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CZ, the founder of Binance, has been given a four-month prison sentence.

‘Unprecedented scale’ of financial crime

Prosecutors say Zhao violated U.S. law on an “unprecedented scale,” and that he had a “deliberate disregard” for Binance’s legal responsibilities.

In a memorandum on Apr. 23, prosecutors said that under Zhao’s control, Binance operated on a “Wild West” model.

“Zhao bet that he would not get caught, and that if he did, the consequences would not be as serious as the crime,” the memorandum stated. “But Zhao was caught, and now the Court will decide what price Zhao should pay for his crimes.”

Changpeng Zhao, former chief executive officer of Binance, arrives at federal court in Seattle, Washington, US, on Tuesday, April 30, 2024. 

David Ryder | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Binance’s billionaire founder Changpeng Zhao was sentenced to four months in prison on Tuesday, after pleading guilty to charges of enabling money laundering at his crypto exchange.

The sentence handed down to Zhao in Seattle federal court was significantly less than the three years that federal prosecutors had been seeking for him. The defense had asked for five months of probation. The sentencing guidelines called for a prison term of 12 to 18 months.

In November, Zhao struck a deal with the U.S. government to resolve a multiyear investigation into Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange. As part of the settlement, Zhao stepped down as the company’s CEO.

Zhao, who wore a dark navy suit with a light blue tie to court, is accused of willfully failing to implement an effective anti-money laundering program as required by the Bank Secrecy Act, and of allowing Binance to process transactions involving proceeds of unlawful activity, including between Americans and individuals in sanctions jurisdictions.

The U.S. ordered Binance to pay $4.3 billion in fines and forfeiture. Zhao agreed to pay a $50 million fine.

Binance has separately been sued by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission over the alleged mishandling of customer assets and the operation of an illegal, unregistered exchange in the U.S. The action against Binance and its founder was a joint effort by the Department of Justice, the CFTC, and the Treasury Department, though the SEC was notably absent.

Changpeng Zhao, former chief executive officer of Binance, arrives at federal court in Seattle, Washington, US, on Tuesday, April 30, 2024. 

David Ryder | Bloomberg | Getty Images

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