Binance’s Changpeng Zhao barred from leaving U.S. ahead of sentencing

A federal judge ruled on Dec. 9 that Changpeng Zhao must remain in the U.S. until his sentencing on criminal charges related to anti-money laundering violations.

The latest decision overturns an earlier ruling by a magistrate judge that would have allowed Zhao to return to the United Arab Emirates.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Richard Jones acknowledged the uncommon nature of overturning a magistrate judge’s pre-sentencing decision, but he was convinced by the Justice Department’s reasoning that Zhao posed a flight risk.

Jones also noted that while Zhao’s $175 million bond is big, possibly even without precedent, his considerable wealth as the founder of Binance raised concerns that he could choose to abandon the bond to secure his freedom.

“The government’s fear is supported by its belief that the vast majority of the defendant’s wealth is held overseas and the belief that he has access to hundreds of millions of dollars in accessible cryptocurrency,”

Zhao could face up to 18 months in prison on money laundering charges arising from allegations that Binance ignored criminal transactions on its platforms.

In a landmark settlement, Binance agreed to pay over $4.3 billion last month, one of the largest corporate fines in U.S. history, while Zhao also agreed to a personal payment of $50 million.

The case against Zhao has brought his complex international status to light. Although a Canadian citizen, having moved there at the age of 12, Zhao no longer maintains ties with Canada.

Judge Jones also referred to an unconfirmed report from the Justice Department about Zhao being offered citizenship by the UAE, a country without an extradition treaty with the U.S., further supporting the flight risk concern. He also highlighted Zhao’s status as a multibillionaire and noted that his family resides in the UAE.

Despite these issues, Judge Jones clarified that Zhao does not pose a threat to the public and allowed him to remain free until his February sentencing on the condition that he stay within the continental U.S.

As Zhao awaits his sentencing on U.S. soil, this development marks another significant moment in the ongoing saga of the cryptocurrency industry, which continues to grapple with legal uncertainties.

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