Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, has enjoyed meteoric growth and success – but its pursuit of profits over ethics has now caught up with it. Yesterday, after hours of rumor, the Department of Justice announced that Binance and its CEO Changpeng “CZ” Zhao have agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges in what marks one of the most consequential crypto enforcement actions in history.
Now, the Chinese-born entrepreneur waits for a sentencing in February, following his release on a 175 million personal recognizance bond. Observers wonder whether Crypto’s former leading man may reappear.
According to Attorney General Merrick Garland, Binance engaged in “a deliberate and calculated effort” to profit from the U.S. market while evading regulations like anti-money laundering policies. Internal chats reveal executives prioritizing growth over legal compliance, with CZ himself stating the company succeeded by asking “forgiveness rather than permission.”
Garland condemned the “willful” actions that enabled excluded groups like sanctioned countries and criminals utilizing dark web marketplaces to freely use Binance’s services. The DOJ descending now represents chickens coming home to roost for the defiant firm. Suddenly, the exodus of senior staff over the past year makes sense.
The Justice Department is requiring Binance to pay penalties and forfeitures amounting to $4.3 billion. CZ himself has also pled guilty to criminal charges related to neglecting anti-money laundering duties. Zhao now faces 18 months or more in federal prison.
For the time being, a federal judge is considering a U.S. Department of Justice motion that requires the Binance founder to stay in the U.S. until he is sentenced early next year.
Before the guilty plea on November 21st, Zhao traveled from his home in the UAE to a Seattle federal court. It was there that the Binance founder and former CEO pled guilty to criminal charges amidst an “army of attorneys,” according to the judge .
CZ was released on bail, but the terms require his return by February 9th, 2024 for a sentencing hearing on the 23rd. Failure means an arrest warrant plus hefty fines and potential decade in prison.
As per a bond document, CZ committed to returning to the U.S. 14 days before the scheduled sentencing on February 23, 2024. Failure to comply will result in authorities issuing a warrant for his arrest, imposing a $250,000 fine, and subjecting him to a potential ten-year prison sentence.
The former crypto titan requested to return to the United Arab Emirates, where he resides, but says he does “not want to leverage” his UAE citizenship and its lack of extradition “for protection.” Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Mosley, with the Justice Department’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section in Washington, D.C, has said the DOJ will seek jail time . So concerns remain about CZ’s incentive to reappear.
On November 22, U.S. prosecutors submitted a motion for Zhao to stay in the United States until his scheduled sentencing in February. Prosecutors emphasized that Zhao has significant wealth abroad, few connections in the U.S., and lives in the UAE, a country that lacks an extradition treaty with the U.S. These factors, they said, increase the risk of him fleeing.