Binance founder to step down and plead guilty in US money-laundering case
Changpeng Zhao will pay $50m fine
New York — Binance founder and CEO Changpeng Zhao will step down and plead guilty to breaking criminal US anti-money laundering laws as part of a more than $4bn settlement resolving a years-long probe into the world’s largest crypto exchange, prosecutors said on Tuesday.
The deal with the justice department, detailed in court filings, is part of a large settlement between the firm and other US agencies, including the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and the treasury department, according to two sources familiar with the matter. The agreement will resolve criminal charges for conducting an unlicensed money transmitter business, conspiracy and breaching sanctions regulations, the filing said.
The company will pay $1.81bn within 15 months, and a further $2.51bn forfeiture as part of the deal with the department, prosecutors said. Zhao will personally pay $50m.
Zhao’s plea agreement also bars him from all involvement with Binance.
Binance’s former chief compliance officer Samuel Lim will also be charged as part of the settlement, a source said, adding Binance will also be required to remediate its lapses.
Lawyers for Zhao and Binance, as well as a company spokesperson, did not respond to calls for comment. Neither Lim nor his lawyers immediately responded to requests for comment.
Binance has been under the department’s scrutiny since at least 2018, Reuters reported last year, just one of a string of legal headaches it faces in the US.
Federal prosecutors at the agency asked the company in December 2020 to provide internal records about its anti-money laundering efforts, along with communications involving Zhao, who founded the company in 2017.
The CFTC in March filed civil charges against Binance, alleging it failed to implement an effective anti-money laundering programme to detect and prevent terrorist financing. Internally, Binance officers and employees acknowledged that the platform facilitated “potentially illegal activities”, the CFTC alleged.
In February 2019, Binance’s former chief compliance officer Lim received information on transactions by the militant Palestinian group Hamas on Binance, the CFTC wrote.
Lim, a Singaporean, “explained to a colleague that terrorists usually send ‘small sums’ as ‘large sums constitute money laundering'”, the CFTC said in its March lawsuit.
Zhao, a billionaire who was born in China and moved to Canada at the age of 12, said the CFTC’s “complaint appears to contain an incomplete recitation of facts, and we do not agree with the characterisation of many of the issues alleged”.
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