$2.2 billion of Binance customer assets at significant risk, SEC says


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Binance’s Co-founder & CEO Changpeng Zhao has given several interviews discussing the outlook for cryptocurrency following a turbulent couple of weeks in the market.

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The $2.2 billion of U.S. customer assets held by Binance is at “significant risk” of being stolen by founder Changpeng Zhao unless a freezing order is in put place, federal regulators said in a filing Tuesday night, after the crypto regulator was charged by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Lawyers from the SEC filed an emergency motion earlier, citing a risk of capital flight and asking a judge to repatriate and freeze U.S. customer assets to prevent illicit transfers by Zhao or Binance entities. The SEC sued Binance and Zhao on Monday, alleging they engaged in the unregistered offer and sale of securities and commingled investor funds with their own.

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The latest filing described Zhao as a “foreign national who has made overt his views that he is not subject to the jurisdiction of this Court.” SEC lawyers alleged that two Binance U.S. subsidiaries — BAM Trading and BAM Management — were controlled by Zhao and had already garnered “illicit gains” of at least $420.4 million in profits and venture fundraising.

Years of communications between the SEC and Binance, which claims no official headquarters, suggest that Binance.US couldn’t clearly indicate who controlled customer assets, according to the filing.

“Zhao and Binance have had free reign,” the SEC alleged, over “customer assets worth billions of dollars.”

Zhao’s attorneys say the billionaire is not subject to U.S. law, despite his control over or beneficial ownership of U.S. companies and bank accounts that sent billions of dollars to Swiss and British Virgin Islands-based holding companies, the SEC said.

The SEC says federal law and precedent establish the court’s jurisdiction over Zhao and Binance.

“There is no doubt that the Court has personal jurisdiction over all Defendants,” the SEC said.

While Binance’s U.S. arm has said it maintains control over much of its technology and financial infrastructure, the SEC says Zhao’s ultimate control puts investor assets at risk unless action is taken immediately.

“Given the history of Zhao’s and Binance’s open desire to avoid U.S. regulation and oversight, and their surreptitious control over BAM Trading and commingling of and movements of BAM Trading assets through a web of Zhao-controlled entities outside of the United States, there can be no assurance that BAM Trading employees are not influenced by Zhao or Binance today,” the filing said.

Federal regulators are also requesting the court allow them to serve Zhao by emailing his lawyers, saying his “pattern of geographical elusiveness” makes it difficult to identify his exact residence or whereabouts. Zhao is reportedly a resident of the UAE.

Binance did not immediately responded to a request for comment.

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