed into other legal industries.”

The senators posed a number of questions to the regulators. They asked how their increased supervision will help consumers, whether it is possible for banks to provide services to crypto firms at all under the updated guidance,

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CFTC takes legal action against Digitex futures exchange and CEO

The United States Commodity Futures Trading Commission, or CFTC, filed a complaint against Digitex LLC and its founder and CEO Adam Todd for failing to register the cryptocurrency futures exchange and manipulating the price of its DGTX token.

According to a Sept. 30 court filing in the Southern District of Florida, Todd allegedly pumped up the price of DGTX tokens in an effort to inflate Digitex’s holdings. The US regulator claimed the Digitex CEO used different corporate entities as part of a scheme to launch and operate an illegal digital asset derivatives trading platform, in violation of the Commodity Exchange Act.

CFTC rules require performing Know Your Customer (KYC) checks and implementing a customer information program. Todd said in 2020 that he planned to remove all KYC procedures from Digitex in an effort to protect user data.

The complaint said the CFTC sought a court order blocking Todd and Digitex from engaging in digital asset transactions considered commodities under the regulator’s purview. In addition, the regulator intended for Digitex to pay civil monetary penalties, disgorgement, and restitution to the affected parties. At the time of publication, both Digitex’s and its futures websites were offline.

Related: SEC alleges fintech and ‘market maker’ firms manipulated crypto market in token scheme

Many in the crypto space have criticized regulators including the CFTC and Securities and Exchange Commission, or SEC, for taking a “regulation by enforcement” approach to crypto in the United States. While the SEC is currently engaged in a legal battle against Ripple over whether the firm’s Ripple (XRP) sales violated securities laws, CFTC commissioner Caroline Pham met with Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse as part of a “learning tour” on crypto and blockchain in September.

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