SEC Fines BlackRock $2.5 Million as Bitcoin ETF Review Awaits

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission today settled charges against BlackRock for “failing to accurately describe investments in the entertainment industry”—with the Wall Street giant agreeing to pay a $2.5 million fine.

The charges come as the financial world awaits the results of the SEC’s review of BlackRock’s application for a Bitcoin exchange-traded fund (ETF), which would be the first product of its kind in the U.S. should it be cleared for trading.

BlackRock, the world’s biggest fund manager, settled the charges without admitting or denying the SEC’s allegations, as is customary in such cases.

In short, the SEC alleged that from 2015 to 2019, BlackRock’s Multi-Sector Income Trust (BIT) made investments in film company Aviron Group, LLC.

BlackRock allegedly described Aviron as a “Diversified Financial Services” company—but this wasn’t accurate, says the Commission.

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“Retail and institutional investors rely on accurate disclosures of the companies that make up a closed-end or mutual fund’s portfolio to evaluate a current or prospective investment in the fund,” Co-Chief of the Enforcement Division’s Asset Management Unit Andrew Dean said.

“Investment advisers have a responsibility to provide this vital information, and BlackRock failed to do so with the Aviron investment.”

BlackRock also falsely claimed that Aviron paid a higher interest rate than what was the case, the SEC’s Tuesday announcement alleged.

The fund manager in 2019 identified these inaccuracies and accurately reported the Aviron investment in reports going forward, the Commission’s statement added.

It isn’t the first time that the SEC has brought charges against BlackRock: In 2015, it hit BlackRock Advisors with a $12 million penalty for failing to disclose a conflict of interest, and again in 2017 fined the firm $340,000 for improperly using separation agreements, forcing exiting employees to waive their ability to obtain whistleblower awards.

The crypto industry has been keeping a close eye on BlackRock ever since the asset manager unexpectedly filed for a spot Bitcoin ETF in June. A Bitcoin ETF would offer Wall Street investors exposure to the world’s biggest cryptocurrency by allowing them to buy shares that track the price of the digital asset.

The SEC has for the last decade denied every Bitcoin ETF application that has come up for its review, citing market manipulation in the crypto asset space as its principal reason. But market analysts believe BlackRock changes the calculus, given its place in financial markets and its nearly perfect record when applying for an ETF.

Rumors have swirled this week that the SEC could soon approve a Bitcoin ETF, and BlackRock seemingly began prep work yesterday for an imminent launch. Market observers believe a Bitcoin exchange-traded fund could lead to an influx of capital into crypto. In a report last week, blockchain data firm CryptoQuant said a Bitcoin ETF could boost the crypto market by as much as $1 trillion.

The price of Bitcoin this week soared on talk that the regulator is close to giving the green light to the product.

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