The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has announced that Binance CEO Changpeng “CZ” Zhao has agreed to plead guilty to one felony charge in a settlement concerning criminal and civil cases with the exchange.
The agreement is a significant part of a broad settlement involving the company and various U.S. agencies, such as the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and the Treasury Department, as informed by two sources familiar with the situation.
The deal will settle criminal charges related to operating an unlicensed money transmitter business, conspiracy and violating sanctions regulations. The company will pay $1.81 billion within 15 months and an additional $2.51 billion as part of the agreement with the Justice Department, while Zhao will personally pay $50 million.
At Tuesday’s press conference, Attorney General Merrick Garland disclosed that CZ had personally appeared in a U.S. federal court despite living abroad. Garland explained that the $4.3 billion settlement with Binance and CZ would address “civil regulatory enforcement actions” by various government departments, such as CFTC.
Garland explained that Binance had allowed criminals to transfer “stolen funds” via the exchange. He accused the exchange of only “pretending” to comply with U.S. federal laws by providing ways for specific users linked to illicit funds to access Binance.
“Binance prioritized its profits over the safety of the American people,” said Garland. “Using new technology to break the law does not make you a disruptor — it makes you a criminal.”
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Binance would pay over $3.4 billion in penalties to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and approximately $1 billion to the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control as part of the agreement.
CFTC Chair Rostin Behnam said Binance would cover $2.7 billion in civil monetary penalties and disgorgement, CZ would contribute $150 million, and former compliance chief Samuel Lin would pay $1.5 million under the proposed settlement. The DOJ will apply about $1.8 billion to these resolutions.
In a blog post, Binance expressed its satisfaction with reaching an agreement with U.S. authorities, asserting that it remained committed to its core principles of user security and safety. CZ revealed on social media that he had resigned as CEO, with Richard Teng, Binance’s global head of regional markets, taking over the role.
“I made mistakes, and I must take responsibility,” said CZ. “This is best for our community, for Binance, and for myself. […] I have not had a single day of real (phone off) break for the last 6 and half years.”
The indictment against CZ, filed under seal on November 14, cited one charge for not having an effective Anti-Money Laundering program at Binance, violating the Bank Secrecy Act. The agreement between U.S. regulators and Binance resolved numerous civil and criminal investigations involving the exchange that spanned several months. However, it still faces an ongoing civil case with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). In June, the SEC charged Binance, Binance.US and CZ for violating securities laws.
Binance Coin (BNB) surged to a five-month high at $266 despite ongoing challenges faced by Binance amid the U.S. Justice Department’s pursuit of a significant $4 billion agreement.
Despite legal obstacles, crypto experts see a potential compromise that protects investors and allows Binance to shift towards a more institutional and compliant path. Matt Walsh, a founding partner at Fortress Island Ventures, shares this perspective.
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