SINGAPORE: Binance founder and former CEO Changpeng “CZ” Zhao was sentenced to four months in prison on Tuesday (30 April) due to anti-money laundering violations.

Bloomberg reports Zhao’s net worth as US$43 billion (S$58 billion), making him the richest man in jail at present.

The Chinese-born Canadian businessman, an early adopter of Bitcoin, launched Binance in 2017. As of November 2023, Binance had become the biggest cryptocurrency exchange in the world in terms of trading volume.

Binance had once even applied to run a crypto exchange in Singapore but withdrew its application in 2021.

His involvement in the company caused Zhao’s net worth to soar, and last year, the Bloomberg Billionaires Index ranked him as the 69th-richest person in the world.

However, Zhao’s legal troubles also sprang up in 2023, when the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) filed a lawsuit against Binance and Zhao on March 27th of that year, citing the company’s deliberate evasion of US law and breach of rules meant to prevent money laundering operations.

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Two months later, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charged Zhao and Binance with 13 counts of alleged violations of US securities rules.

The US Treasury Department also said that the crypto exchange failed to stop global terrorist groups and criminals from operating on its platform.

According to prosecutors, Zhao let this happen because it was the “best way to attract users, build his company, and line his pockets”.

“Zhao bet that he would not get caught and that if he did, the consequences would not be as serious as the crime,” they added.

By November last year, Zhao pleaded guilty to a single criminal charge as part of plea bargain negotiations. In exchange, he was fined US$50 million (S$67.6 million) and agreed to step down as CEO.

Binance also pleaded guilty and was made to pay US$4.3 billion (S$5.8 billion) in fines.

While prosecutors asked for him to be jailed for three years, the judge handed down only a four-month sentence.

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After Zhao stepped down as CEO of Binance, Mr Richard Teng, a former executive with the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), was named the new company head.

Mr Teng, who had been Binance’s Global Head of Regional Markets before his new role, is a former Director of Corporate Finance for MAS as well as once served as CEO of the Financial Services Regulatory Authority at Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM); Chief Regulatory Officer of the Singapore Exchange (SGX). /TISG

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