The Commodity Futures and Trading Commission (CFTC) has filed a complaint against cryptocurrency exchange Binance, its co-founder Changpeng Zhao, and former chief compliance officer Samuel Lim. The filing accuses them of soliciting U.S. users and circumventing the exchange’s own compliance program.
Potential Impact on Binance Operations
This filing could disrupt Binance’s operations and may be the first in a series of regulatory actions against the world’s largest crypto exchange. In addition to monetary penalties, the CFTC has requested the court impose trading and registration bans.
Alleged Violations of Commodity Exchange Act
The CFTC claims Binance, Zhao, and Lim breached eight core provisions of the Commodity Exchange Act. These include regulations requiring controls to prevent and detect money laundering and terrorism financing.
US CFTC Alleges Binance Traded with 300 Accounts Associated with CEO Changpeng Zhao
Binance allegedly failed to apply “anti-fraud or anti-manipulation surveillance or controls” to 300 accounts, according to the lawsuit. The suit highlights that these accounts were not subject to recently introduced insider trading policies.
Targeting VIP Customers in the United States
The complaint states that Zhao and Lim actively pursued valuable VIP customers, including institutional clients, located in the U.S.
CFTC Chair’s Statement on Enforcement Action
CFTC chair Rostin Benham emphasized that the agency will use its full authority to protect American investors and ensure misconduct is addressed in the digital asset market.
Binance’s Efforts to Obscure Subsidiaries’ Locations
The regulator alleges that Binance and Zhao intentionally concealed the locations of the exchange’s subsidiaries as part of a larger strategy to “keep countries clean.”
VIP Program as a Tool for Soliciting U.S. Users
The CFTC claims that Binance’s VIP program for high net worth individuals played a significant role in generating fees and attracting U.S. users.
Alleged Special Privileges for VIPs
According to the CFTC, Binance offered VIPs special treatment when law enforcement agencies pursued them or froze their assets. This allegedly involved giving them a heads up or suggesting they remove their assets from the platform.
Similar Tactics Used for U.S. and Chinese Users
The CFTC filing alleges that Binance employed comparable tactics to help U.S. users evade compliance systems, as previously reported by CNBC for mainland Chinese users.
Days before the CFTC filing, CNBC reported on Binance employees’ attempts to undermine the exchange’s compliance controls in China. The CFTC alleges that Binance used similar techniques to target U.S. users.
Encouraging “Creative Means” to Bypass Regulations
The filing cites a 2020 conversation in which Lim allegedly advised a Binance employee to use “creative means” to sidestep regulations, such as encouraging users to create non-KYC accounts.
Binance’s Response to the Complaint
Binance has expressed disappointment in the complaint and stated that they have invested significantly in ensuring U.S. users are not active on their platform.
Zhao’s Reaction to the CFTC Filing
Zhao’s attorney has not provided a comment, but Zhao tweeted the number “4” in an apparent reference to the CFTC filing. This number is often used by Binance’s international user base to dismiss negative news about the exchange as “fake news.”
Binance’s Commitment to Collaboration
In response to the complaint, Binance has expressed its intention to protect users and collaborate with regulators to develop a clear regulatory framework.
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