Binance users pull more than $1 billion from the exchange after CEO leaves, pleads guilty


    Outflows from Binance have amounted to more than $1 billion in the past 24 hours, not including bitcoin, according to data from blockchain analysis firm Nansen, after founder and CEO Changpeng Zhao stepped down and pleaded guilty Tuesday in a deal with the Department of Justice.

    Meanwhile, liquidity has dropped 25% over the same time frame as market makers pull back their positions, according to data provider Kaiko.

    The outflows are significant and close to what happened previously when the exchange and its founder were charged with 13 securities violations by the SEC.

    The exchange’s native token, BNB, is down more than 8% in the last 24 hours. Binance holds around $2.8 billion worth of BNB tokens, according to Nansen. And in March, after Binance phased out zero-fee trading of crypto asset pairs including bitcoin, a key incentive for customers, the exchange began to see its share of all spot trading drop.

    Binance remains the world’s largest crypto exchange globally, processing billions of dollars in trading volume every year.

    Binance agreed to pay $4.3 billion in fines to the U.S. government. The plea deals end a yearslong investigation into the crypto exchange.

    Assets of more than $65 billion remain on the platform, according to Nansen, meaning that Binance is likely capitalized enough to withstand a sudden rush of investors away from the platform. And while withdrawals are on the up, there has not yet been a “mass exodus” of funds from the exchange.

    “After the momentary shock of the agreement with the announcement, there is no significant impact on most assets,” said Grzegorz Drozdz, a market analyst at investment firm Conotoxia Ltd.

    “The cryptocurrency that seems to have suffered the most, losing more than 9%, is the BNB token from Binance. Of the top 100 cryptocurrencies, as many as 98 have seen a noticeable rebound over the past 24 hours. Bitcoin, meanwhile, fell 4% before rebounding and remaining with a loss of 1.3%,” he said.

    Drozdz added that it may be a net positive for the industry now that the dispute with regulators is behind Binance and that the company has pledged to increase security measures.

    “This, combined with the likely imminent approval of an ETF based on bitcoin quotes, could positively impact the crypto market in the long term,” said Drozdz.

    Can Binance survive at this stage?

    That’s the multibillion-dollar question the cryptocurrency giant faces after Zhao agreed to a plea deal and stepped down from the company.

    Started by the Chinese-born entrepreneur in 2017, Binance went from being a relatively obscure name to being a major force in crypto in a matter of weeks.

    Experts CNBC spoke with said that Binance is likely to make it through the ordeal despite a turbulent situation. They cited the company’s decision to comply with the DOJ process and implement a three-year strategy to get its operations into compliance, and the amount of assets held within the company’s reserves.

    “The sum of $4 billion is clearly very large and will create real pain for Binance’s balance sheet,” Yesha Yadav, Milton R. Underwood professor of law and associate dean at Vanderbilt University, told CNBC via email.

    “However, this fine does not appear aimed at dealing a fatal blow to the exchange. Based on Binance’s dominant position within the crypto-ecosystem over a number of years, CZ’s personal wealth … and continuing trading volumes despite declines in overall crypto trading volume as well as in Binance’s market share relative to other venues, I doubt that Binance will face risks to its solvency in paying this fine.”

    $4.3 billion plea deal

    Zhao and others were charged with violating the Bank Secrecy Act by failing to implement an effective anti-money-laundering program and for willfully violating U.S. economic sanctions “in a deliberate and calculated effort to profit from the U.S. market without implementing controls required by U.S. law,” according to the Justice Department.

    Binance has agreed to forfeit $2.5 billion to the government and to pay a fine of $1.8 billion, for a total of $4.3 billion.

    U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a press conference Tuesday that it’s “one of the largest penalties we have ever obtained.”

    “Using new technology to break the law does not make you a disruptor. It makes you a criminal,” Garland said. “Binance prioritized its profits over the safety of the American people.”

    Zhao said Tuesday in a post on X, formerly Twitter, that he had “made mistakes” and “must take responsibility.”

    Richard Teng, a former Abu Dhabi financial services regulator, was named as Zhao’s replacement. Teng was most recently the global head of regional markets at Binance.

    He was also previously director of corporate finance at the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

    The action against Binance and its founder was a joint effort by the Department of Justice, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Treasury Department.

    The Securities and Exchange Commission was notably absent.

    Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a release Tuesday that the exchange allowed illicit actors to make more than 100,000 transactions that supported activities such as terrorism and illegal narcotics and that it allowed more than 1.5 million virtual currency trades that violated U.S. sanctions.

    It also allowed transactions associated with terrorist groups such as Hamas’ Al-Qassam Brigades, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, al-Qaida and ISIS, Yellen said in the release, noting Binance “never filed a single suspicious activity report.”

    Zhao has been released on a $175 million personal recognizance bond secured by $15 million in cash and has a sentencing hearing scheduled for Feb. 23.

    Binance to continue

    Binance will continue to operate but with new ground rules. The company is required to maintain and enhance its compliance program to ensure its business is in line with U.S. anti-money-laundering standards. The company is required to appoint an independent compliance monitor.

    The case against Binance, which was unsealed Tuesday, shows that three criminal charges were brought against the exchange, including conducting an unlicensed money-transmitting business, violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, and conspiracy.

    Some of its rivals may look to take advantage of the situation, particularly Coinbase, Kraken, and OKX.

    Coinbase and Kraken are currently waging their own respective legal battles with the SEC. In June, the agency hit Coinbase with a lawsuit similar to the one it brought against Binance, alleging it operates as an unauthorized securities exchange, broker and clearing agency. And on Monday the SEC sued Kraken, alleging that the exchange commingled $33 billion in customer crypto assets with its own company assets, creating the potential for a significant risk of loss to its users.

    Vanderbilt’s Yadav said Binance’s reserves were likely to come under scrutiny as investors assess where to go after the exit of the company’s CEO. Attempts by Binance to create strategic transparency since the FTX collapse have “floundered,” she added.

    Binance published its proof of reserves, a system to show its number of assets and liabilities. But this proof is based on limited information that can be divulged from public blockchains, and is not on par with a full-scale audit.

    “There is no doubt that Binance’s reserves will be coming under scrutiny in the months and years to come,” Yadav explained. “A big question that has hung over Binance is how it is run, the state of its internal governance and risk management.”

    “This is a venue that has long been known for its opacity as well as an impenetrable capital and organizational structure whose complexity has caused regulators like the CFTC to investigate these organizational interconnections as possible avenues for Binance to engage in activities violating applicable regulations,” Yadav said

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