SEC Accuses Binance of Mishandling Funds and Lying to Regulators

The S.E.C.’s complaint accuses Binance of recruiting American customers to the international exchange, even though it was not supposed to operate in the United States. “On the surface, we cannot be seen to have U.S. users but in reality, we should get them through other creative means,” a Binance executive wrote in an internal message excerpted in the complaint.

When Binance took steps to submit to a U.S. regulatory regimen, it did so disingenuously, the filing said. Binance.US was supposed to be separate from its offshore parent, but “behind the scenes,” Mr. Zhao and other senior Binance leaders were “intimately involved,” the complaint said. That led one executive to remark that “the entire team feels like they’ve been duped into being a puppet,” according to the complaint.

The S.E.C. said Mr. Zhao gave instructions to encourage so-called V.I.P. customers to bypass systems meant to restrict U.S. customers’ access to the platform. “Binance’s plan to retain lucrative U.S. investors while pretending to restrict them was a success,” the complaint said.

Some of the allegations against Binance echoed the behavior that brought down FTX, leading to criminal charges against Mr. Bankman-Fried for using customers’ deposits to conduct other business operations and make political and charitable donations. According to the complaint against Binance, the bank account of Merit Peak, the trading firm controlled by Mr. Zhao, has received more than $20 billion, including customer funds.

FTX is accused of having used a trading firm called Alameda Research, controlled by Mr. Bankman-Fried, to improperly divert and use customer money.

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