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Binance chief Changpeng Zhao pleads guilty to money laundering charges

Changpeng Zhao, the CEO of Binance, has stepped down from his position after pleading guilty to money laundering violations. In a statement on the platform X, Zhao acknowledged his mistakes, stating, “I made mistakes, and I must take responsibility. This is best for our community, for Binance, and for myself.”

The U.S. Justice Department has imposed penalties and forfeitures of $4.3 billion on Binance, citing the exchange’s involvement in helping users bypass sanctions worldwide. Binance is accused of facilitating transactions totaling nearly $900 million between U.S. and Iranian users, as well as enabling transactions involving users in Syria and the Russian-occupied Ukrainian regions of Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk.

The Justice Department highlighted Binance’s role in making it easy for criminals and terrorists to move money. It revealed that between August 2017 and April 2022, approximately $106 million in bitcoin was directly transferred to wallets from Hydra, a popular Russian darknet marketplace associated with criminal activities.

As part of the settlement, Binance is now required to report suspicious activity to federal authorities, aiding criminal investigations into cybercrime and terrorism financing. Richard Teng, the head of regional markets at Binance, has been appointed as the new CEO.

Changpeng Zhao, a prominent figure in the cryptocurrency industry, expressed the emotional difficulty of letting go in his farewell post on X. Earlier in March, U.S. regulators sought to ban Binance, alleging illegal operations in the country. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) accused Binance of breaking U.S. financial laws, including rules against money laundering.

In June, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed another lawsuit against Binance, accusing the company and Zhao of disregarding investor protection rules to continue operating in the U.S. Binance vowed to defend itself vigorously against these allegations. The legal actions against Binance come amid increased scrutiny of the cryptocurrency industry by U.S. authorities.

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