Binance Holdings Limited (Binance), the entity that operates the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, Binance.com, pleaded guilty today and has agreed to pay over $4 billion to resolve the Justice Department’s investigation into violations related to the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA), failure to register as a money transmitting business, and the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA).
Binance’s founder and chief executive officer (CEO), Changpeng Zhao, a Canadian national, also pleaded guilty to failing to maintain an effective anti-money laundering (AML) program, in violation of the BSA and has resigned as CEO of Binance.
Binance’s guilty plea is part of coordinated resolutions with the Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) and Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC).
“Binance became the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange in part because of the crimes it committed – now it is paying one of the largest corporate penalties in U.S. history,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “In just the past month, the Justice Department has successfully prosecuted the CEOs of two of the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchanges in two separate criminal cases. The message here should be clear: using new technology to break the law does not make you a disruptor, it makes you a criminal.”
“Binance turned a blind eye to its legal obligations in the pursuit of profit. Its willful failures allowed money to flow to terrorists, cybercriminals, and child abusers through its platform,” said Secretary of the Treasury Janet L. Yellen. “Today’s historic penalties and monitorship to ensure compliance with U.S. law and regulations mark a milestone for the virtual currency industry. Any institution, wherever located, that wants to reap the benefits of the U.S. financial system must also play by the rules that keep us all safe from terrorists, foreign adversaries, and crime or face the consequences.”
“A corporate strategy that puts profits over compliance isn’t a path to riches; it’s a path to federal prosecution,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco. “Today’s charges and guilty pleas – combined with a more than $4 billion financial penalty – sends an unmistakable message to crypto and defi companies: if you serve U.S. customers, you must obey U.S. law.”
“Changpeng Zhao made Binance, the company he founded and ran as CEO, into the largest cryptocurrency exchange in the world by targeting U.S. customers, but refused to comply with U.S. law,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicole M. Argentieri of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “Binance’s and Zhao’s willful violations of anti-money laundering and sanctions laws threatened the U.S. financial system and our national security, and each of them has now pleaded guilty. Make no mistake: when you place profits over compliance with the law, you will answer for your crimes in the United States.”
“Binance’s crimes gave sanctioned customers unfettered access to American capital and financial services,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division (NSD). “This prosecution is a warning that companies that do not build sanctions compliance into their services face serious criminal penalties, as do the executives who lead them.”
“From the beginning of its existence, Binance and founder Changpeng Zhao chose growth and personal wealth over following financial regulations aimed at stopping the laundering of criminal cash,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Tessa M. Gorman for the Western District of Washington. “Because Changpeng Zhao knowingly operated a financial platform without basic anti-money laundering safeguards, the company caused illegal transactions between U.S. users and users in sanctioned jurisdictions such as Iran, Cuba, Syria, and Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine – transactions for which Binance profited with significant fees.”
“Binance’s activities undermined the foundation of safe and sound financial markets by intentionally avoiding basic, fundamental obligations that apply to exchanges, all the while collecting approximately $1.35 billion in trading fees from U.S. customers,” said Chairman Rostin Behnam of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). “American investors, small and large, have demonstrated eagerness to incorporate digital asset products into their portfolios. It is our duty to ensure that when they do so, the full protections afforded by our regulatory oversight are in place, and that illegal and illicit conduct is swiftly addressed. When, as here, an entity goes even further, deliberately avoiding to employ meaningful access controls, intentionally avoiding knowing customers’ identities, and actively concealing the presence of U.S. customers on its platforms, there is no question that the CFTC will strike hard and aggressively.”
See full press release here.