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Binance Founder CZ Can’t Leave U.S. Until February Prison Sentencing, Judge Orders

Changpeng “CZ” Zhao, the founder of crypto exchange Binance, cannot return home to the United Arab Emirates before his sentencing in the U.S. in February 2024, a federal judge ruled Thursday. This represents the latest twist for a sector rocked by crypto’s uncertain regulatory status.

Travel Ban Imposed Until Sentencing Hearing

A judge has determined that there’s too much of a flight risk if former Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao is allowed to return home to his children and partner in the UAE.

A Department of Justice representative has previously told Reuters that Zhao would be allowed to return overseas while awaiting his fate. However, those plans changed after federal prosecutors insisted he should stay in the U.S. until his Feb. 23, 2024 sentencing date, despite CZ forfeiting a hefty $175 million bond and pleading guilty.

On December 7, Seattle district court Judge Richard Jones agreed with prosecutors that this is an unusual case, citing the defendant’s enormous wealth, property abroad, zero ties to the United States, and the absence of a formal extradition treaty between the UAE and America as the reasons to impose travel restrictions. 

CZ — who helmed Binance until it became the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange — pleaded guilty last month to violating criminal U.S. anti-money laundering requirements. He faces 10 to 18 months behind bars under federal sentencing guidelines. The 45-year-old crypto billionaire also agreed to pay a personal fine of $50 million.

“His family resides in the UAE and it appears that he has favored status in the UAE. Under these circumstances, the Court finds that the defendant has not established clear and convincing evidence that he is not likely to flee if he returns to the UAE,” Jones added.

The judge further indicated that CZ remains free and can travel within the U.S. Moreover, his family is free to visit him there ahead of the court date. “These are hardly burdensome impositions on the defendant’s freedom pending sentencing,” he explained.

“Based on the foregoing reason, the Court GRANTS the government’s motion, and the defendant shall remain in the continental United States during the period between his plea and sentencing.”

Attorneys for Zhao previously argued that he already proved accountability by flying from Dubai to the U.S. to plead guilty. They claimed moving his family to the U.S. solely for February’s sentencing was extreme. But prosecutors ultimately convinced Judge Jones that Zhao should reside in the U.S. pending his sentencing hearing as he has the means to evade further legal punishment.

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