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Ishan Wahi: US indicts former Coinbase CEO in first crypto insider trading case

Ishan Wahi, the chief product officer at the cryptocurrency exchange, and his brother Nikhil Wahi were arrested Thursday in Seattle and were expected to appear in federal court there later in the day.

They and a third defendant, their friend Sameer Ramani, also face civil charges from the US Securities and Exchange Commission. Ramani is at large.

Prosecutors said Ishan Wahi, 32, shared confidential information about upcoming announcements about new cryptocurrency assets that Coinbase would allow users to trade through its exchange.

Nikhil Wahi, 26, and Ramani, 33, allegedly used ethereum blockchain wallets to obtain the assets, traded at least 14 times before Coinbase’s June 2021[ads1] and April 2022 announcements, generating at least $1.5 million in illegal gains, prosecutors said.

“Fraud is fraud is fraud, whether it happens on the blockchain or on Wall Street,” Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, said in a statement.

Prosecutors also said Ishan Wahi bought a one-way plane ticket to India after a security director at Coinbase summoned him to the company’s Seattle office for a meeting. Law enforcement prevented him from boarding the flight on May 16, prosecutors said.

Andrew St. Laurent, a lawyer for Ishan Wahi, declined to comment. An attorney for Nikhil Wahi did not immediately respond to requests for comment. An attorney for Ramani could not immediately be identified.

Philip Martin, Coinbase’s chief security officer, said the company had shared findings from an internal investigation into the trading with prosecutors.

“We are committed to doing our part to ensure that all market participants have access to the same information,” Martin wrote on Twitter.

Last month, federal prosecutors in Manhattan charged a former chief product officer at OpenSea, the largest online marketplace for non-fungible tokens, with insider trading in what prosecutors described as the first case involving digital assets.

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