A federal judge in Seattle has ruled that Changpeng Zhao, the founder and former CEO of Binance, must remain in the United States while awaiting sentencing on money laundering charges.
The decision overturned a previous ruling by a magistrate judge, who had allowed Zhao to return to the UAE pending his sentencing scheduled for February.
U.S. District Judge Richard Jones, in his ruling, acknowledged the unusual step of overturning a magistrate judge’s pre-sentencing decision but indicated that he was persuaded by the Justice Department’s argument that Zhao posed a flight risk.
Judge Cites CZ’s Wealth Abroad as Flight Risk Factor
Despite a substantial $175 million bond posted by Zhao, Judge Jones expressed concern that the Binance founder’s considerable wealth could incentivize him to forfeit the bond in exchange for 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,” wrote Judge Jones in his decision.
Zhao faces a maximum sentence of 18 months in prison for money laundering charges linked to allegations that Binance turned a blind eye to criminal transactions on its platforms.
Last month, Binance reached one of the largest corporate fines in U.S. history, agreeing to pay over $4 billion to settle the charges, with Zhao personally agreeing to a $50 million payment.
Highlighting Zhao’s status as a citizen of Canada, where he moved at the age of 12 but no longer maintains ties, Judge Jones referenced an unverified claim by the Justice Department that Zhao was offered citizenship by the UAE.
This claim further fueled concerns that Zhao might exploit the lack of an extradition treaty between the UAE and the U.S.
Despite recognizing that Zhao does not pose a danger to the community, Judge Jones ordered that he could remain at liberty, pending his February sentencing, on the condition that he stays within the continental United States.