Binance founder Changpeng Zhao has to stay in U.S. after guilty plea

Zhao Changpeng, founder and chief executive officer of Binance, attends the Viva Technology conference dedicated to innovation and startups at Porte de Versailles exhibition center in Paris, France June 16, 2022. 

Benoit Tessier | Reuters

Binance founder Changpeng Zhao, who pleaded guilty last week to criminal charges tied to his cryptocurrency exchange, has to remain in the U.S. at least temporarily, according to a ruling on Monday by a federal judge.

Zhao was released on a $175 million bond on Tuesday and has a sentencing hearing scheduled for Feb. 23. His lawyers have asked that Zhao be able to travel, noting in a briefing to the court that he “voluntarily flew” to the U.S. for his guilty plea. Zhao lives in the United Arab Emirates, which doesn’t have a formal extradition treaty with the U.S.

Richard Jones, a U.S. District Court Judge in Seattle, said on Monday that Zhao can’t return to the UAE “until such time as this Court resolves the Government’s motion for review.”

Zhao agreed to step down as CEO of Binance as part of a $4.3 billion settlement with the Department of Justice. The plea arrangement resolves a multiyear investigation into the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange.

Zhao and others were charged with violating the Bank Secrecy Act by failing to implement an effective anti-money-laundering program and for willfully violating U.S. economic sanctions “in a deliberate and calculated effort to profit from the U.S. market without implementing controls required by U.S. law,” according to the Justice Department.

Binance will continue to operate but with new ground rules. The company will be required to maintain and enhance its compliance program to ensure its business is in line with U.S. anti-money laundering standards. Binance must also appoint an independent compliance monitor.

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