In the latest twist in the ongoing legal drama surrounding the crypto world, a federal judge in Seattle has put the brakes on Changpeng Zhao‘s travel plans. The former Binance CEO, widely known as “CZ” in the crypto community, wanted to return to the United Arab Emirates after his guilty plea in a super-high profile money laundering case. However, he has been ordered to remain within U.S. borders, awaiting his sentencing in February 2024.
This latest judicial development overturns an earlier decision by a magistrate judge, who had permitted Zhao to travel back to the United Arab Emirates before his scheduled sentencing in February. U.S. District Judge Richard Jones, swayed by the Justice Department’s concerns over Zhao’s potential flight risk, has reversed that ruling.
The $175 million bond posted by Zhao, described by Jones as “substantial if not unprecedented,” was not enough to allay fears. The Binance founder’s immense wealth, largely held overseas and in cryptocurrency, raised concerns that he might forfeit the bond to secure his freedom.
Zhao faces up to 18 months in prison for his role in Binance‘s alleged disregard for criminal transactions on its platform. However, experts suggest the sentence could extend to as much as 10 years, with U.S. prosecutors still unraveling the intricacies of the case. In a landmark settlement, Binance agreed last month to pay $4.3 billion in fines, while Zhao personally forked out $50 million.
Once a globe-trotting crypto tycoon, Zhao has had a complex relationship with national borders. A Canadian citizen since his youth, he no longer has ties to the country. He has been residing in the UAE—a nation without an extradition treaty with the U.S. This factor, coupled with his family’s residence in the UAE, bolstered the Justice Department’s argument against his international travel.
Judge Jones, in his ruling, acknowledged that Zhao posed no danger to the community and allowed him to remain free pending his February sentencing, but strictly within the continental United States. The judge’s decision underlined the delicate balance between Zhao’s justifications and the government’s concerns about his substantial wealth and UAE connections.