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SEC Denies Endorsement of Business Models in Coinbase Case, Sparking Court Debate

S-1 Filing Approval Does Not Imply Regulatory Compliance, SEC Clarifies

Mon, 17 Jul 2023, 08:12 am UTC

A fervent court debate recently unfolded, thrusting the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and its processes into the spotlight. At the heart of the dispute was whether granting an S-1 filing approval, which allows a firm to go public, implies an endorsement of its business model by the SEC. The agency firmly asserted that the approval does not signify regulatory compliance or an endorsement of the business.

The contentious issue came to the fore during the preliminary hearing in the SEC versus Coinbase case on July 13. The SEC clarified that it had not endorsed Coinbase's business structure when granting permission for the company's initial public offering (IPO) in April 2021.

Peter Mancuso, the SEC's trial counsel, made it clear that an S-1 approval does not entail a comprehensive endorsement of a company's entire business model or its adherence to regulations. Mancuso emphasized that there was no evidence to suggest that the SEC had reviewed specific assets, made determinations, or assured Coinbase that its model would not be later deemed a violation of securities regulations.

Cameron Winklevoss, co-founder of Gemini, and other voices on Crypto Twitter seized upon this argument. They questioned why the SEC would allow a potentially non-compliant company to go public, especially considering its responsibility to safeguard US consumers. Companies seeking to list their shares on a national stock exchange must provide a detailed overview of their business and the intended use of IPO proceeds through an S-1 filing with the SEC.

US District Judge Katherine Polk Failia expressed skepticism and pressed Mancuso for further clarification on the SEC's position. Mancuso reiterated that during S-1 filings, the SEC primarily focuses on company disclosures rather than approving the entire business structure.

Judge Failia further inquired whether the SEC could have advised Coinbase to register as a securities exchange, highlighting the complex regulatory landscape at play. This case continues to draw attention as it has the potential to redefine the SEC's role and responsibilities in the digital age of cryptocurrencies and digitization.

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