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Is Binance in Trouble? Yes, Here Is Why… (April 2024)

The uncertainity surrounding Binance hasn’t become any clearer in 2024. How much trouble might Binance find itself in and what can we expect from the world’s most popular exchange? Let’s dive in!

Drew
Drew
Feb 16, 2024February 16, 202415 min read15 minutes read

The uncertainty surrounding Binance has never been higher since it was issued a lawsuit by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on June 5th, 2022. Join us for this deep dive evaluation of Binance.

In this article, we’ll dive deeply into what CEO and founder Changpeng Zhao (also known as CZ) stepping down means, examine how and if Binance is in trouble, how these new developments will affect its customer base, and what is next for the world’s largest exchange!

What is Binance? 

Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange platform, was founded in 2017 by CZ. It provides a platform for users to buy, sell, and trade various cryptocurrencies.

The exchange offers a wide range of features, including spot trading, futures trading, options trading, margin trading, and more.

Binance has a native cryptocurrency called Binance Coin (BNB), which can be used for discounted trading fees on the platform and other purposes within the Binance ecosystem.

Potential Consequences of Binance Non-Compliance

MUST KNOW: On November 21st, 2023, CZ agreed to a settlement with U.S. federal prosecutors. The settlement requires Zhao to plead guilty to violating criminal U.S. anti-money-laundering laws.

On the same day, CZ announced the news on Twitter:

As part of CZ’s plea, Zhao will be personally subjected to a $50 million fine. Additionally, Binance will be required to pay $4.3 billion in fines as part of the plea deal.

CZ was released on $175M bond and is scheduled to be sentenced in February, 2024. The settlement will allow Binance to continue operating (for now)… but the exchange’s legal troubles are far from over.

“We are operating as a fk’ing unlicensed securities exchange in the USA, bro.”

- Binance’s Chief Compliance, 2018 

Internal Binance Communication Acknowledging Illegality

The above statement was found in internal communications during the discovery process by the U.S. government. This acknowledgment, first made in 2018, occurred only a year after Binance launched.

Reduced Market Access 

Non-compliance has led to Binance being denied access to markets, facing operational restrictions, and encountering reluctance from governments and financial institutions to engage with them or their partners.

Binance Announces Dutch Market Departure

What Do These Troubles Mean to Investors?

The SEC emphasizes the risks and lack of transparency associated with these platforms. As a result, existing customers risk experiencing a range of adverse outcomes, including but not limited to: 

  • Increased scrutiny of operations

  • Potential disruptions in services

  • Withdrawal halt/pause

  • Increased KYC requirements to fulfill withdrawal requests

  • Potential legal and financial consequences for the exchange significant loss of liquidity

Main Takeaways Investors Should Understand

NOTE: In the entire 136-page document, Bitcoin was mentioned only six times — none with a negative connotation.

Serious Legal Concerns

With the increasing uncertainty surrounding Binance, many investors are withdrawing Bitcoin from the exchange and are seeking additional information on why Binance is in trouble.

Multiple government lawsuits indicate potential violations of laws or regulations by Binance, including but not limited to:

  • Fraud

  • Wash trading

  • Money laundering

None of this should come as a surprise to Swan Signal Blog regulars. On April 17th, Swan Lead Analyst Sam Callahan published an in-depth report titled Binance: Raising Eyebrows Since 2017.

NOTE: This report was originally sent to Swan Private clients on April 14th, 2023.

Binance Liquidity Concentration Confirmed by Kaiko

According to a recent Kaiko Insight Report titled: The Crypto Liquidity Concentration Report, 2023 — Binance:

  • Represented 30.7% of the worldwide market depth

  • Controlled 64.3% of the global trading volume

What to Know: The eight largest exchanges combined dominate an impressive 91.7% of market depth and 89.5% of trading volume.

2023 Liquidity Concentration

Kaiko Research

In the latest filing by the SEC, the regulator says that the Binance.U.S. audit found it “Very difficult to ensure the company was fully collateralized… Worse, as the SEC has demonstrated, Binance has a long history of controlling BAM to serve Binance’s own unlawful purposes.”

On September 5th, Ikigai Asset Management founder Travis Kling published a historical timeline outlining a history of “negative events” at Binance since December 2022, attracting attention from some of the exchange’s top brass.

Binance’s Slow Train Wreck Towards Implosion

“Yi He, a former talk-show host, has sweeping control over the crypto giant’s marketing and investment divisions. She is also founder Changpeng Zhao’s longtime romantic partner.”

Over the Christmas 2023 holiday weekend, the Wall Street Journal posted an exposé titled: The Crypto Queen Pulling the Strings at Binance.

Several Key Executives Have Left Binance in 2023

  1. Sept. 6, 2023: Helen Hai announces her resignation

  2. Sept. 6, 2023: Vladimir Smerkis announces his departure

  3. Sept. 6, 2023: Gleb Kostarev announces his resignation

  4. Sept. 4, 2023: Mayur Kamat, product lead at Binance, announces his resignation

  5. Aug. 31, 2023: Leon Foong, head of Asia-Pacific at Binance, announces his resignation

  6. July 7, 2023: Steven Christie, senior vice president for compliance at Binance, announces his resignation

  7. July 6, 2023: Patrick Hillmann, chief strategy officer of Binance, announces his resignation

  8. July 6, 2023: Han Ng, general counsel at Binance, announces his resignation

  9. July 6, 2023: Steve Milton, global vice president of marketing and communications at Binance, announces his resignation

  10. July 6, 2023: Matthew Price, senior director of global investigations and intelligence at Binance, announces his resignation

  11. October 19, 2023: Stéphanie Cabossioras stepped down from her position as the Executive Director of Binance France

  12. October 19, 2023: Saulius Galatiltis has stepped down as chief executive officer of Bifinity UAB, a payment processor that serves as a gateway for fiat transactions by customers of the Binance cryptocurrency exchange

The week of September 13th, 2023, saw Binance.US cut ⅓ of its workforce

During a summer meeting after the workforce reductions, employees openly expressed their concerns to Zhao, as revealed by messages reviewed by the Wall Street Journal.

An anonymous employee queried Zhao in the chat during the all-hands meeting, stating:

“Certain individuals who were laid off received no advance notice and only discovered their job status when they couldn’t access the system anymore. Is this a respectful way to treat them?

Is a two-week severance package considered respectful?”

Also recently reported by the WSJ, Binance faced another obstacle in late August when the Journal released a report about Binance customers' involvement with sanctioned Russian banks.

Binance made a blog post on September 27th addressing the sale to CommEx and why it will discontinue support for the Russian Ruble (RUB).

The decision follows the exchange’s denial of media reports, two months ago, suggesting its involvement in assisting customers in transferring funds from sanctioned Russian banks out of the country.

Binance Exits Russia

Ceffu

The SEC is particularly interested in Ceffu, an institutional crypto custodian and a partner of Binance. The regulatory body suspects that Ceffu has served as an intermediary between Binance.U.S. and Binance Holdings, facilitating the movement of U.S. customer funds outside the United States.

According to legal documents submitted by Binance.US’s legal team, BAM Management U.S. Holdings issued a convertible note worth $250 million to Zhao in December.

The documents state that Zhao utilized BUSD (Binance USD), with $183 million directed to Paxos Trust Company, the issuer of BUSD, to convert BUSD into USD.

Called out on Twitter

Dylan LeClair called CZ out on Twitter about the $250M of $BUSD from Binance that moved between Binance.US and the international exchange: 

Dylan LeClair Calls Out CZ on Twitter
Dylan LeClair Calls Out CZ on Twitter

In response to these allegations, Zhao posted on Twitter regarding the claim, asserting that "Binance.US has never utilized Ceffu or Binance Custody."

CZ Addresses SEC Lawsuit on Twitter

However, newly unsealed SEC documents reveal that the American exchange "obtained custody software and support services from Ceffu," contradicting Zhao’s statement.

SEC Ceffu Remarks

Reports of enigmatic financial transactions are not novel. Earlier in February, Reuters reported that Binance.US had transferred $400 million from its platform to Merit Peak Ltd., a trading firm overseen by CZ, as bank records and internal company messages indicated.

On October 16th, Binance.US announced it will no longer allow USD withdrawals. You can download the PDF version here.

Binance’s Shift Away from Bitcoin Dominance

Initial Focus on Bitcoin Trading

Initially, Binance had a limited selection of tokens, featuring cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin (BTC), Ethereum (ETH), and its native coin, Binance Coin (BNB).

However, it later gained fame for offering an extensive range of cryptocurrencies and digital assets. Binance continues to expand its token offerings and supports launching new projects through programs like the Launchpad platform.

Binance’s initial shift away from Bitcoin to a mostly altcoin-dependent exchange and business model can be attributed to several factors:

  • Broader asset options

  • Market demand and trends

  • Innovation and token launches

  • Competitive advantage

By expanding its altcoin offerings, Binance attracted traders interested in a broader range of cryptocurrencies. Altcoins often provide different features, use cases, or technologies than Bitcoin, which can appeal to traders seeking varied investment opportunities.

Binance recognized the growing interest and demand for altcoins among traders and adjusted its business model to cater to these preferences.

Binance has actively supported new altcoin projects through Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) and token launches on its platform. ICOs provide the ideal conditions for a Cantillon Effect distribution of network control by the token team.

The Binance Launchpad: The Vessel All Unregistered Security Product Offerings Are Born 

Binance Launchpad is a Binance-owned crowdfunding platform that assists crypto-startups in raising funds by offering their tokens to Binance users.

The Launchpad is the pioneer of the Initial Exchange Offering (IEO) mechanism, a now widely popular method among crypto-startups to gather funds available through many exchanges.

The BNB | Binance Chain Ecosystem

The Launchpad has come under increased scrutiny in recent years for several reasons: 

  1. Regulatory compliance concerns

  2. Questions about project quality and due diligence

  3. Allocation and fairness issues

  4. Market volatility and speculation

  5. Investor protection concerns

Definition and Implications of Unregistered Securities

The SEC charged Binance Holdings Ltd., its U.S. affiliate BAM Trading Services Inc., and Zhao on June 5th with securities law violations and are accused of misleading investors by claiming to restrict U.S. customers from trading on Binance.com while allowing high-value U.S. customers to trade secretly.

Failure to Restrict U.S. Investors From Accessing Binance.com 

Misleading Investors 

Know Your Customer (KYC)/Anti-Money Laundering (AML) 

Binance has a notorious reputation for allowing actors to use its exchange for various money laundering schemes, terrorist financing, and other illicit activities.

Exchanges must enforce strong KYC and AML measures to deter money laundering, terrorist financing, and illicit activities.

The U.S. has found evidence that American investors could easily access and use the platform due to lax KYC/AML account setup and maintenance standards.

SAFU? 

SAFU stands for the 'Secure Asset Fund for Users.'

It was created by Binance in July 2018 as a protective measure for users' funds. Binance dedicated a portion of trading fees to grow the fund, ensuring it reached a substantial amount to provide user security.

The SAFU fund includes BNB, BTC, USDT, and TUSD wallets.

During unexpected maintenance, CZ tweeted a reassuring message to users:

CZ Assures Investors Funds Are SAFU

In 2018, a YouTube video titled “Funds Are Safu" was uploaded by a content creator named Bizonacci, gaining rapid popularity as a viral meme. Since then, the community has adopted the phrase: “Funds are SAFU.”

Not your keys, not your coins!

In reality, your funds are never SAFU on ANY exchange. Any exchange operator can halt withdrawals of customer funds whenever they want, for any reason they desire, and for however long they would like.

There is nothing the end user can do once this happens. 

Binance Proof of Reserves

Verify that Binance user assets are fully backed, at least 1:1.

Please note that the vast majority of Binance’s corporate holdings are stored in wallets that do not form part of the proof-of-reserves calculations.

Binance Proof-of-Reserves

Binance Chain Hack

In a blog post from October 2022, Binance Chain was hit with a $570 million hack. BNB Chain detailed the attack that the hacker withdrew $2 million of the BNB cryptocurrency — worth around $570 million.

Due diligence safeguards investors from scams. This process provides insights into its:

  • Legitimacy

  • Team

  • Technology

  • Use case and financial health

This aides in detecting red flags and reducing the risk of investing in dubious or subpar projects.

Importance of Thorough Due Diligence for Listed Cryptocurrencies

Due diligence involves comprehensive research and analysis of: 

  • Fundamentals

  • Technology 

  • Team

  • Market viability

  • Regulatory compliance

Legal Battles and Compliance Challenges

Binance has faced numerous legal battles and compliance challenges, including lawsuits and regulatory investigations including: 

  • Alleged regulatory violations

  • Non-compliance with securities laws 

  • Difficulties adapting to evolving regulatory requirements 

Legal Challenges Faced By Binance in Various Jurisdictions

Binance operations have faced regulatory scrutiny and legal challenges in several jurisdictions, including:

United States (U.S.)

Binance had been operating in a limited capacity in the U.S. through its subsidiary, Binance.US. However, U.S. regulators have raised concerns about the compliance of Binance’s operations with local laws, including registration requirements and potential violations of securities regulations. 

United Kingdom (U.K.)

The U.K. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) required Binance to halt regulated activities in the country and expressed concerns about:

  • Binance’s regulatory compliance

  • Ability to conduct proper due diligence

  • Anti-money laundering checks 

On October 8, Binance tried to restore certain local services by partnering with Rebuildingsociety.com Ltd, a regulated entity.

Shortly after, on October 16th, Binance halted the onboarding of new users in the U.K.

China

Binance, founded initially in China, faced challenges when the Chinese government introduced strict regulations on cryptocurrency-related activities.

In 2017, Chinese authorities banned domestic cryptocurrency exchanges, leading Binance to relocate its headquarters to other jurisdictions. 

Even though the website is blocked in China, $90 billion in monthly  transactions are made by China’s Binance, accounting for 20% of volume worldwide.

Japan

In March 2018, the Japanese Financial Services Agency (FSA) issued a warning to Binance, stating that it was operating in Japan without the necessary registration.

Binance announced its plans to obtain a license to operate in Japan and comply with local regulations.

Canada

In March 2021, the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) stated that Binance may have violated securities laws by operating an unregistered cryptocurrency trading platform.

The OSC initiated an investigation into Binance’s activities.

India

In late December of 2023, Bloomberg reported India is set to crack down on and ban local access to overseas crypto exchanges like Binance.

Apple removed the apps Binance, Kucoin, OKX from App Store in India after government order.

Google pulled many crypto exchanges, including Binance and Kraken, from its Play Store in India on Saturday January 12th, 2024.

New Developments

On February 6th, Binance announced that it will soon delist Monero.

On January 17th, Binance completed its 26th quarterly BNB burn, reducing the supply by 2.14M $BNB.

The Wall Street Journal published a new exposé titled: The Crypto Queen Pulling the Strings at Binance on December 24th, 2023.

“Yi He, a former talk-show host, has sweeping control over the crypto giant’s marketing and investment divisions. She is also founder CZ’s longtime romantic partner.”…

On November 21, 2023, Zhao pleaded guilty to violating the Bank Secrecy Act in a U.S. court. The charges were related to failing to implement proper know-your-customer (KYC) and anti-money laundering (AML) protocols for U.S. customers on Binance.

As part of his court agreement, Zhao posted $15 million in a trust account and will forfeit these funds if he violates the terms of his release. He has also secured two guarantors pledging $250,000 and $100,000. CZ’s sentencing is scheduled for February 23, 2024.

Additionally, Zhao and the DOJ agreed to a $50 million fine without mentioning prison time.

As part of the settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, Zhao was required to resign from Binance. The company will pay $4.3 billion in penalties to various federal agencies and will be subject to oversight by multiple monitors for five years.

Binance also settled charges with FinCEN, OFAC, and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), addressing issues related to money laundering, sanctions, and federal commodities regulations.

Yi He, who is both Zhao’s romantic partner and the mother of his three children, holds the position of the largest Binance shareholder currently working for the company.

She has extensive control over Binance’s marketing and investment departments and considerable influence over the company’s overall operations.

However, as per the plea agreement between Binance/Zhao and the authorities, Zhao is barred from “any present or future involvement in operating or managing” Binance for three years following the appointment of a monitor. 

So, is Binance in trouble?

Even though CZ is stepping down, the exchange is not out of the woods yet. Act accordingly. Get your Bitcoin off ALL exchanges today and consider moving it into a Bitcoin IRA.

Holding your Bitcoin in a Swan Bitcoin IRA gives you full control over your Bitcoin. Learn more about the top 6 Bitcoin and crypto IRA options here!

Drew

Drew

Drew, a class of 2013 Bitcoiner, is a Research Analyst for Swan Bitcoin.

He has worked in institutional VC/PE, FinTech, and DLT consulting for over six years. He also brings over twelve years of experience working with national nonprofits and start-ups in education and software development in several leadership roles.

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