US regulators on Monday charged cryptocurrency giant Binance with securities law violations that together amounted to what they called "an extensive web of deception" and "calculated evasion of the law."
The Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil complaint listing 13 charges involving platforms and other investment entities controlled by founder Changpeng Zhao, who was once seen as the archrival of disgraced crypto tycoon Sam Bankman-Fried.
Among the allegations are that Binance, the world's largest cryptocurrency exchange, mixed "billions of dollars" in customer funds and secretly sent them to a separate company called Sigma Chain owned by Zhao.
The SEC accused Binance of mishandling customer funds and lying to regulators and investors about its operations.
“We allege that Zhao and the Binance entities not only knew the rules of the road, but they also consciously chose to evade them and put their customers and investors at risk – all in an effort to maximize their own profits,” said Gurbir S. Grewal, Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement.
The SEC alleged that while Zhao and Binanbe claimed in public that customers in the US were restricted from transacting on Binance.com, they actually "subverted their own controls to secretly allow high-value US customers to continue trading on the Binance.com platform".
The Binance founder said his firm had not seen the charge and wrote on social media that his team was "standing by" to ensure the platforms systems remain stable.
Binance was introduced to Malta in 2018, when then prime minister Joseph Muscat said the country aimed to be the "global trailblazers in the regulation of blockchain-based businesses".
It signed a memorandum of understanding with the Malta Stock Exchange to launch a new digital exchange for security token trading.
However, within two years, the Malta Financial Services Authority distanced itself from the company, saying it was not authorised to operate in the cryptocurrency sphere.