US demands 3 years in prison for Binance founder Zhao

US demands 3 years in prison for Binance founder Zhao

US prosecutors want Changpeng Zhao, the founder and former chief executive of Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, to serve three years in prison after he pleaded guilty to violating anti-money laundering laws.

Prosecutors made the request in a filing Tuesday night in Seattle federal court.

They said sentencing Zhao to twice the maximum 18 months recommended under federal guidelines would reflect the magnitude of his willful violation, and send the message that “the right choice, every time, is to obey the law.”

Lawyers for Zhao asked for probation. US District Judge Richard Jones is expected to sentence Zhao on April 30.

Once the most powerful figure in the crypto industry, Zhao, 47, resigned as head of Binance last November, when he and the exchange admitted to circumventing anti-money laundering requirements under the Bank Secrecy Act.

Binance agreed to a criminal penalty of $4.32 billion.

Prosecutors said Binance, using a “Wild West” model that welcomes criminals, failed to report more than 100,000 suspicious transactions with designated terrorist groups including Hamas, al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.

They also said Zhao’s platform also supported the sale of child sexual abuse material and was the recipient of a large portion of the ransomware revenue.

“He made a business decision that breaking US law was the best way to attract consumers, build his company and line his pockets,” prosecutors said.

In demanding leniency, Zhao’s attorneys cited first-time offenders who were “unmoved” to accept responsibility, their $50 million criminal fines, and that no defendants in similar cases had served time in prison.

They also said Zhao made Binance an industry leader on compliance, “despite the initial failures that led to this prosecution.” Zhao founded Binance in 2017.

He has been free on $175 million bond, and agreed not to appeal any sentence within federal guidelines.

Binance’s penalty includes a criminal fine of $1.81 billion and restitution of $2.51 billion. Zhao also paid $50 million to the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission, his lawyer said.

The case is US v. Zhao, US District Court, Western District of Washington, No. 23-cr-00179.

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