Ex-Coinbase Manager’s Brother Takes a Plea Bargain in Insider Trading Case

Nikhil Wahi admitted to trading cryptoassets based on confidential Coinbase information from his brother Ishan, who has pled not guilty

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key takeaways

  • Both Nikhil and Ishan Wahi had initially pleaded not guilty to insider trading charges
  • Ishan Wahi’s lawyer told Blockworks last month that there were “strong grounds for motions to dismiss”

The sibling of a former Coinbase product manager charged with insider trading has pleaded guilty to wire fraud in the crypto industry’s first such case.

26-year-old Nikhil Wahi admitted at a court hearing that he traded cryptoassets based on confidential Coinbase information that he should not have been privy to, the Department of Justice announced on Monday. 

He pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. His sentencing is scheduled for December 13. 

Nikhil Wahi told the judge that he knew he was wrong to trade on the basis of confidential information, Reuters reported. The India-born Seattle resident understood his guilty plea meant he would be deported from the US. 

Prosecutors state Nikhil Wahi covered his tracks by using accounts at centralized exchanges in the name of other people and transferred funds through several anonymous Ethereum wallets. They added that he frequently created and used new wallets with no prior transaction history to further hide his activities.

His plea is now different from that of his brother Ishan Wahi, the former Coinbase employee who allegedly provided him and their friend Sameer Ramani trading tips. Both Ishan and Nikhil Wahi had pleaded not guilty last month in a Manhattan court after their arrest in Seattle.

Ishan Wahi’s lawyer David Miller told Blockworks last month that his client was prepared to fight the charges.

“There are significant legal issues in this case and we have strong grounds for motions to dismiss and suppress. In the end, we are confident Mr. Wahi will be exonerated,” he said.

Ramani, who has also been charged, reportedly remains at large.

The Securities and Exchange Commission in July accused Ishan Wahi of trading at least 25 cryptoassets based on confidential information between June 2021 and April 2022, resulting in profits worth more than $1.1 million. 

The case has sparked a debate on which cryptoassets are considered securities. While the regulator labeled nine of the traded tokens as securities, Coinbase denies this. Chief legal officer Paul Grewal wrote in a July 22 blog that the company fully disagrees with the SEC’s decision to file securities fraud charges.

Coinbase didn’t return Blockworks’ request for comment by press time.


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