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Binance faces SEC charges for allegedly mishandling funds and dodging rules

The crypto giant supposedly helped US traders evade restrictions.

Zhao Changpeng, founder and chief executive officer of Binance, attends the Viva Technology conference dedicated to innovation and startups at Porte de Versailles exhibition center in Paris, France June 16, 2022. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
Jon Fingas
Jon Fingas|@jonfingas|June 5, 2023 12:23 PM

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is acting on concerns crypto giant Binance may have broken the law with its US operations. The regulator has filed 13 charges against Binance and founder Changpeng Zhao accusing the two of violating securities laws. Most notably, officials claim Binance knowingly undermined its own international compliance controls to help US investors keep trading on Binance.com when they were only supposed to rely on the separate Binance.US system. Zhao and his company also controlled Binance.US "behind the scenes," the SEC alleges.

The Commission also maintains that Binance and Zhao mixed and diverted customers' assets at will, including with the Zhao-owned Sigma Chain. The company and its US affiliate are further accused of running unregistered exchanges, broker-dealers and clearing agencies, with Zhao serving as the control. They also allegedly sold unregistered crypto assets, the SEC adds.

The SEC aims to not only force Binance to comply with the law, but to bar Zhao from helming any domestic securities issuers. It also wants the company to disgorge its financial gains from the alleged violations, and to pay additional penalties.

Binance says it's "disheartened" by the charges and maintains that it has participated in "good-faith" talks to reach a settlement. Reuters investigators reported that Binance commingled $20 million from a corporate account with $15 million for a customer-oriented example. The company denied the allegation, saying that the relevant accounts were only used to "facilitate" cryptocurrency purchases and that the funds were exclusively corporate.

The SEC allegations come a few months after the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) filed its own charges against Binance and Zhao. It too accused the crypto firm of skirting US regulations and offering unregistered crypto assets. Unlike the SEC, the CFTC charged former compliance officer Samuel Lim.

The action against Binance is the latest phase in a broader crackdown against the crypto industry. FTX and former CEO Sam Bankman-Fried are facing numerous charges over alleged fraud and bribery. New York State has sued former Celsius chief Alex Mashinsky over purported fraud, while the SEC has charged Terraform Labs with running a "multi-billion dollar" fradulent operation. Combine this with Congress' efforts to shape crypto policy and there's intense pressure on crypto exchanges to alter their practices.

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Binance faces SEC charges for allegedly mishandling funds and dodging rules