New Timelines Established in Ripple's Ongoing Legal Fight With SEC

As the SEC vs Ripple case drones on, Nigeria grows increasingly frustrated with Binance, and the UK readies to fight crypto crime with amendments to the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act 2023.

Some major developments happened in the legal and regulatory landscapes of the crypto sector. In the United States, the SEC was granted an extension by Judge Analisa Torres in its case against Ripple Labs. Meanwhile, in Nigeria, the CEO of Binance, Richard Teng, was summoned by the House of Representatives Committee on Financial Crimes to address allegations of terrorism financing and money laundering. In the UK, the government increased its powers to combat crypto-related crimes through the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act 2023, allowing law enforcement agencies to freeze and seize crypto assets linked to illicit activities more effectively.

Judge Grants SEC Extension in Ripple Case

Over the weekend, there has been yet another eyebrow-raising update in the still ongoing legal battle between the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Ripple Labs. United States District Court Judge Analisa Torres granted the SEC an extension to file its remedies-related discovery materials in the case. The court documents, which were filed on Mar. 1, allow the SEC to submit its opening brief by Mar. 22. Ripple Labs will then have until Apr. 22 to file its opposition brief, and the SEC will have a new deadline of May 6, 2024, to file a reply.

The remedies-related briefing is crucial as it outlines potential legal remedies and actions that could be considered in connection with the litigation, a major phase in this high-profile case. The SEC's lawsuit against Ripple Labs, which was initiated in December of 2020, accuses the company and its top executives of conducting a $1.3 billion unregistered securities offering by selling the XRP token. The regulatory body holds firm that XRP should be classified as a security, which would subject it to stringent regulatory requirements, but Ripple is convinced that XRP is not a security and that the SEC did not provide adequate notice regarding its classification.

This lawsuit has especially been focusing on the application of the Howey test, which determines whether a transaction qualifies as an "investment contract" under U.S. law. The SEC argues that XRP meets the Howey test conditions, while Ripple contests this interpretation.

A huge moment in the case happened in July of 2023, when Judge Torres issued a partial ruling in favor of Ripple Labs. She determined that XRP was not a security in the context of its programmatic sales on digital asset exchanges, although she also ruled that XRP should be considered a security when sold to institutional investors.

Nigeria Summons Binance CEO

In other legal news, The Nigerian House of Representatives Committee on Financial Crimes summoned Binance CEO Richard Teng to address allegations of terrorism financing and money laundering. This comes after some serious concerns were raised by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor on Feb. 27, about "suspicious flows" of funds through the crypto exchange in 2023. The committee, which is led by Chair Ginger Onwusibe, demanded Teng's appearance by Mar. 4, 2024, after an unheeded invitation for a hearing initially scheduled for Dec. 18, 2023.

Onwusibe shared his dissatisfaction with Teng's failure to attend previous summons, seeing it as a disregard for local business and financial regulations. While all of this is underway, reports emerged of the detention of two senior Binance officials by the National Security Adviser’s office in Abuja. In response, Binance discontinued its peer-to-peer (P2P) service for the Nigerian currency on Feb. 28, a move that was a long time coming considering the government's intensified scrutiny of the crypto exchange sector.

The P2P trading feature, which gained popularity in Nigeria after the government's 2021 ban on cryptocurrency activities, facilitated direct transactions between users without intermediary involvement. The ban, a part of efforts by former President Muhammadu Buhari's administration to curb the crypto industry, was lifted in December of 2023. The CBN subsequently introduced guidelines for virtual asset service providers, causing a major shift in the regulatory landscape.

Nigeria, which has launched a central bank digital currency in 2022 and seen the introduction of the naira-pegged cNGN stablecoin by the Africa Stablecoin Consortium in February, is a frontrunner when it comes to digital currency innovation in Africa. However, the recent regulatory and enforcement actions reflect the nation's still very cautious approach to integrating cryptocurrencies into its financial system.

UK Enhances Crypto Crime Fight

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom has taken a big step towards strengthening its fight against crypto-related crimes with the recent update to the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act 2023. According to documentation that was released by the government on Feb. 29, UK law enforcement agencies will soon have more power to freeze and seize crypto assets that are linked to illicit activities, without the need for a prior conviction. This amendment, which takes effect on Apr. 26, aims to streamline the process of tackling cybercrime, scams, drug trafficking, and other illegal uses of digital currencies.

Under the new rules, agencies like the National Crime Agency can directly access crypto assets that are held in exchanges and custodian wallets, if they suspect them of being involved in suspicious activities. One provision even allows for the destruction of crypto assets if it is considered necessary, typically through a process known as 'burning', where the tokens are removed from circulation by transferring them to a burn wallet address.

Concerns have been raised about the readiness of UK authorities to effectively manage crypto crimes. A British national, who reportedly lost about $46,000 to crypto fraud, criticized the lack of effective action from the authorities in recovering stolen funds, suggesting a potential gap in the system's ability to actually protect UK residents from crimes like these.

In addition to these measures, the UK government is also focusing on the regulation of stablecoins and crypto staking. Economic Secretary to the Treasury Bim Afolami announced at a Coinbase-hosted crypto event in London on Feb. 19 the government's intention to finalize new laws within the next six months, well ahead of the next election due by Jan. 28, 2025.