The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has charged Ripple Labs with illegally raising more than $1.3 billion through sales of its XRP tokens in a case that could have major implications for the booming cryptocurrency industry.
Since 2013, Ripple has sold more than 1.46 billion XRP units to investors without registering the offerings with the SEC. In a civil complaint filed on Tuesday, the commission said the tokens are investment contracts, making them subject to the registration requirements for securities.
XRP, which has a market cap of $23 billion, is the third most valuable cryptocurrency after bitcoin and Ethereum. Ripple uses it with more than 200 financial institutions, fintechs, and others to move payments around the world.
Ripple’s failure to register the sales “deprived potential purchasers of adequate disclosures about XRP and Ripple’s business and other important long-standing protections that are fundamental to our robust public market system,” Stephanie Avakian, director of the SEC’s enforcement division, said in a news release.
But Ripple maintains XRP is a currency not a security and CEO Brad Garlinghouse said the company would challenge the suit in the courts “to get clear rules of the road for the entire industry in the U.S.”
The suit is “an attack on the entire crypto industry and American innovation,” he told Fortune.
The SEC started stepping up its scrutiny of digital assets after finding in 2017 that some tokens may be considered securities. It recently won a $5 million settlement against messaging app Kik over unregistered sales of digital “Kin” tokens.
Garlinghouse has said that defining XRP as a security controlled by Ripple is akin to viewing oil as a security controlled by Exxon. But in its complaint, the SEC said Ripple “understood and acknowledged in non-public communications that the principal reason for anyone to buy XRP was to speculate on it as an investment.”
Instead of providing investors with material information, the suit said, Ripple, Garlinghouse, and former CEO Chris Larsen created “an information vacuum” and used the “information asymmetry they created in the market for their own gain, creating substantial risk to investors.”