Binance CEO reportedly steps down and pleads guilty to money laundering

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The CEO of Binance, the largest global cryptocurrency exchange, plans to step down and plead guilty to violating criminal U.S. anti-money-laundering requirements, in a deal that may preserve the company’s ability to continue operating. 

Changpeng Zhao is scheduled to appear in Seattle federal court Tuesday afternoon, Nov. 21, and enter his plea, according to court records unsealed Tuesday. 

Prosecutors also unsealed a document charging Binance, which Zhao owns, with anti-money-laundering and sanctions crimes. Binance will also plead guilty and agree to pay fines totalling $4.3 billion, which includes amounts to settle civil allegations made by regulators, the people said. 

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A source with knowledge of the company’s succession plan tells Wired that Richard Teng, currently head of regional markets at Binance, is likely to take over. Teng was the CEO of Abu Dhabi Global Market, a financial regulator in the UAE. Teng is said to be a popular choice among Binance staff. 

Further details are expected to be announced Tuesday, Nov. 21. DOJ is hosting a press conference at 3:00pm EST and is expected to discuss the Binance suit further. 

Binance launched in June 2017 and within 180 days became the largest crypto exchange in the world. It had over $11.6 billion in trading volume during the past 24 hours, 515% higher than $1.9 billion in trading volume from the second largest crypto exchange, Coinbase, according to CoinMarketCap data. 

The DOJ charges against Binance come over five months after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission accused the exchange and Zhao of lying to regulators about its operations, filing 13 charges against the defendants in the federal case. Zhao and Binance were allegedly “intimately involved” in directing the trading entity’s business operations and providing crypto-related services to the Binance.US platform, which claims it’s an independent exchange in the SEC filing. 

In late March the U.S. Commodity Futures and Trading Commission also filed a suit against Binance, Zhao and its Chief Compliance Officer Samuel Lim for allegedly breaking trading and derivatives rules. 

Binance has made headlines this past year for a range of reasons, including Zhao’s comments contributing to the collapse of FTX, which was once one of its top competitors. In April, Binance.US, its American sister company, broke off its $1.3 billion deal to buy crypto broker Voyager Digital’s assets due to a “hostile and uncertain regulatory climate.” 

In August, Checkout.com cut ties with Binance over concerns about the crypto firm’s alleged issues with anti-money laundering, sanctions and compliance controls. At the time, Binance’s spokesperson said it does not agree with “Checkout’s purported basis for termination and is considering our options for legal action.”

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