CZ to be sentenced in the US today — what to expect

A judge will sentence Changpeng Zhao today for the crimes he committed at Binance. After he enters the US District Court for the Western District of Washington courthouse, he might proceed directly to prison for three years.

Zhao admits that Binance processed trillions of dollars in unmonitored transactions and that failing to monitor those transactions violated the Bank Secrecy Act. He’s also admitted that he failed to stop or report on millions of dollars in illicit and sanctions-violating transactions that flowed through his exchange.

A three-year prison sentence is prosecutors’ opening request and is double the initially estimated 18 months but far less than the once-threatened 10 years. Zhao’s lawyers, of course, are requesting zero time behind bars.

Zhao says he’s no worse than BitMEX’s Arthur Hayes

Zhao has already penned his heartfelt letter to Judge Richard Jones who will be determining the length and terms of his punishment. After Zhao chest-beat about his allegedly voluntary cooperation with Binance’s criminal investigation, he highlighted Arthur Hayes’ prison-less house arrest sentence for similar crimes at crypto exchange BitMEX. Why not the same for him?

“No defendant in a remotely similar Bank Secrecy Act case has ever been sentenced to incarceration,” he explained. Because his crimes are similarly unremarkable, Zhao claimed, he deserves similar leniency.

Federal prosecutors will stick with their recommendation for three years based on more methodological reasoning. Criminal sentencing guidelines for Zhao’s Bank Secrecy Act violations are 12-18 months. However, prosecutors argue, the judge should double that guideline range to deter future violations as well as to “adequately address the harms to US national security caused by the scale of Binance’s sanctions violations.”

Read more: Will a note from Arthur Hayes’ mom keep the former crypto chief out of jail?

Zhao’s lover gets emotional and cites his effective altruism 

As one of crypto’s most popular executives, Zhao received 161 letters of support asking for leniency. For example, the mother of his three children, Yi He, assured the judge that he buys “affordable clothes on Amazon. He rides a self balancing scooter to meetings. He enthusiastically showed a reporter his Toyota.” His children’s mother also affirmed that Zhao followed many principles of ‘effective altruism,’ namely founding a charity and writing a paper on how blockchain technology can ‘achieve 100% transparent philanthropy, ensuring that the ultimate beneficiary receives 100% of the proceeds.’

Zhao makes a hand signal intended to inspire confidence in Binance.

Read more: Did Binance ex-chief CZ really come to the US voluntarily?

Where will the judge land on the 0-36 month scale?

Offshore prediction markets show a thin book of wagers indicating the greatest likelihood of Zhao receiving a sentence of less than six months. Another prediction market gives slight odds favoring a three-year sentence. However, prediction markets for many real-world events like legal rulings are often illegal and rarely sustain operations.

For myriad reasons, it’s impossible to know how long a prison sentence Judge Jones will hand down.

The Seattle court initially scheduled Zhao for a February sentencing, but the court agreed to delay his final hearing until today.

Read more: Unanswered questions about the Binance Industry Recovery Fund

Bloomberg estimates his current personal net worth at $39 billion. Binance remains the world’s largest crypto exchange and the token he created, Binance Coin (BNB), remains the world’s fourth-largest crypto by market capitalization.

While allegedly cooperating with the government’s inquiry into Binance since November, Zhao has made multiple pleas to fly to Dubai. The judge has repeatedly declined to allow him to leave the domestic US even for medical and family reasons, citing his non-extradition risk and wealthy, powerful, personal connections abroad.

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