Source: AdobeStock / Thomas Dutour
A former employee of major cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase has pleaded guilty to insider trading, marking the first crypto-related insider trading case in the US.
Ishan Wahi, a former Coinbase product manager, has pled guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with a scheme to commit insider trading in cryptocurrency assets by using confidential information about cryptocurrencies scheduled to be listed on the platform, the DOJ said in a press release Tuesday.
As reported, the charges against Wahi were first filed in July last year in federal court in the Southern District of New York. "Wahi is the first insider to admit guilt in an insider trading case involving the cryptocurrency markets," Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said, adding:
"Whether it occurs in the equity markets or the crypto markets, stealing confidential business information for your own personal profit or the profit of others is a serious federal crime."
Wahi is scheduled to be sentenced on May 10. Each count carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, though he faces a prison sentence of between 36 and 47 months as part of his plea deal, according to Reuters.
Wahi started working on Coinbase’s asset listings team around October 2020, per the announcement by the DOJ. This gave him access to information about which digital assets are planned to be listed on the platform.
Wahi then leaked this information to help his brother Nikhil Wahi and friend Sammer Ramani buy tokens just before they were listed on the platform, collectively generating "realized and unrealized gains totaling at least approximately $1.5 million," the DOJ said last year.
Ramani has not been apprehended. Nikhil Wahi pleaded guilty to a wire fraud conspiracy charge in September and was last month sentenced to 10 months in prison.
In the crypto space, listing on a major exchange tends to be very important as it leads to a jump in the price of the token. Of course, this creates a massive incentive for crypto exchanges’ employees as well.
Following the insider trading incident, Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong addressed concerns related to token listings on the centralized exchange. He announced measures aimed at improving token listing procedures and ensuring there is no unfair advantage to be exploited.
Specifically, he said that they would try to remove the ability to analyze on-chain data as a way to guesstimate which tokens are on schedule to be released. Although this data is publicly available, Armstrong said only the more enthusiastic and advanced users would be tapping into it.