A federal judge accepted Binance founder Changpeng "CZ" Zhao's guilty plea to one count of violating the Bank Secrecy Act, but has not yet weighed in on whether Zhao can go back to the United Arab Emirates before he is sentenced in February.
Federal Judge Richard Jones, of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, accepted the plea on Wednesday, just over two weeks after Zhao and Binance, the exchange he founded, pleaded guilty to various violations tied to poor anti-money laundering practices at the world's largest crypto exchange. Zhao stepped down from his role as CEO of the exchange as part of the guilty pleas.
"This Court, having considered the Report and Recommendation of the United States Magistrate Judge, to which there has been no timely objection ... hereby accepts the plea of guilty of the defendant ... the defendant is adjudged guilty of such offense," the judge wrote. "All parties shall appear before this Court for sentencing as directed."
Sentencing is currently scheduled for Feb. 23, 2024. Zhao has been released on bond ahead of that date, though prosecutors have asked that he be required to stay in the U.S. through sentencing. The Binance founder's attorneys have argued that Zhao is not a flight risk, and should be allowed to return to the UAE, where his family is, until February.
Under the current terms of his bond release, Zhao would be allowed to go back, but must return to the U.S. two weeks prior to sentencing. Judge Jones stayed that part of Zhao's release last week until he can make a final ruling on the matter, requiring him to stay in the country for the moment.
Binance, which pleaded guilty to three charges, including one sanctions-related charge, has to allow monitors who can report back to the Department of Justice and the Treasury Department as part of its plea deal, which also saw it agree to pay a massive $4.3 billion fine. Richard Teng, a former director at Binance, has taken over as CEO.
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