In his testimony before the Senate Finance Committee, on February 12, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin stated that the Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) will soon release new regulations related to cryptocurrency. FinCEN is responsible for issuing and implementing anti-money laundering (AML) and counter-terrorist financing (CTF) regulations applicable to certain US financial institutions. According to Secretary Mnuchin:

We’re spending a lot of time on the issue of cryptocurrencies and digital payment systems …. on pure cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, and there are others, we want to make sure that these are not used as the equivalent of secret bank accounts. So, we are working with FinCEN, and we will be rolling out new regulations to be very clear on greater transparency so that law enforcement can see where the money is going and that this isn’t used for money laundering.

FinCEN previously issued guidance on virtual currency in 2013 and 2019, which clarify how FinCEN’s existing rules for money services businesses, or MSBs, apply to “administrators,” “exchangers,” and “users” of what the agency calls “convertible virtual currency.” The MSB rules apply to certain persons dealing in fiat currency, convertible virtual currency, and other “value that substitutes for currency,” but does not treat MSBs dealing in convertible virtual currency differently than other types of MSBs. Therefore, if FinCEN were to issue new regulations specifically addressing cryptocurrencies or digital assets more broadly, such regulations would be a first of its kind.


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The IRS has released new guidance on the U.S. tax treatment of cryptocurrency for the first time since 2014. The guidance includes Revenue Ruling 2019-24, which provides guidance on the tax treatment of hard forks. The IRS also released a series of FAQs covering a variety of topics that expand on Notice 2014-21.

Revenue Ruling 2019-24

Revenue Ruling 2019-24 generally concludes on two scenarios involving hard forks. A hard fork occurs when a blockchain undergoes a protocol change resulting in a permanent diversion from the legacy or existing blockchain, which may result in the creation of a new cryptocurrency on a new distributed ledger in addition to the legacy cryptocurrency on the legacy distributed ledger. In the first scenario, the cryptocurrency blockchain experiences a hard fork but the taxpayer does not receive units of a new cryptocurrency, and in the second scenario, the taxpayer receives units of new cryptocurrency “as a result of an airdrop of a new cryptocurrency following the hard fork.” The Revenue Ruling concludes that the taxpayer does not have income in the first scenario. However, in the second scenario, the taxpayer has ordinary income because he has experienced an accession to wealth. The income arises at the time of the airdrop because the taxpayer is, at that time, able to exercise dominion and control over the forked cryptocurrency.


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The IRS has confirmed that it has begun sending letters to taxpayers with virtual currency transactions that potentially failed to report income and pay the resulting tax from virtual currency transactions or did not report their transactions properly. In the announcement, IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig says that “The IRS is expanding our efforts involving virtual currency, including increased use of data analytics. We are focused on enforcing the law and helping taxpayers fully understand and meet their obligations.”

The IRS identified the taxpayers receiving these letters through various ongoing IRS compliance efforts, likely including customer information that the IRS received last year after successfully enforcing a John Doe summons against Coinbase. The IRS has said that it expects more than 10,000 taxpayers will receive these letters by the end of August.


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Bipartisan members of the House are advocating for more clarity in the tax law as it relates to taxation of cryptocurrency.

First, on April 9, Representative Warren Davidson (R-OH), a member of the House Financial Services Committee, reintroduced legislation that would provide clarity on certain tax and securities law issues related to cryptocurrency.  The bill, entitled the “Token Taxonomy Act of 2019,” resembles the original bill that Davidson introduced in the 115th Congress with Congressional Blockchain Caucus co-chair Darren Soto (D-FL).  The 2019 version of the bill is co-sponsored by Representatives Soto, Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Ted Budd (R-NC), Scott Perry (R-PA), and Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) (who has announced she is running for President).

Davidson said in a statement that “[t]he Token Taxonomy Act is the key to unlocking blockchain technology in America.  Without it, the U.S. is surrendering its innovative origins and ownership of the digital economy to Europe and Asia.”

The bill would enact a number of new tax provisions. 
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Last week, US District Judge Gonzalo Curiel of the Southern District of California reversed his previous November 2018 order and issued a preliminary injunction against Blockvest LLC (Blockvest) and its founder, Reginald Buddy Ringgold, III, after finding that the Blockvest token (BLV token) met the definition of an investment contract under the Howey test and was therefore a security.  While we are keen to see an example of a digital asset that falls outside the definition of a security either through application of the Howey test or a new test, we are relieved that Judge Curiel did not use the Blockvest case to set forth this precedent.
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Last month the Texas Department of Banking published an updated supervisory memorandum discussing the application of the state’s money transmitter law to digital assets.  Nearly every state has a money transmitter statute regulating businesses engaged in the transfer of money within that state, but states vary considerably with respect to how their laws apply to digital assets.  A number of states, including Texas, have taken the position that their money transmitter laws apply only to fiat currency and not cryptocurrency.  Such laws might still apply to a cryptocurrency company, for example one that exchanges cryptocurrency for fiat currency, but don’t govern companies that do not offer fiat-based services.
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Sanctions compliance considerations have always been an important factor for cryptocurrency companies, but a number of recent US government actions suggest regulators are increasingly focused on the intersection between digital currencies and economic sanctions.   This intensified focus highlights the importance of sanctions compliance for blockchain-related companies, particularly for those considered US persons.

This increased focus has been building for a number of months.  For example, in March of 2018, President Trump issued an Executive Order imposing certain sanctions on the Venezuelan government-issued digital currency known as the petro.

Last week, the US Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) took another step to ramp up sanctions against bad actors utilizing digital currency. 
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The Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC or Commission) November 16 announcement charging two cryptocurrency companies—CarrierEQ Inc. (d/b/a Airfox) and Paragon Coin Inc. (Paragon)—with conducting an initial coin offering (ICO) in violation of the securities registration rules should not come as a surprise to those in the industry. The SEC has repeatedly emphasized that issuers of securities—even those based on a blockchain or distributed ledger technology—must register such securities or comply with an applicable exemption from registration under the Securities Act of 1933 (the Securities Act). The Airfox and Paragon orders explain when the SEC will determine that a token offering constitutes a security, and the remedial measures that the SEC may require for token offerings that do not comply with the Securities Act. Following the announcement, the Commission’s divisions also put out a public statement outlining their views on digital asset securities issuance and trading. We view these actions as signals that the Commission is likely to ramp up its efforts to enforce the securities laws in the weeks and months to come.
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On November 8, the SEC issued a settled order against Zachary Coburn, the creator of the smart contract that powers the EtherDelta decentralized exchange.  In the settled order, the Commission found that Coburn’s EtherDelta smart contract, which enabled trading of Ether against any other ERC20 token, and the EtherDelta website through which buyers and sellers of ERC20 tokens met, operated as an unregistered “exchange” in violation of Section 5 of the Exchange Act.  Without admitting or denying the findings, Coburn consented to the order and agreed to pay $300,000 in disgorgement plus $13,000 in prejudgment interest and a $75,000 penalty.  The Commission’s order notes that Coburn’s cooperation was a consideration in not imposing a greater penalty.

This is the first case involving a so-called “decentralized exchange.” 
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On October 17, 2018, Alan Cohn participated in a panel discussion with Daniel Alter of Murphy & McGonigle and Scott Kimpel of Hunton Andrews Kurthen titled “Initial Coin Offerings: Can Securities Regulators Balance Market Growth and Investor Protection?” at the Washington Legal Foundation. Cohn lay the foundation for an in depth discussion on cryptocurrency and