New York State Attorney General Letitia James speaks at a news conference after former U.S. President Donald Trump’s White House chief strategist Steve Bannon arrived to surrender, in New York, U.S., September 8, 2022.
Caitlin Ochs | Reuters
Eight states announced on Monday they’re bringing actions against the crypto-lending platform Nexo Group in connection with its unregistered, interest-bearing cryptocurrency product.
State regulators in California, Kentucky, New York, Maryland, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Washington and Vermont allege Nexo offered customers interest-earning accounts without first registering them as securities and providing necessary disclosures. Without access to these financial statements, state regulators contend investors cannot make informed investment decisions.
The filings also alleged that Nexo misrepresented the accounts and suggested to investors that it is a licensed and registered platform. These interest-earning accounts, known as “Earn Interest Product,” allowed investors to deposit assets with Nexo in exchange for earning yields as high as 36% on their deposits, according to one of the filings.
Nexo, however, says only one asset earns an interest rate at 36% and it does not advertise that yield in its marketing materials. The company says some of its most popular assets, like Bitcoin, only earn yields in the single digit percentages.
The crackdown comes as a handful of recent crypto bankruptcies this year have left investors without access to their funds. Celsius, which offered similar interest-bearing accounts, filed for bankruptcy this summer after freezing customer funds in June. A third firm, Voyager, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in July. The industry also saw billions of dollars wiped out during the weeks surrounding the implosion of cryptocurrency Terra USD and the failure of crypto hedge fund Three Arrows Capital.
Nexo’s terms and conditions said the company had the ability to deploy customer assets at its “sole and absolute discretion.”
According to the order filed in Vermont, “investors have no part in selecting, monitoring, or reviewing the revenue-generating activities that Respondents utilize to earn this interest.”
The Vermont order states that as of July 31, 2022, more than 93,318 U.S. residents had invested more than $800 million in these accounts.
In response to more than 10,000 of its residents being affected, New York’s Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit against the cryptocurrency platform.
“Cryptocurrency platforms are not exceptional; they must register to operate just like other investment platforms,” James said in a statement. “Nexo violated the law and investors’ trust by falsely claiming that it is a licensed and registered platform. Nexo must stop its unlawful operations and take necessary action to protect its investors.”
In February, the crypto-lending platform prevented U.S. investors who had not yet opened a Nexo account from investing in the Earn Interest Product or adding additional cryptocurrency into their accounts. The orders states filed further prevent Nexo from offering this product to residents until it meets the necessary registration requirements.
In a statement, Nexo looked to differentiate itself from other platforms that have run into financial problems this year.
“We have been working with U.S. federal and state regulators and understand their urge, given the current market turmoil and bankruptcies of companies offering similar products, to fulfill their mandates of investor protection by examining past behavior of providers of earn interest products,” the company said in a statement.
“As the recent months have clearly underlined, Nexo is a very different provider of earn interest products, as showcased by the fact that it did not engage in uncollateralized loans, had no exposure to LUNA/UST, did not have to be bailed out, or needed to resort to any withdrawal restrictions.”