On November 22nd, Binance’s CEO, Changpeng Zhao (CZ), announced his resignation in the wake of the fine. You can find more research like this one if you subscribe to Altcoin Buzz Alpha
Zhao, one of the crypto industry’s most influential figures, acknowledged making mistakes and emphasized that stepping down was in the company’s best interest.
Today, I stepped down as CEO of Binance. Admittedly, it was not easy to let go emotionally. But I know it is the right thing to do. I made mistakes, and I must take responsibility. This is best for our community, for Binance, and for myself.
Binance is no longer a baby. It is…
— CZ 🔶 BNB (@cz_binance) November 21, 2023
Legal Violations and Financial Penalties
Zhao pleaded guilty to violating the Bank Secrecy Act in Seattle:
- Following Changpeng Zhao’s guilty plea, a magistrate judge approved his release on a $175 million personal recognizance bond.
- To secure the bond, Zhao placed $15 million in a trust account and had three guarantors provide over $5 million in collateral.
- The Department of Justice (DOJ) outlined the potential sentencing, ranging from a few months to a maximum of 10 years for Zhao.
- Zhao retains the option to appeal any sentence exceeding 18 months.
- Moreover, Zhao agreed to pay a significant $50 million fine as part of the plea agreement.
Binance faced charges of not maintaining an effective anti-money laundering program, running an unlicensed money-transmitting business, and violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.
- The settlement agreement included a $3.4 billion penalty by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and an additional $1 billion penalty by the Office of Foreign Assets Control.
New CEO and Zhao’s Continued Influence
Richard Teng, Binance’s former Global Head of Regional Markets, was named the new CEO. With over 30 years of financial services and regulatory experience, Teng assumed the leadership role.
Despite Zhao’s resignation, he remains a Binance shareholder and is available for consultations, retaining significant influence over the company.
It is an honour and with the deepest humility that I step into the role of Binance’s new CEO.
We operate the world's largest cryptocurrency exchange by volume. The trust placed on us by our 150m users and thousands of employees is a responsibility that I take seriously and hold…
— Richard Teng (@_RichardTeng) November 21, 2023
Legal Accusations and Lack of Compliance
U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen highlighted Binance’s failure to report suspicious transactions and instructing employees to withhold information from law enforcement.
- It led to the processing of millions of dollars in crypto transactions involving criminal entities and individuals from sanctioned nations without filing suspicious activity reports.
Enforcement Actions and Market Impact
According to Yellen, the combined penalties marked the “largest enforcement action” in the Treasury’s history.
- Binance, directed to exit the U.S. completely, will undergo strict monitoring.
- The platform’s native cryptocurrency, BNB, experienced a more than 10% decline, dropping to around $234, following the news of Zhao’s resignation.
The future enforcement of the ban on U.S.-based individuals using the Binance platform remains uncertain under the new CEO.
Ironic Turn Of Events
In December last year, CZ took to Twitter to criticize the collapse of the FTX crypto exchange led by former billionaire and CEO Sam Bankman-Fried.
- Zhao openly questioned the integrity of FTX, expressing concerns about the questionable practices and the “reprehensible misuse of customer funds” within the company.
- However, nearly a year later, Zhao found himself apologizing for his actions and announcing his departure from Binance.
This episode is another stark example of how rapidly the perception of stability can crumble within the dynamic and swiftly evolving crypto sector.
A Glimmer of Hope for Binance
While it remains uncertain whether Binance will ever fully satisfy regulatory authorities, taking steps to make reparations, achieve compliance, and conclude a prolonged criminal investigation could potentially signal a fresh start for the exchange.
Although there’s no guarantee of immunity, Binance continues to exhibit momentum. However, the road ahead for Binance is not without obstacles.
- The U.S. SEC has initiated a civil lawsuit, accusing the exchange of various financial violations.
- The company has been facing an exodus of executives, and following a series of layoffs in July, reports suggested that Binance might reduce its global workforce by a third.
Additionally, there is uncertainty about whether the severity of the exchange’s transgressions will tarnish its reputation, even among the most ardent crypto-anarchists.
The Demise of the “Borderless” Crypto Companies
Anyhow, the era of “borderless” crypto companies has come to an end. While this is not the first instance of U.S. law enforcement targeting a crypto exchange operating outside the country, the case of Binance is particularly notable.
Binance, once the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, challenged the conventional concept of a company with clear geographical boundaries. Despite its global reach, Binance operated without a widely known headquarters, embodying the myth of being truly “borderless.”
Critics within the crypto community argue against the extensive reach of U.S. law, with Binance itself resisting the CFTC in a U.S. court filing, asserting that while U.S. law governs domestically, it does not control the entire world.
Contrary to this claim, recent legal actions have demonstrated the ability of U.S. authorities to pursue crypto-related cases globally.
- The founders of BitMEX, located in the Seychelles, pleaded guilty to violating U.S. anti-money laundering laws in 2022.
- FTX, originally based in Hong Kong and later relocating to the Bahamas, faced challenges in its attempt to establish a significant presence in the United States.
- Despite ambitious efforts, FTX’s global operations did not extend to the U.S. (except the much smaller and less powerful FTX.US), leading to legal scrutiny and prosecution in a U.S. court for its founder, Sam Bankman-Fried.
The era where launching a massive crypto exchange could operate beyond jurisdictional control is fading. While the nature of crypto itself may be borderless, crypto companies are increasingly navigating legal and geographical constraints.
The early days of crypto, marked by the possibility of evading jurisdictional oversight, are evolving into an era of heightened legal scrutiny and accountability.