U.S. prosecutors seek 36-month sentence for ex-Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao


Changpeng Zhao, founder and CEO of Binance, attends the Viva Technology conference dedicated to innovation and startups at Porte de Versailles exhibition center in Paris on June 16, 2022.
Benoit Tessier | Reuters

U.S. prosecutors are seeking an above-guidance sentence of 36 months for the former CEO of cryptocurrency exchange Binance on charges of enabling money laundering, according to a sentencing memorandum out late Tuesday.

The memorandum, which was filed with the court for the western district of Washington, states that Zhao should serve a higher sentence that suggested under advisory guidelines to “reflect the gravity of his crimes.”

Under advisory guidelines, Zhao’s sentencing would come in at a range of 12 to 18 months in prison.

“A custodial sentence of 36 months—twice the high end of the Guidelines range—would reflect the seriousness of the offense, promote respect for law, afford adequate deterrence, and be sufficient but not greater than necessary to achieve the goals of sentencing,” U.S. prosecutors said.

Zhao is accused of wilfully failing to implement an effective anti-money laundering program as required by the Bank Secrecy Act, and of effectively allowing Binance to process transactions involving proceeds of unlawful activity, including transactions between Americans and individuals in sanctions jurisdictions.

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 U.S., which separately accuses Binance and Zhao of violating the U.S. Bank Secrecy Act and sanctions on Iran, ordered Binance to pay $4.3 billion in fines and forfeiture. Zhao agreed to pay a $50 million fine.

Zhao stepped down as Binance’s CEO in November last year after reaching this plea and was replaced by the former Abu Dhabi markets regulator’s chief, Richard Teng.

Zhao was not immediately available for comment when contacted via social media platform X. Binance has yet to return a request for comment when contacted by CNBC.

‘Unprecedented scale’ of financial crime

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

In the memorandum of Tuesday, 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.”

Zhao’s official sentencing is expected to take place on April 30.

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