March 2, 2024

US officials announce $4.3B settlement with Binance, plea deal with CZ

Officials with the U.S. Justice Department, Treasury, and CFTC alleged Binance “lacked basic safeguards” to protect against sanctions and Changpeng Zhao committed criminal acts.

Officials with the United States Department of Justice announced that Binance CEO Changpeng “CZ” Zhao will plead guilty to one felony charge as part of a settlement over criminal and civil cases with the exchange.

In a Nov. 21 press conference, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced CZ entered his plea in person in U.S. federal court despite residing outside the country. He added there would be a $4.3-billion settlement with Binance and CZ covering “civil regulatory enforcement actions” by government departments including the U.S. Treasury and Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC).

According to Garland, Binance’s policies allowed criminals involved in illicit activities to move “stolen funds” through the exchange. He alleged the exchange “pretended to comply” with U.S. federal laws by offering paths for certain users to access Binance despite their ties to illicit funds. The Attorney General said the exchange would be subject to monitoring and reporting requirements, and required to file suspicious activity reports for past transactions.

“Binance priortized 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.”

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen addressing reporters. Source: Justice.gov

Following Garland, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Binance would pay more than $3.4 billion in penalties to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) and roughly $1 billion to Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) as part of the settlement. CFTC chair Rostin Behnam said Binance would pay $2.7 billion in civil monetary penalties and disgorgement, CZ would pay $150 million, and former compliance chief Samuel Lin would pay $1.5 million under the proposed settlement. The Justice Department will credit roughly $1.8 billion toward the latter resolutions.

In a Nov. 21 blog post, Binance said it was “pleased” to have reached the resolution with U.S. authorities, claiming the exchange “never faltered in upholding [its] core values of user security and safety.” CZ announced on X he had stepped down as CEO, and Binance’s global head of regional markets, Richard Teng, will assume the position.

“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.”

Related: Court unseals indictments against Binance and CZ, detailing expected guilty pleas

According to the indictment against CZ filed under seal on Nov. 14, the Binance CEO faced one charge for failure to maintain an effective anti-money laundering program at the crypto exchange, violating the Bank Secrecy Act. Court records concerning charges against Binance CZ had been kept under seal from Nov. 14 to Nov. 21 following motions from prosecutors in agreement with both parties.

The settlement between U.S. officials and Binance largely concluded many of the civil and criminal investigations into the exchange going back months. The crypto exchange still has a pending civil case with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which charged Binance, Binance.US, and CZ for securities law violations in June.

Magazine: US enforcement agencies are turning up the heat on crypto-related crime