SEC Charges Former Coinbase Manager, Two Others in Crypto Asset Insider Trading Action

The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced insider trading charges against a former Coinbase product manager, his brother, and his friend for perpetrating a scheme to trade ahead of multiple announcements regarding certain crypto assets that would be made available for trading on the Coinbase platform. 

The SEC’s complaint alleges that, while employed at Coinbase, Ishan Wahi helped to coordinate the platform’s public listing announcements that included what crypto assets or tokens would be made available for trading. According to the SEC’s complaint, Coinbase treated such information as confidential and warned its employees not to trade on the basis of, or tip others with, that information. However, from at least June 2021 to April 2022, in breach of his duties, Ishan repeatedly tipped the timing and content of upcoming listing announcements to his brother, Nikhil Wahi, and his friend, Sameer Ramani. Ahead of those announcements, which usually resulted in an increase in the assets’ prices, Nikhil Wahi and Ramani allegedly purchased at least 25 crypto assets, at least nine of which were securities, and then typically sold them shortly after the announcements for a profit. The long-running insider trading scheme generated illicit profits totaling more than $1.1 million.

“We are not concerned with labels, but rather the economic realities of an offering,” said Gurbir S. Grewal, Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement. “In this case, those realities affirm that a number of the crypto assets at issue were securities, and, as alleged, the defendants engaged in typical insider trading ahead of their listing on Coinbase. Rest assured, we’ll continue to ensure a level playing field for investors, regardless of the label placed on the securities involved.”

“In nearly a year, the defendants collectively earned over $1.1 million in illegal profits by engaging in an alleged insider trading scheme that repeatedly used material, nonpublic information to trade ahead of Coinbase listing announcements,” said Carolyn M. Welshhans, Acting Chief of the Enforcement Division’s Crypto Assets and Cyber Unit. “As today’s case demonstrates, whether in equities, options, crypto assets, or other securities, we will vindicate our mission by identifying and combatting insider trading in securities wherever we see it.”

The SEC’s complaint, filed in federal district court in Seattle, Washington, charges Ishan Wahi, Nikhil Wahi, and Ramani with violating the antifraud provisions of the securities laws and seeks permanent injunctive relief, disgorgement with prejudgment interest, and civil penalties. In a parallel action, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York today announced criminal charges against all three individuals.

The SEC’s investigation, which is ongoing, was conducted by Michael Brennan, Jennie B. Krasner, and Gregory Padgett, with assistance from Patrick McCluskey and Donald Battle. The case was supervised by Paul Kim, Joseph Sansone, Chief of the Market Abuse Unit, and Ms. Welshhans. The litigation will be led by Daniel Maher and Peter Lallas and supervised by Olivia Choe. The SEC appreciates the assistance of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York and the FBI.

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