by Mish Shedlock, Mish Talk:
SEC Says Binance Misused Customer Funds, Ran Illegal Crypto Exchange in U.S. The SEC seeks to shut down Binance.
Crypto assets are down across the board today as as SEC filing says Binance ran an illegal crypto exchange that commingled client funds to a third party owned by Zjao, the Binance founder.
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Here is the SEC Court Filing in the District of Columbia.
- This case arises from Defendants’ blatant disregard of the federal securities laws and the investor and market protections these laws provide. In so doing, Defendants have enriched themselves by billions of U.S. dollars while placing investors’ assets at significant risk.
- Defendants have unlawfully solicited U.S. investors to buy, sell, and trade crypto asset securities through unregistered trading platforms available online at Binance.com (“Binance.com Platform”) and Binance.US (“Binance.US Platform”) (collectively, “Binance Platforms”). Defendants have engaged in multiple unregistered offers and sales of crypto asset securities and other investment schemes. And Defendants BAM Trading and BAM Management defrauded equity, retail, and institutional investors about purported surveillance and controls over manipulative trading on the Binance.US Platform, which were in fact virtually non-existent.
- First, Binance and BAM Trading, under Zhao’s leadership and control, have unlawfully offered three essential securities market functions—exchange, broker-dealer, and clearing agency—on the Binance Platforms without registering with the SEC. Acutely aware that U.S. law requires registration for these functions, Defendants nevertheless chose not to register, so they could evade the critical regulatory oversight designed to protect investors and markets.
- Second, Binance and BAM Trading have unlawfully engaged in unregistered offers and sales of crypto asset securities, including Binance’s own crypto assets called “BNB” and “BUSD,” as well as Binance’s profit-generating programs called “BNB Vault” and “Simple Earn,” and a so-called “staking” investment scheme available on the Binance.US Platform. In so doing, they have deprived investors of material information, including the risks and trends that affect the enterprise and an investment in these securities.
- Third, BAM Trading and BAM Management have made misrepresentations to investors about controls they claimed to have implemented on the Binance.US Platform, while raising approximately $200 million from private investors in BAM Management and attracting billions of dollars in trading volume from investors (including retail and institutional investors) seeking to transact on the Binance.US Platform.
- Starting in or around 2018, determined to escape the registration requirements of the federal securities laws, Defendants—under Zhao’s control—designed and implemented a multi-step plan to surreptitiously evade U.S. laws. As Binance’s Chief Compliance Officer (“Binance CCO”) admitted, “we do not want [Binance].com to be regulated ever.”
- As one part of this plan to evade United States regulatory oversight over Zhao, Binance, and the Binance.com Platform, Zhao and Binance created BAM Management and BAM Trading in the United States and claimed publicly that these entities independently controlled the operation of the Binance.US Platform. Behind the scenes, however, Zhao and Binance were intimately involved in directing BAM Trading’s U.S. business operations and providing and maintaining the crypto asset services of the Binance.US Platform. BAM Trading employees referred to Zhao’s and Binance’s control of BAM Trading’s operations as “shackles” that often prevented BAM Trading employees from understanding and freely conducting the business of running and operating the Binance.US Platform—so much so that, by November 2020, BAM Trading’s then-CEO told Binance’s CFO that her “entire team feels like [it had] been duped into being a puppet.”
- As a second part of Zhao’s and Binance’s plan to shield themselves from U.S. regulation, they consistently claimed to the public that the Binance.com Platform did not serve U.S. persons, while simultaneously concealing their efforts to ensure that the most valuable U.S. customers continued trading on the platform. When the Binance.US Platform launched in 2019, Binance announced that it was implementing controls to block U.S. customers from the Binance.com Platform. In reality, Binance did the opposite. Zhao directed Binance to assist certain high-value U.S. customers in circumventing those controls and to do so surreptitiously because—as Zhao himself acknowledged—Binance did not want to “be held accountable” for these actions. As the Binance CCO explained, “[o]n the surface we cannot be seen to have US users[,] but in reality, we should get them through other creative means.” Indeed, Zhao’s stated “goal” was “to reduce the losses to ourselves, and at the same time to make the U.S. regulatory authorities not trouble us.”
- Defendants’ purposeful efforts to evade U.S. regulatory oversight while simultaneously providing securities-related services to U.S. customers put the safety of billions of dollars of U.S. investor capital at risk and at Binance’s and Zhao’s mercy. Lacking regulatory oversight, Defendants were free to and did transfer investors’ crypto and fiat assets as Defendants pleased, at times commingling and diverting them in ways that properly registered brokers, dealers, exchanges, and clearing agencies would not have been able to do. For example, through accounts owned and controlled by Zhao and Binance, billions of U.S. dollars of customer funds from both Binance Platforms were commingled in an account held by a Zhaocontrolled entity (called Merit Peak Limited), which funds were subsequently transferred to a third party apparently in connection with the purchase and sale of crypto assets.