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Binance was used to funnel money to Hamas, other militant groups

Bloomberg • 3 min read
Binance was used to funnel money to Hamas, other militant groups
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In February 2019, Binance Holdings’ then-Chief Compliance Officer Samuel Lim acknowledged that the cryptocurrency exchange was being used to funnel money to Hamas, explaining to a colleague that terrorists normally sent “small sums.”

Hamas could “barely buy an AK47 with 600 bucks,” the colleague responded in a chat message, according to the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s March lawsuit against the world’s largest crypto exchange.

That apparently nonchalant attitude caught up with Binance and its chief executive officer, Changpeng Zhao, on Tuesday. In announcing US$4.3 billion in fines against the company and a guilty plea by Zhao for failing to comply with anti-money-laundering laws, the US government put Hamas and other terrorist organizations front and center. The broad settlement also resolves the CFTC suit.

“Binance enabled a range of illicit actors to transact freely on the platform,” the Treasury Department said in a statement that named Hamas, Al Qaeda, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria as terrorist organizations that received funds through the exchange.

Binance’s settlement and Zhao’s guilty plea come as Hamas is embroiled in a war with Israel, sparked by the group’s Oct. 7 attacks that killed more than 1,200 people, with more than 200 taken hostage. Israel responded by invading Gaza, where thousands more have been killed.

In a press conference, US Attorney General Merrick Garland said Zhao “willfully violated federal law that requires financial institutions to guard against money laundering and terrorist financing.”

See also: Seniors and crypto: Protecting Singapore’s silver generation

Cavalier attitudes
According to the government, Binance failed to report suspicious transactions with terrorists. As part of its settlement, the company will have to file those reports going forward and review past activity it should have disclosed.

“This will advance our criminal investigations into malicious cyber activity and terrorism fundraising, including the use of cryptocurrency exchanges to support groups such as Hamas,” Garland said.

Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network will receive US$3.4 billion of the fines paid by Binance, while its Office of Foreign Assets Control will get US$968 million. The FinCEN fine is the largest in that bureau’s history.

See also: Bitcoin developers are touting ‘programmability’ as the catalyst for the next rally

A number of cryptocurrency entrepreneurs have expressed cavalier attitudes about terrorists or other bad actors using their platforms. BitMEX co-founders Arthur Hayes, Benjamin Delo and Samuel Reed last year pleaded guilty to willfully failing to implement anti-money-laundering and customer identification policies at their crypto derivatives exchange.

Former Ethereum Foundation researcher Virgil Griffith was sentenced last year to more than five years in prison for participating in a 2019 blockchain and cryptocurrency conference in North Korea. At the conference, Griffith discussed how North Korean money might be converted into cryptocurrency as a way to evade sanctions. Photos showed him dressed in a North Korean-style uniform, standing in front of a whiteboard on which he drew a smiley face and wrote “No sanctions yay.” 

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