Binance ex-CEO in Talks with OpenAI on Investments Despite the Ongoing Trial

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Key Takeaways

  • Binance’s Changpeng Zhao faces a three-year prison term.
  • However, NYT has learned that he's in talks with OpenAI's Sam Altman
  • Zhao's sentence might be announced on April 30.

Despite the ongoing  US trial, the former CEO of Binance and its founder, Changpeng Zhao, is already planning a comeback with AI investments.

As reported by the New York Times, Zhao has already been planning his next venture, which could involve entering the AI space.

He has continued discussions with OpenAI CEO Sam Altman with investment into data centers mooted. The two execs first met in 2023, with the impending prospect of a prison sentence not impacting the future blueprint for the former Binance boss.

The details of the dialogue or Zhao’s exact intentions for his next career move remain unclear. However, in his earlier resignment statement he mentioned AI investments:

“After that, my current thinking is I will probably do some passive investing, being a minority token/shareholder in startups in areas of blockchain/Web3/DeFi, AI and biotech. I am happy that I will finally have more time to spend looking at DeFi.”

Changpeng Zhao’s Legal Troubles in US

Changpeng Zhao, the founder of the world’s biggest cryptocurrency platform, Binance, is facing a prison sentence in the United States. The next hearing will take place in Seattle on April 30.

US prosecutors are seeking a three-year prison term for Zhao for allowing unchecked money laundering on the platform. Zhao vacated his position as Binance’s chief executive last November. The firm agreed to pay $4.3 billion to settle allegations.

Back in April, the US Department of Justice filed a sentencing memo that petitioned for a 36-month term in jail as well as a $50 million fine to be issued to the Chinese-born Canadian businessman.

The memo outlined the severity of Zhao’s violations and the need for a major penalty to deter similar misconduct in the future. The DOJ stated the length of the sentence, in this case, would send a message to the crypto world. It also noted how Zhao had gained substantial rewards for violating US law.

The prosecutors believe a precedent needs to be set due to the extent to which the Bank Secrecy Act has been violated.

As he entered his guilty plea to one count of failing to prevent money laundering, Zhao stated, “I want to take responsibility and close this chapter in my life. I want to come back. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Attorneys representing Zhao have made the case for leniency, rejecting calls for a custodial sentence, referencing his willingness to travel to the US from the United Arab Emirates, where he lives with his family.

They pointed to Zhao’s willingness to engage in and plead guilty in court, although there is no extradition treaty between the UAW and the US.

US prosecutors will look at the charge sheet with scorn, including accusations that Zhao facilitated transactions supporting child sex abuse, human trafficking, the illicit drugs trade, and terrorism.

It has been claimed that Binance knew what was happening on its watch and allowed more than 1.5 million virtual currency trades worth an estimated $900m, which fell foul of US sanctions, including financial activity involving Hamas, al-Qaeda, and Iran.

Zhao allegedly ignored his company’s responsibility to ensure anti-money laundering protocols were in place, to the extent he directed colleagues to disguise the location and identity of customers within the United States to avoid complying with US laws and regulations.