Judge denies Binance ex-chief’s second bid to leave US

abdelaziz Fathi

Changpeng “CZ” Zhao, the former CEO of cryptocurrency exchange Binance, has been denied permission to leave the United States by a federal judge, ahead of his sentencing hearing.

Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao

The ruling, made on December 29 by Judge Richard Jones of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington in Seattle, comes after a second motion by CZ requesting to travel abroad.

The details of CZ’s second motion were sealed by the court and are not publicly available. However, his legal team indicated that the request involved “medical information regarding Mr. Zhao’s child.”

Previously, on December 7, Judge Jones had ordered Zhao to remain in the U.S., following a motion where CZ sought permission to travel. The judge raised concerns that CZ could be a flight risk, especially if allowed to travel to Dubai, where his family resides.

CZ has pleaded guilty to one felony count in a $4.3 billion agreement with U.S. authorities, involving both himself and Binance. He is scheduled for sentencing in February and could face up to 18 months in prison.

In his deliberation, Judge Jones acknowledged the rarity of overruling a magistrate judge’s pre-sentencing decision. However, he was swayed by the Justice Department’s argument that Zhao’s massive wealth and the lack of an extradition treaty between the UAE and the U.S. posed flight risks.

Despite Zhao posting a $175 million bond, the judge was concerned that Zhao’s considerable wealth might lead him to forfeit the bond in exchange for his freedom. Binance founder’s fortune has soared by almost $25 billion this year, even as his holdings in Bitcoin and Binance’s own coin, BNB, are not included in this valuation.

Zhao’s defense argues that he does not pose a flight risk, as previously determined by Judge Brian Tsuchida, and that the government has not provided adequate grounds for an appeal to overturn this finding. They elaborated on CZ’s visibility as a global public figure and his track record, including a lack of criminal history and the non-violent nature of his offenses, to argue against the necessity of him staying in the U.S. before sentencing.

The defense also suggests that since Binance founder could serve a portion of his sentence in a non-jail setting, there is little motivation for him to flee and face additional charges. They point out that his family ties and residence in the UAE should not inherently mark him as a flight risk, especially given his willingness to face the legal consequences and return to his family post-sentencing.

Refuting the prosecutors’ concern over Zhao’s wealth and the absence of a U.S.-UAE extradition treaty, the defense notes his voluntary return to the U.S. to face charges. They mentioned his bail conditions, including a $175 million personal bond backed by guarantor pledges, as evidence of his commitment to comply with U.S. judicial proceedings.

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