U.S. SEC Punishes Russian ICO Rating Agency

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced on Tuesday (August 20) that it had charged Russian ICO rating agency "ICO Rating" for "failing to disclose it was paid to tout digital assets."

The SEC's press release says that ICO Rating had "agreed to pay $268,998 to settle charges that it failed to disclose payments received from issuers for publicizing their digital asset securities offerings.  "

According to the SEC's cease-and-desist order, between December 2017 and July 2018, ICO Rating created research reports and assigned ratings for various crypto tokens that were "securities", and this content was published on its website (icorating.com) and on its social media channels. 

The SEC alleges that although ICO Rating described itself as “a rating agency that issues independent analytical research,” it did not provide disclosure about the fact that it was paid by certain issuers whose ICOs it had rated.

Melissa Hodgman, Associate Director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division, stated:

The securities laws require promoters, including both people and entities, to disclose compensation they receive for touting investments so that potential investors are aware they are viewing a paid promotional item. This requirement applies regardless of whether the securities being touted are issued using traditional certificates or on the blockchain.

The SEC's order says that "finds that ICO Rating violated the anti-touting provisions of Section 17(b) of the Securities Act of 1933."

Although ICO Rating did not admit or deny the SEC's charges, it agreed "to cease and desist from committing or causing any future violations of these provisions, to pay disgorgement and prejudgment interest of $106,998, and a civil penalty of $162,000."

Although the ICO Rating website seems unavailable at press time (13:45 UTC on August 21), a cached copy of its website seems to suggest that it has been updated to include the following statements:

"ICORating receives monetary compensation from the rated entities for completing the ratings reports available on iсorating.com and/or for listing their projects on icorating.com. However, rated entities do not have the opportunity to approve ratings reports before the reports are pubIished by ICORating, nor do rated entities have the opportunity to edit or remove ratings reports after they are published by ICORating. ICORating does not endorse or recommend any of the projects that are rated or listed on icorating.com. This site cannot substitute for professional advice and independent factual verification. ICORating does not provide investment, financial, or legal advice."

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