Seattle, November 27 – Lawyers representing former Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao are vehemently opposing the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) attempt to prevent his return to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) until he faces sentencing for violating anti-money laundering regulations.
In a filing on Thursday, Zhao’s legal team urged U.S. District Judge Richard Jones in Seattle to uphold the bail conditions set by Magistrate Judge Brian Tsuchida on Tuesday. These conditions would permit Zhao, a citizen of the UAE and Canada, to leave the U.S. while awaiting his sentencing. Zhao resigned as CEO of Binance on Tuesday after pleading guilty to deliberately causing the global cryptocurrency exchange to fail in maintaining an effective anti-money laundering program.
U.S. authorities have accused Binance of breaking anti-money laundering and sanctions laws, alleging failure to report over 100,000 suspicious transactions involving organizations classified by the U.S. as terrorist groups, including Hamas, al Qaeda, and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. As part of a plea deal, Binance agreed to pay over $4.3 billion, while Zhao himself consented to a $150 million penalty to the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Prosecutors, in a Wednesday filing, indicated that Zhao could face up to 18 months in prison.
The Justice Department, seeking to reverse the decision allowing Zhao to return home before sentencing, argues that his substantial wealth and lack of an extradition treaty between the U.S. and the UAE raise concerns about his return for sentencing. However, Zhao’s lawyers contend that his compliance with a significant bail package and voluntary acceptance of responsibility for his actions demonstrate he is not a flight risk.
Allowing Zhao to return to the UAE, according to his defense team, is crucial for him to attend to personal matters, including caring for his partner and three children and preparing them for the impending sentencing. In response, the Justice Department asserted on Friday that its recommendation for Zhao’s release before sentencing was “exceptional” and based on the belief that the risk of flight could be “managed” by restricting his travel.
The legal battle intensifies as the Justice Department pushes for a decision from Judge Jones by Monday, emphasizing the potential difficulty in securing Zhao’s return if he chooses not to come back for sentencing. The outcome of this case could set a precedent for handling high-profile individuals facing legal consequences across borders.