CZ was once worth $153 billion. Now his world has come crashing down

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Changpeng Zhao had long cultivated the image of the rugged pugilist of the cryptocurrencies world. When his rival Sam Bankman-Fried’s crypto empire collapsed a year ago, Zhao, or “CZ” as his fans call him, was in the middle of it all, yanking his money in a very public way and helping trigger the ultimately fatal run on the firms. Years earlier he claimed the company’s headquarters was wherever he happened to be, a thinly veiled salvo against regulators trying to nail down jurisdiction. And this March, when US regulators charged Zhao and his firm, Binance Holdings, with violating US securities laws, his on-line response was “4,” which is Zhao code for dismissing something as unworthy of his attention. On Tuesday, though, Zhao cut a very different image in a Seattle courtroom. Dressed in dark suit and pale blue tie before a federal judge, he pleaded guilty to criminal charges for anti-money laundering and US sanctions violations, including allowing transactions with Hamas and other terrorist groups, under a sweeping deal with the Justice department designed to keep the biggest crypto exchange operating. Binance itself agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges and pay over $US4 billion ($6.1 billion) in penalties. Zhao stepped down as CEO and will pay a $US50 million fine. Zhao’s capitulation in many ways is the culmination of a multi-year dragnet by international regulators who sought to rein in and impose regulations on Binance – and, by extension, the broader industry.

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