The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has accused cryptocurrency exchange Binance of mishandling customer funds, lying to regulators and selling unregistered securities.
The regulator has filed 13 charges in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against Binance and its CEO Changpeng Zhao. The charges accuse Binance of allowing U.S. investors to continue trading on its unregulated exchange, misleading investors about the adequacy of its trading systems and the commingling of customer assets.
Binance said it was “disappointed” in the SEC’s decision to take action against the exchange in a blog post.
“All user assets on Binance and Binance affiliate platforms, including Binance.US, are safe and secure, and we will vigorously defend against any allegations to the contrary,” said the exchange. “Rather, the SEC’s actions here appear to be in service of an effort to rush to claim jurisdictional ground from other regulators—and investors do not appear to be the SEC’s priority.”
“Because Binance is not a U.S. exchange, the SEC’s actions are limited in reach,” the company added. “Still, we stand with digital asset market participants in the U.S. in opposition to the SEC’s latest overreach, and we are prepared to fight it to the full extent of the law.”
Its U.S. counterpart, Binance.US, said via Twitter that the charges were another example of regulation by enforcement under the current commission and that it intended to defend itself “vigorously” against “the baseless lawsuit.”
The Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) also filed its own enforcement action against Binance and Zhao in March. The agencies took a similar approach when it came to filing criminal charges against Sam Bankman-Fried, the former CEO and founder of collapsed crypto exchange FTX. The exchange was one of Binance’s biggest rivals until its collapse.
“Through thirteen charges, we allege that Zhao and Binance entities engaged in an extensive web of deception, conflicts of interest, lack of disclosure, and calculated evasion of the law,” SEC Chair Gary Gensler said in a press release.
Binance’s BNB token is down 8.5% over the last 24 hours, according to data from CoinGecko. The SEC has charged Binance for the unregistered offers and sales of BNB, BUSD and crypto-lending products known as “Simple Earn” and “BNB Vault.”
The SEC uses its DAO report, dated July 25, 2017, to claim that Binance broke the law in regards to selling BNB as an unregistered security. However, Jeff Roberts, the crypto editor at Fortune, highlighted via Twitter that the SEC contradicts this point in the filing with the agency stating that the BNB ICO sales took place between June 26 and July 3 in 2017.
“By engaging in multiple unregistered offerings and also failing to register while at the same time combining the functions of exchanges, brokers, dealers, and clearing agencies, the Binance platforms under Zhao’s control imposed outsized risks and conflicts of interest on investors,” said Gurbir Grewal, director of the SEC’s division of enforcement, in the release.
“Despite their years-long efforts to not ‘be held accountable,’ today’s complaint begins the process of doing so,” they added.
Chris Martin, the head of research at crypto analytics firm Amberdata, said charges against crypto firms around securities listings isn’t anything new but highlighted the exchange is facing an additional headwind of declining market share since the announcement of the CFTC case.
“While this isn’t positive news in the short term, clarity on regulation in the long run is an incredibly positive sign for the ecosystem both inside and outside the US,” said Martin in a statement. “SEC charges against crypto exchanges isn’t anything new, especially with regard to accusations around securities listings. However, it will be interesting whether Binance.US will be able to come back from this or not.”
A core issue for the exchange will be trying to regain trust from consumers. The SEC alleged that Binance concealed that it was commingling billions of dollars of assets and sending them to a third party owned by Zhao known as Merit Peak Limited.
“The SEC’s unreasonable and unfair approach has left us with no choice but to defend our business,” said a Binance spokesperson in an email statement. “Binance grew at an extremely fast pace globally, in a new and evolving industry. As the industry has matured, so have our systems, controls, and technology.”
“We have restructured our organization and personnel, upgraded our systems, and established a new industry standard in compliance,” they added. ” … Over the last two years alone, we have spent $80 million on external compliance partners.