Zhao, also known as CZ, appeared in a federal court in Seattle on Tuesday and admitted that he failed to implement an adequate anti-money laundering program for Binance, which allowed U.S. customers to trade cryptocurrencies without proper verification or compliance with U.S. laws.
As part of his plea deal, Zhao agreed to pay a $50 million fine and resign from Binance. He also agreed to cooperate with the ongoing investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the Department of Treasury, and other agencies.
Zhao was released on a $175 million personal recognizance bond, which means he does not have to pay any money unless he violates the terms of his release. He also had to surrender his passport and find two guarantors who pledged $250,000 and $100,000 respectively.
Zhao is expected to remain in the U.S. until his sentencing hearing, which is scheduled for February 23, 2024. He faces a maximum sentence of 18 months in prison, but he may avoid jail time if he complies with the conditions of his plea agreement.
Binance Settles with U.S. Authorities for $4.3 Billion
Binance, which was founded by Zhao in 2017 and operates in more than 180 countries, also reached a settlement with the U.S. authorities and agreed to pay $4.3 billion in fines and forfeitures.
The DOJ accused Binance of violating the Bank Secrecy Act, the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, and the Commodity Exchange Act by failing to register as a money services business, failing to report suspicious transactions, and facilitating transactions with sanctioned entities and individuals.
The DOJ also alleged that Binance and Zhao deliberately ignored U.S. regulations and prioritized the growth and profitability of the exchange over compliance. According to court documents, Zhao told Binance employees that it was “better to ask for forgiveness than permission” and that he was “not afraid of the U.S. government”.
Binance admitted to its misconduct and agreed to implement a comprehensive compliance program, appoint an independent monitor, and cooperate with the U.S. authorities in their ongoing investigations.
Binance also agreed to resolve related charges with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), and credited about $1.8 billion toward those resolutions.
The Impact of the Settlement on the Crypto Industry
The settlement between Binance and the U.S. authorities is one of the largest and most significant in the history of the crypto industry. It marks a major crackdown on the illicit activities and regulatory violations that have plagued the sector for years.
The settlement also signals a shift in the attitude and approach of the U.S. authorities toward the crypto industry, which has been growing rapidly and attracting more mainstream attention and adoption.
The U.S. authorities have expressed their willingness to work with the crypto industry and foster innovation, but also their determination to enforce the rule of law and protect the public from fraud, money laundering, and sanctions evasion.
The settlement may also have a ripple effect on other crypto exchanges and platforms that operate in the U.S. or serve U.S. customers. They may face increased scrutiny and pressure to comply with the U.S. regulations and standards, or risk facing similar legal actions and penalties.
The settlement may also affect the customers and users of Binance and other crypto platforms, who may have to undergo more rigorous verification and compliance procedures, or face restrictions or disruptions in their access and services.
The settlement may also impact the price and performance of cryptocurrencies, especially Binance Coin (BNB), the native token of Binance, which has lost about 10% of its value since the news of the settlement broke.
The settlement may also create opportunities for new and existing players in the crypto industry, who may be able to fill the gap left by Binance and offer more compliant and secure services and products to the crypto community.