S.E.C. Accuses Binance of Mishandling Funds and Lying to Regulators
"The S.E.C. said the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange mixed “billions of dollars” in customer funds and secretly sent them to a separate company controlled by Binance’s founder, Changpeng Zhao.
The Securities and Exchange Commission has accused Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, of mishandling customer funds as well as lying to regulators and investors about its operations in a sweeping case filed in federal court on Monday.
The Wall Street regulator said Binance had been mixing “billions of dollars” in customer funds and secretly sending them to a separate company called Merit Peak Limited, which is controlled by Binance’s founder, Changpeng Zhao.
The charges included misleading investors about the adequacy of its systems to detect and control manipulative trading. Regulators also said Binance did not take sufficient steps to restrict U.S. investors from accessing Binance’s unregulated exchange.
The charges against the biggest crypto exchange were the latest actions by U.S. regulators and prosecutors to rein in the Wild West of crypto trading and force major players in the space to come into compliance with U.S. laws.
Binance was already under increasing pressure. The Justice Department is investigating the exchange for money-laundering violations. Binance lost its outside auditing firm when Mazars announced that it would no longer do business with crypto companies late last year. The company has also seen its control of the crypto market shrink.
To improve its reputation, Binance has hired a slew of new compliance officials, including a former federal prosecutor who now heads its compliance operation.
“We allege that Zhao and the Binance entities not only knew the rules of the road, but they also consciously chose to evade them and put their customers and investors at risk,” said Gurbir S. Grewal, director of the S.E.C.’s enforcement division.
The nation’s top securities regulator filed 13 charges against Binance and Mr. Zhao, better known in the crypto world as “C.Z.” The S.E.C. is taking action a little over a month after the Commodities Futures Trading Commission filed its own civil enforcement action against Binance and Mr. Zhao.
Binance representatives had no immediate comment.
The C.F.T.C. is seeking to bar Mr. Zhao from doing business that falls under its jurisdiction for life. The agency also wants to permanently banish Binance from the United States.
The moves against Binance and Mr. Zhao come months after the filing of criminal charges against Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder of FTX, which had been a big Binance rival in crypto trading until FTX imploded and filed for bankruptcy last November.
This is a breaking news story. Check back for updates.
Matthew Goldstein covers Wall Street and white-collar crime and housing issues. @mattgoldstein26
Emily Flitter covers finance. She is the author of “The White Wall: How Big Finance Bankrupts Black America.” @FlitterOnFraud
David Yaffe-Bellany covers cryptocurrencies and financial technology. He graduated from Yale University and previously reported in Texas, Ohio, Connecticut and Washington, D.C. @yaffebellany"