A U.S. District Court has upheld claims by HBZ investors that the company acted fraudulently and also asserted that its token violated securities laws.
A United States District Court has allowed a nearly three-year-long class action lawsuit against the creators of HelbizCoin to go ahead, as per a court ruling filed on Sept. 1.
The class action suit was first brought against Helbiz, its CEO Salvatore Palella, and its partners in 2020, with an amended complaint filed in March 2022.
The case involves an Italian electric scooter-sharing company HelBiz that raised $38.6 million in an ICO and issued an ERC-20 token with one of the founders of Ethereum, Anthony Di Iorio, in 2018, according to the complaint.
A group of investors, numbering as many as 20,000, alleged that HelbizCoin was a rug pull and fraudulent pump-and-dump scheme with the firm making false statements and promises to induce people to purchase the coins. They claimed that Helbiz kept most of the money from the ICO for itself.
On Sept. 1, the US District Court for the Southern District of New York partially ruled in favor of investors who filed the class action suit, with the court granting the motions to dismiss in part and denied them in part.
The court however dismissed all claims against certain defendants entirely, including Paysafe, Skrill, Decentral, and Alphabit, finding a lack of personal jurisdiction over Paysafe and Alphabit. The court also dismissed some claims against the remaining defendants for failure to state a claim, including breach of contract, tortious interference, and certain securities claims.
However, Judge Louis Stanton also ruled that plaintiffs adequately stated claims for fraud, price manipulation, violations of securities laws, commodities laws, the RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act, and unjust enrichment against some defendants.
“Among other matters, the case found that the ERC-20 token is a security under federal law,” the investor’s lawyer Michael Kanovitz told Cointelegraph.
The investors' lawsuit was initially dismissed by a lower court judge in January 2021, citing a 2010 Supreme Court precedent that limited the extraterritorial reach of federal securities laws, according to a report from Reuters.
However, the case was revived in October 2021 when a 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the lower court judge erred in its decision, and an amended complaint was filed in March 2022.
In emailed comments to Cointelegraph, Kanovitz also pointed out that the complaint included a number of charts that use the Ethereum ledger to “prove spoof trading in the ICO.” It also included evidence of multiple "genesis wallets" that were provided to the initial investors in Ethereum, such as Mr. Di Iorio, he said before adding:
“It is a compelling story that shows how blockchain transparency can be used to flush out criminals.”
The complaint alleged that Di Iorio, an advisor to Helbiz, published false and misleading statements about the HelbizCoin ICO in Bitcoin Magazine but did not provide evidence that he made the statements.
“This is a speculative conclusion at best and thus fails to adequately allege that Di Iorio made false or misleading statements,” the ruling read.