Court rules former Binance CEO must stay in US — for now

Binance Holdings Ltd. co-founder Changpeng Zhao can’t return to his home in the United Arab Emirates for now, a federal judge in Seattle ruled.

US District Judge Richard Jones on Monday put on hold a ruling granting the billionaire’s request to return to the UAE following his guilty plea last week to US criminal charges but before his 23 February sentencing.

That order will remain in effect until Jones issues a decision on prosecutors’ motion to keep Zhao in the US through his sentencing.

The founder of the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange pleaded guilty to failing to implement anti-money laundering policies and US sanctions violations as part of a broad agreement with the US government.

He agreed to post a bond of $175 million, secured by $15 million in cash held in trust, to guarantee his appearance for sentencing.

Zhao, who stepped down as Binance’s chief executive officer as part of the plea deal, theoretically faces as much as 10 years in prison but is expected to get no more than 18 months. Zhao also agreed to pay a $50 million fine.

Binance itself also pleaded guilty and agreed to pay $4.3 billion in penalties and forfeitures. Its also facing civil lawsuits from investors seeking to recover billions lost in the exchange’s struggles.

Federal prosecutors last Wednesday asked Jones to reverse a magistrate judge’s decision to let Zhao return home on bail, saying there was a “substantial risk” that he wouldn’t return to the US because of his significant assets, ties to the UAE and the lack of an extradition agreement with the Persian Gulf state.

Zhao claims he is not a flight risk, noting that he voluntarily came to the US.

“Mr. Zhao chose of his own free will to travel from his home in the UAE to voluntarily appear before this Court and accept responsibility for his actions,” his lawyers said in a response to the government’s motion, adding, “There would be no criminal or civil resolution in this matter but for Mr. Zhao’s decision to so resolve and his voluntary choice to travel to Seattle to plead guilty.”

Meanwhile, Binance investors sued international soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo, saying his efforts as a paid promoter for the exchange helped dupe customers into buying products that amounted to unregistered securities.

Other celebrity endorsers named as defendants include National Basketball Association star Jimmy Butler and YouTube influencers Graham Stephan and Ben Armstrong, who was known as BitBoy Crypto.

“Mr. Ronaldo’s promotions were published on public websites, television, and social media accounts accessible to plaintiffs nationwide,” according to the complaint filed Monday in federal court in Miami.

Ronaldo, a native of Portugal who plays for the Saudi Arabian club Al Nassr, couldn’t be immediately reached for comment on the suit.

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Court rules former Binance CEO must stay in US — for now