The Commodity Futures and Trading Commission filed a complaint against crypto exchange Binance, its co-founder, Changpeng Zhao, and its former chief compliance officer, Samuel Lim, alleging that Binance actively solicited U.S. users and subverted the exchanges own “ineffective compliance program,” according to a filing in Illinois federal court Monday.
Just days prior to the CFTC filing, CNBC reported on how Binance employees worked to subvert the exchange’s compliance controls in China, using some of the same techniques that the CFTC alleges Binance to attract U.S. users.
The filing has the potential to upend the exchange’s operations and is potentially just the first salvo in a regulatory crackdown on the world’s largest crypto exchange.
The regulator alleged that Binance, Zhao, and Lim violated eight core provisions of the Commodity Exchange Act, including laws that require controls “designed to prevent and detect money laundering and terrorism financing.”
Zhao and Lim allegedly “actively cultivated lucrative and commercially important ‘VIP’ customers, including institutional customers, located in the United States,” the complaint said.
Binance and Zhao took steps to purposefully obscure where the exchange’s subsidiaries were located, the regulator said. This was part of a larger strategy that Zhao said was an effort to “keep countries clean,” the regulator alleged in the filing.
A key part of Binance’s alleged effort to generate fees and solicit U.S. users was the exchange’s VIP program, for high net worth individuals, the CFTC filing said.
“Binance is aware of its VIPs’ identities and geographic locations because Binance monitors its sources of transaction volume and fee-based revenue as a matter of course in conducting its operations,” the CFTC complaint alleges.
Binance’s VIPs were offered special privileges when law enforcement agencies pursued them or froze their assets, the CFTC alleged, claiming Binance gave VIPs a heads up or suggested they take their assets off the platform.
“Do not directly tell the user to run,” Binance instructed its VIP team, the filing alleged. “If the user is a big trader, or a smart one, he/she will get the hint.”
Binance did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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