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Binance founder Changpeng Zhao grounded again by U.S. court

binance-founder-changpeng-zhao-grounded-again-us-court
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Binance founder Changpeng Zhao grounded again by U.S. court

Former Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao has once again been barred from leaving the U.S. while awaiting his sentence for violations of banking laws.

U.S. District Judge Richard A. Jones refused Zhao’s second request for travel liberty at a recent hearing in Seattle. The details of Zhao’s intended journey remain under wraps as part of the case U.S. v. Zhao, in the U.S. District Court, Western District of Washington.

This decision comes just three weeks after Judge Jones reversed an earlier verdict permitting Zhao to journey back to the United Arab Emirates ahead of his sentencing in February.

The former Binance boss, possessing significant assets and ties to countries without U.S. extradition agreements, presents a potential flight risk, according to federal prosecutors.

Changpeng Zhao’s net worth increased by $25b 

Despite Zhao posting a record $175 million bond, Judge Jones expressed concerns that Zhao’s substantial wealth could motivate him to forfeit the bond and seek refuge outside the U.S. 

This bond is unprecedented, even for someone with Zhao’s net worth. According to reports, Zhao’s net worth grew by about $25 billion in 2023, even as his company, the world’s biggest crypto exchange by transaction volume, came against regulatory headwinds in the U.S.

The former Binance CEO’s net worth, majorly denominated in cryptocurrencies, surged in tandem with the market’s recovery from a lengthy bear run precipitated by the collapse of Sam Bankman-Fried’s FTX exchange in November 2022.

Zhao, who surrendered his position as Binance CEO as part of his plea agreement, willingly returned to the U.S. to face charges for violating the Bank Secrecy Act, an accusation stemming from Binance’s alleged involvement in a global criminal enterprise.

He pleaded guilty to not putting in place an adequate anti-money laundering program at Binance and agreed to a $50 million fine. 

The settlement brought an end to years of regulatory scrutiny, with Binance also entering a guilty plea for anti-money laundering and sanctions violations, culminating in a $4.3 billion penalty—one of the largest corporate settlements in U.S. history.

Ex-Binance CEO could face decade in prison

Close observers thought that Zhao, if found guilty, may receive anything between 12 and 18 months in a minimum security prison, with the ex-Binance chief’s legal team likely to argue for no jail time for their client, or at worst, a lighter sentence made up of some prison time as well as home detention and probation.

However, former Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) official and cybersecurity consultant John Reed Stark recently revealed that prosecutors in the case may ask the court to put Zhao in prison for as many as 10 years, going by the severity of the charges against him. 

For that reason, Stark was also of the opinion that Judge Jones should not allow Mr. Zhao to travel to the UAE until the sentencing hearing, since he represented a legitimate flight risk.

Stark further posited likely scenarios that could happen before Zhao’s sentencing, including the crypto billionaire failing to cooperate with prosecutors and violating his plea conditions, which include several restrictions as well as a three-year ban from associating with the crypto exchange he helped build.

Additionally, Stark stated that it was important for the U.S. Justice Department to secure a sentence against Zhao or risk turning the Binance case into a “historical injustice of epic proportions.”

As the world watches Zhao’s high-stakes legal drama unfold, the fate of the Binance founder hangs in the balance.