Changpeng Zhao, the founder of Binance, has pleaded guilty to anti-money laundering charges in a Seattle court and has resigned as CEO of the world's largest cryptocurrency exchange. In a statement, he said that letting go of his position was not easy but was the right thing to do. He took responsibility for his mistake and believed it was in the community's best interest, Binance, and himself. Zhao believes that Binance is no longer a child; it is time to let it walk and run independently.
On the same day, Binance settled the charges with the US Department of Justice (DOJ), the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) and the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). The charges relate to "non-compliance with anti-money laundering regulations" and violating sanctions issued by the DOJ. The exchange must grant the Treasury Department access to Binance's books and records under a five-year monitoring term as part of the settlement.
Earlier this year, Binance and Zhao were investigated by the CFTC for allegedly violating laws requiring measures to "prevent and detect money laundering and sponsoring terrorism." This was the largest legal move by the US regulator against Binance ever. It is only the first step in a series of activities aimed at the regulatory crackdown on the world's largest cryptocurrency exchange.
Zhao's sentencing date is expected to be February 23, 2024, and he could face up to 18 months in prison. However, he emphasized that the US regulator will not accuse Binance of misappropriating user funds or engaging in market manipulation. Binance plans to plead guilty to criminal charges and agree to pay fines totaling $4.3 billion, including the amount to settle civil charges brought by regulators.
Richard Teng, former head of global regional markets at Binance, has been appointed as the new CEO of Binance. Zhao announced that Teng is a highly qualified leader, and with over three decades of experience in financial and regulatory services, Richard will ensure Binance takes the next stage in security, transparency, compliance, and growth.
Sources suggest that the agreement to leave the CEO position allows Zhao to retain majority ownership of the company, even though he no longer has an executive role. This is similar to the previous verdict of the CEO of BitMEX, Arthur Hayes, who pleaded guilty to violating anti-money laundering laws and was later sentenced to two years of probation.
Zhao has said that he plans to rest for now and has no immediate plans to run another startup. He will make some investments, become a shareholder of some startups in Web3, blockchain, DeFi, AI, and biotechnology, and be willing to become an advisor and consultant for a small number of entrepreneurs.
Billionaire Changpeng Zhao, a Canadian of Chinese origin, graduated in information technology from McGill University, worked at the Tokyo Stock Exchange, and then moved to Bloomberg LP. During his time at Bloomberg, he became interested in the financial sector and realized how money flows through computer systems. Before founding Binance in July 2017, he was a member of the Blockchain.info development team and was the chief technology officer of OKCoin, the second-largest cryptocurrency exchange in the world at that time. During Binance's coin offering (ICO), Zhao raised USD 15 million.
Binance, under the leadership of CZ, has become the largest cryptocurrency ecosystem globally. Even after the collapse of FTX last year, Binance continued to increase its market share and influence. According to the Bloomberg rankings, Changpeng Zhao's fortune reached an equivalent of 96 billion USD in 2021, making him one of the billionaires. However, Binance has been facing turbulence lately as authorities across Europe and the US investigate the exchange for accusations such as market manipulation, lack of compliance with the law, and illegal conduct, including money laundering.