A U.S. district judge has accepted a guilty plea from former Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao (CZ) on charges related to anti-money laundering violations. The plea was accepted by Judge Richard Jones in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington in Seattle.
CZ, also known as Changpeng Zhao, had pleaded guilty last month to anti-money laundering and sanctions violations following years-long probes by federal regulators. As part of a settlement, Binance, the cryptocurrency exchange he co-founded, agreed to pay $4.3 billion, making it one of the largest corporate settlements in history. Additionally, CZ agreed to pay a $50 million fine and stepped down as CEO of Binance.
With a potential maximum prison sentence of 18 months as per federal guidelines, Zhao has committed not to appeal any sentence up to that duration.
“This Court, having considered the Report and Recommendation of the United States Magistrate Judge, to which there has no timely objection accepts the plea of guilty of the defendant. The defendant is adjudged guilty of such offense,” Judge Jones wrote.
While Judge Jones accepted the guilty plea, it has not been decided whether CZ can leave the United States before his sentencing, which is scheduled for February 23, 2024. He currently resides in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and federal prosecutors have objected to allowing him to leave the United States. They said that Zhao poses a flight risk due to his substantial wealth and the fact that the UAE, where he resides, does not have an extradition treaty with the U.S. CZ is released on a $175 million bond.
Zhao’s defense argues that he does not pose a flight risk, as previously determined by Judge Brian Tsuchida, and that the government has not provided adequate grounds for an appeal to overturn this finding. They elaborated on CZ’s visibility as a global public figure and his track record, including a lack of criminal history and the non-violent nature of his offenses, to argue against the necessity of him staying in the U.S. before sentencing.
The defense also suggests that since Binance founder could serve a portion of his sentence in a non-jail setting, there is little motivation for him to flee and face additional charges. They point out that his family ties and residence in the UAE should not inherently mark him as a flight risk, especially given his willingness to face the legal consequences and return to his family post-sentencing.
Refuting the prosecutors’ concern over Zhao’s wealth and the absence of a U.S.-UAE extradition treaty, the defense notes his voluntary return to the U.S. to face charges. They mentioned his bail conditions, including a $175 million personal bond backed by guarantor pledges, as evidence of his commitment to comply with U.S. judicial proceedings.