5월 23일 (로이터) – 세계 최대 암호화폐 거래소인 바이낸스가 2020년과 2021년에 고객 자금을 회사 수익과 혼합하여 고객 자금을 별도로 보관해야 한다는 미국 금융 규정을 위반했다고 이 문제에 정통한 세 명의 소식통이 로이터 통신에 말했습니다.
바이낸스의 그룹 재정에 대해 직접적으로 알고 있는 소식통 중 한 명은 그 금액이 수십억 달러에 달했으며 거래소가 미국 대부업체인 실버게이트 은행에서 보유하고 있는 계좌에서 거의 매일 혼합이 발생했다고 말했습니다. 로이터는 수치나 빈도를 독립적으로 확인할 수 없었다. 그러나 통신사는 2021년 2월 10일 바이낸스가 기업 계좌의 2000만 달러와 고객 자금을 받은 계좌의 1500만 달러를 혼합한 은행 기록을 검토했다.
로이터가 설명한 바이낸스의 자금 흐름은 고객 자금을 명확하게 식별하고 회사 수익과 분리할 수 있는 내부 통제가 부족함을 나타냅니다. 그들은 이러한 자금이 섞이면 고객의 소재를 가려 고객 자산을 위험에 빠뜨린다고 말했습니다. 바이낸스 고객은 “자금이 어디에 있는지 찾기 위해 포렌식 회계사가 필요하지 않다”고 전 증권거래위원회 인터넷 집행국장을 지낸 존 리드 스타크는 말했습니다.
로이터는 바이낸스 고객 자금을 분실하거나 가져갔다는 증거를 찾지 못했습니다.
게리 겐슬러 SEC 의장은 미국 고객에게 증권을 제공하는 많은 암호화폐 거래소가 등록된 브로커-딜러가 고객 자금을 회사 자산과 분리하여 보호하도록 요구하는 법률을 준수하지 않고 있다고 말했습니다. “그들의 비즈니스 모델은 고객 자금을 취합하여 구축하는 경향이 있습니다.”라고 그는 5월 행사에서 말했습니다. SEC는 올해 일련의 암호화 회사에 대한 단속을 시작했지만 직접적인 집행 조치로 바이낸스를 목표로 삼지는 않았습니다.
미국 상품선물거래위원회(US Commodity Futures Trading Commission)는 지난 3월 거래소에 대한 불만을 제기하며 바이낸스가 미국인에 대한 접근을 공개적으로 제한한다고 주장했음에도 불구하고 2019년부터 올해까지 미국 고객들이 자사 플랫폼에서 거래할 수 있도록 허용했다고 주장했다. Binance는 블로그에서 미국 사용자를 차단한다고 응답했습니다.
로이터에 보낸 성명에서 바이낸스는 고객 예금과 회사 자금의 혼합을 부인했습니다. “이 계정은 사용자 예치금을 받는 데 사용되지 않았습니다. 그들은 사용자의 암호화폐 구매를 용이하게 하는 데 사용되었습니다.”라고 대변인 Brad Jaffe가 말했습니다. “100% 기업펀드여서 섞일 일이 없었다.” 사용자가 계정에 돈을 보냈을 때 자금을 입금한 것이 아니라 거래소의 맞춤형 달러 연결 암호화 토큰인 BUSD를 구매한 것이라고 그는 말했습니다. 이 과정은 “Amazon에서 제품을 구매하는 것과 정확히 동일합니다”라고 Jaffe는 말했습니다.
전 미국 규제 당국은 로이터 통신에 바이낸스의 설명이 거래가 예치금이라는 거래소의 고객에 대한 이전 표현으로 인해 훼손되었다고 말했습니다. 2020년 말부터 2021년까지 바이낸스 웹사이트는 고객에게 달러 송금이 BUSD 형태로 거래 계좌에 “입금”되는 “예금”이라고 말했습니다. 고객은 예금을 달러로 “인출”할 수 있다는 말을 들었습니다. 이러한 진술은 고객의 자금이 전통적인 현금 예금과 같은 방식으로 보호될 것이라는 기대를 불러일으켰다고 이전 규제 당국은 말했습니다.
“이러한 표현은 항상 명확해야 합니다.” 전 SEC 관리인 Stark가 말했습니다.
로이터는 바이낸스가 사용자에게 달러 예치금이 “구매”를 구성하는 것으로 간주한다고 말한 적이 있는지 물었습니다. 바이낸스는 이에 대한 어떠한 증거도 제시하지 않았으며 “‘예금’이라는 용어는 커뮤니케이션 용어이며 자금의 기술적 처리를 나타내는 것이 아니다”라고 말했습니다.
고객 자금과 기업 자금의 혼합은 금융 회사 고객에게 막대한 손실의 전조가 될 수 있습니다. 12월에 SEC와 CFTC는 무너진 FTX 암호화폐 거래소의 설립자인 Sam Bankman-Fried가 수년 동안 자신의 거래 회사에서 고객 자금을 혼합하여 벤처 캐피털 투자, 정치 기부금 및 부동산 구매 자금을 조달하는 데 사용했다고 주장했습니다. Bankman-Fried는 사기 혐의에 대해 무죄를 주장했으며 고의로 자금을 혼합하지 않았다고 말했습니다.
Bank and company records for 2019-2021, seen by Reuters, and interviews with former insiders show that Binance used Silvergate Bank, the U.S. lender that collapsed in March, as the lynchpin of its financial operations. Silvergate, which is in the process of winding down operations, did not comment for this article.
Company revenues entered the Silvergate account of the exchange’s Cayman Islands holding firm, Binance Holdings, according to the sources and bank records. Customer dollars flowed into the Silvergate account of a firm in the Seychelles called Key Vision Development that was controlled by Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao.
One of the sources and a fourth person with direct knowledge of this account said Binance told Silvergate the Key Vision account’s purpose was to receive dollar deposits from non-U.S. customers. Jaffe, the Binance spokesperson, said this was inaccurate, without providing further details.
According to the sources and the February 2021 bank record seen by Reuters, Binance mixed customer money and company revenues in a third Silvergate account, belonging to a Zhao-controlled Cayman firm. Binance converted money from this third account into the dollar-linked token BUSD, according to the person with knowledge of Binance’s group finances and company messages. Blockchain records show Binance bought at least $18 billion of BUSD between January 2020 and December 2021.
The former regulators told Reuters that moving money between accounts and into crypto could have enabled Binance to shield funds from tax authorities in countries where it operates. The person with group-level knowledge of Binance said there was also another motivation: Zhao distrusted banks, once telling an interviewer of his concern that they could freeze his company’s accounts. So Binance turned cash into crypto, commingling customer funds and revenues in the process.
The new insights into Binance’s financial operations come as the company is facing civil charges from the CFTC of willful evasion of U.S. commodities laws by “intentionally structuring entities and transactions” to avoid U.S. regulations. The CFTC also alleged, without elaborating, that some of Binance’s corporate entities, including the Cayman holding firm, “have commingled funds.” Zhao called the charges “disappointing” and an “incomplete recitation of facts.” Binance is also under investigation by the Justice Department for suspected money laundering and sanctions violations, according to people familiar with the probe.
The CFTC declined to comment for this article, citing pending litigation, as did the SEC. The DOJ had no comment.
Binance has grown into a juggernaut in recent years, accounting for as much as 70% of world trading in cryptocurrencies. The company initially did business solely in crypto, enabling it to avoid the global banking system. But as Binance attracted more customers and hired more employees, its need for conventional bank accounts grew – to deposit the dollars it received from clients, to pay wages and other expenses, and to finance investments.
Silvergate, which specialised in serving the crypto industry, made this possible – until early March of this year, when the bank announced its closure after customers pulled deposits amid a wave of turmoil. The same month, New York’s chief financial regulator took over another crypto-friendly bank, Signature Bank, where Binance was also a client.
암호화폐 부문에 대한 미국의 단속이 가속화됨에 따라 어느 은행이 바이낸스 운영의 다음 린치핀이 될지 불분명합니다. Zhao는 트위터에서 새로운 은행 파트너를 찾고 있다고 말했습니다. “하나의 문이 닫히면 다른 문이 열립니다”라고 그는 3월 27일에 썼습니다.
2017년 7월 상하이에서 거래소를 개설한 지 5개월 만에 Zhao는 Tech in Asia 뉴스 매체에 고객이 암호화폐로만 자금을 입금하기 때문에 Binance에는 은행 파트너가 없다고 말했습니다. Zhao는 전통적인 통화와 관련하여 “법정 화폐를 더 많이 다룰수록 더 많은 (당국)이 당신을 통제할 수 있습니다.”라고 말했습니다. 그는 회사 청구서를 정산하기 위해 개인 신용 카드를 사용했다고 전 직원이 말했습니다.
But the situation changed in 2018 when Binance sought to launch several local exchanges where customers could buy crypto with traditional currencies. Zhao dispatched his deputies to find banks and payment firms willing to accept Binance as a client. Chief among these deputies was Guangying Chen, the head of Binance’s back office. Chinese-born Chen was one of the few employees Zhao trusted with Binance’s finances, former executives said. Chen did not respond to questions about her role.
Binance had limited success obtaining bank accounts for its small local units, however. Most major banks turned the exchange down due to compliance concerns over crypto companies’ source of funds, according to company messages and former executives.
Then Silvergate came to the rescue. In recent years, the small San Diego-based bank had shifted its focus from local real-estate lending to servicing crypto companies. It quickly became a leading provider of banking services to the crypto sector.
By 2019, Binance had opened a Silvergate account for its Cayman-based holding company, Binance Holdings Limited, to receive revenues earned by the exchange. The account was handled by Chen and a finance executive who reported to her, Susan Li, company records show. Li didn’t comment for this article.
Binance then opened two further Silvergate accounts: for Seychelles firm Key Vision Development and Cayman Islands-based Merit Peak, both incorporated on Jan. 15, 2019 and controlled by Zhao, according to filings and bank records. Binance’s online platform began instructing customers to “deposit” their dollars into the Key Vision account. After users transferred funds to Key Vision, they received an email from Binance telling them they had “successfully deposited” their dollars, according to screenshots posted online by traders. Users could also “withdraw” their deposits via Binance’s platform, which said it would wire the dollars to their bank accounts.
Binance Holdings, Key Vision and Merit Peak formed the core of the global crypto exchange’s financial network. But inside Binance, few employees had full visibility over their roles. Access to information about the Binance group’s overall finances and its bank accounts was tightly managed by Chen, a half-dozen former executives said. Chen’s team also had access to a Silvergate account belonging to Binance’s purportedly independent U.S. partner, Binance.US, which Zhao in fact controls, as Reuters has previously reported. Binance.US told Reuters that only Binance.US executives have access to its bank accounts.
Binance’s then-chief compliance officer, Samuel Lim, was concerned by the exchange’s dependence on Silvergate due to requirements that U.S. banks closely monitor clients’ transactions, company messages show. Lim told executives in a 2020 message seen by Reuters that “the long term fix is to reduce reliance on US bank.” The CFTC complaint in March charged Lim with aiding and abetting Binance in violating U.S. laws “through intentional conduct that undermined Binance’s compliance program.” Lim has not publicly responded to the charge and did not comment for this article.
The person with direct knowledge of Binance’s group finances said Zhao shared Lim’s distrust of banks and instructed the finance team to keep dollar balances in the Silvergate accounts as low as possible. Dollars in the Binance Holdings account and Key Vision customer funds account that were surplus to immediate business needs were transferred to the Merit Peak account, where they were commingled, the source said. Money from the Merit Peak account was then used to purchase Binance’s BUSD token, according to the source and company messages. BUSD and other “stablecoins” are backed by dollars and designed to hold a steady value.
Reuters couldn’t determine the value of BUSD tokens purchased in this way. But blockchain data show that between January 2020 and December 2021, BUSD’s issuer, New York-based Paxos Trust, transferred at least $18 billion of BUSD to Binance. Binance received the BUSD in at least two wallets that it has previously identified as its own, without saying whether they contain company or customer funds. A Paxos spokesperson said that between late 2019 and early 2023 Binance sent Paxos dollars in return for BUSD “for it and its customers.”
The money flow between Binance and Paxos also could be reversed, according to the person with group-level knowledge and company messages. When Key Vision needed dollars to meet customer withdrawals, for instance, Binance would redeem BUSD at Paxos, which in return would send dollars to Merit Peak’s Silvergate account. Merit Peak would then distribute the dollars to other accounts as needed.
The value of BUSD tokens in circulation peaked at over $23 billion last November, with Binance-controlled crypto wallets holding as much as 90% of the total, according to crypto data firm Nansen. But in February, New York regulators ordered Paxos to stop issuing BUSD, citing Paxos’ failures in risk assessments and due diligence checks.
The Paxos spokesperson said the company “voluntarily announced its intention to end its relationship with Binance and has been successfully winding down all business relationships with Binance since.”
Since Paxos stopped issuing BUSD, Binance has reduced its holdings of the coin to around $3 billion, according to Nansen. Reuters could not determine why Binance reduced these holdings or how it converted them.
Money from other sources also entered Merit Peak’s account, including hundreds of millions of dollars from a Binance.US account, Reuters has previously reported. Bank records show the Binance.US account was operated by Chen. Binance.US told Reuters Merit Peak “was withdrawing funds from its own account.” It didn’t respond to follow up questions.
두 명의 직접적인 지식인에 따르면 Silvergate는 Binance에게 2021년 중반에 Key Vision의 계정을 폐쇄한다고 알렸습니다. Silvergate는 Key Vision이 수탁 은행 계좌에 부적절한 거래를 했다는 점을 근거로 결정을 내렸습니다. 그해 6월 바이낸스는 사용자들에게 이메일을 보내 실버게이트를 통한 “USD 입금”이 “중단”될 것이라고 알렸습니다. 사용자 거래의 출처와 스크린샷에 따르면 Binance는 Signature Bank의 Key Vision 계정을 사용하여 고객 자금을 받기 시작했습니다. 서명 은행은 이 기사에 대해 논평하지 않았습니다.
Binance 대변인 Jaffe는 Key Vision 계정에 대한 이 보고가 부정확하다고 말했지만 자세한 내용은 제공하지 않았습니다.
Binance’s financial network also required a reliable euro bank account, former executives said. The exchange found a solution in Lithuania which provided a European Union base and a straightforward registration process. In May 2020, Binance set up the Lithuanian company, initially called Binance UAB, with Zhao as its sole shareholder and Chen as a board member. Binance later unveiled the firm, renamed as Bifinity, as its “official fiat-to-crypto payments provider.” Zhao installed Helen Hai, Binance’s China-born head of fiat operations, as president. Hai didn’t comment for this article.
In 2021, Bifinity had revenue of 680 million euros, according to its financial report, and paid over 420 million euros to a single unnamed related party. The person with direct knowledge of Binance’s group finances identified the unnamed party as Binance Holdings. Bifinity did not respond to questions from Reuters.
One consequence of Binance’s financial manoeuvring, four former Binance executives said, was to protect the exchange’s profits from tax authorities. Binance has never disclosed where its Binance.com trading platform is based nor what corporate taxes it pays and where.
To assess how much tax Binance pays, Reuters reviewed the exchange’s public filings since 2018 in countries where it has said it has significant operations. In France and Dubai, where Binance established hubs last year, local units have not detailed tax payments. France’s finance ministry declined to comment and Dubai didn’t comment. In Malta, where Binance said it was based for several years, its main local unit reported losses each year, so it paid no tax. Maltese authorities didn’t comment. The only significant tax payments Reuters found were in Lithuania, where in 2022 Bifinity paid 42.5 million euros, data from Lithuania’s tax authority show.
With the growth in Bifinity’s business came a higher profile. In July 2021, Lithuania’s central bank said it had warned Binance not to provide unlicensed investment services. Six months later the exchange appointed Saulius Galatiltis, who previously ran the central bank’s investment management department, as chief executive of Bifinity.
When Lithuania’s parliament debated a new bill to toughen rules for the country’s crypto companies last year, Galatiltis urged a parliamentary committee to avoid stricter legislation. He emphasised Bifinity’s tax payments, which last year made it one of Lithuania’s largest corporate taxpayers. “This business is global, in many countries all over the world,” Galatiltis told the committee, discussing Bifinity. “I think a business which acts globally and pays tax locally must be attractive to any country,” he said. Galatiltis didn’t respond to requests for comment for this article.
의회는 궁극적으로 희석된 규칙 세트를 통해 투표했습니다. 리투아니아 재무부는 로이터통신에 비피니티가 다른 기관 및 시장 참가자들과 함께 법률 초안에 대한 “의견 및 제안을 제공하는” 공식적인 과정에 참여했다고 말했다. “우리는 규제 정책 결정을 단일 기관에 근거하지 않습니다.”