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Changpeng Zhao Requests Permission to Leave U.S. Prior to Money Laundering Sentencing

Attorneys for former Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao are asking a federal judge to permit the founder of the cryptocurrency trading platform to return to his home in the United Arab Emirates before he is sentenced in the U.S. after pleading guilty to money laundering earlier this week.

Zhao, who stepped down from Binance as part of a $4.3 billion settlement with the Department of Justice, faces up to 10 years in prison. A separate ruling from a magistrate gave Zhao the OK to travel home, but DOJ prosecutors are now urging U.S. District Judge Richard Jones to bar Zhao from leaving.

Lawyers representing Zhao, who holds dual citizenship in Canada and the UAE, filed a motion on Thursday in the Western District of Washington in Seattle, saying that he doesn’t represent a flight risk and noting that he willingly appeared in court to plead guilty to the charges.

“The fact that Mr. Zhao’s home and his family are in the UAE does not make him a flight risk, and preventing him from returning to them would be punitive,” they said in the legal filing. “His family has recently grown, as he and his partner welcomed their third child a few months ago. Allowing Mr. Zhao to remain in the UAE will, in turn, allow him to take care of his family and prepare them for his return to the U.S. for sentencing.”

A spokesperson for the Justice Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Jones is expected to rules on Zhao’s request by Monday. 

Binance, the world’s largest crypto exchange, has been under investigation by federal regulators and law enforcement agencies, including the Commodities Futures Trading Commission. Under a settlement with the government, company officials admitted this week that they failed to prevent money laundering on the platform and operated illegally in the U.S., permitting traders in nations currently facing U.S. sanctions, such as Iran, to engage in business deals with Americans. 

Federal investigators alleged that Binance, which processes billions of dollars in trades, illegally profited by allowing “darknet” actors and ransomware hackers to operate on the platform and did not properly screen for other illicit services.

Zhao admitted to knowingly disregarding certain filtration processes for bad actors on his platform and failing to file suspicious activity reports with regulators, according to court documents filed Tuesday. 

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