Last week, Reuters published an investigation revealing that the world’s largest crypto exchange, Binance, continued to process trades by clients in Iran despite U.S. sanctions and a company ban on doing business there.
The article by Tom Wilson and Angus Berwick reported that following the reimposition of sanctions in 2018, Binance informed traders in Iran that it would no longer serve them and told them to liquidate their accounts. But in interviews with Reuters, Wilson and Berwick found that seven traders said they skirted the ban until as recently as September 2021. Lawyers and sanctions experts told Reuters that the news of continued trading in Iran could draw the scrutiny of U.S. regulators.
The July investigation is the latest in a string of reports on the inner workings of Binance:
- June report found that Binance has been a hub for hackers, fraudsters and drug traffickers. From 2017-2021, Binance processed transactions totaling at least $2.35 billion stemming from hacks, investment frauds and illegal drug sales.
- April, Reuters reported that Binance built ties to a Russian financial intelligence unit that is linked to the Federal Security Service (FSB), which met in Moscow with the regional head of Binance in 2021. Reuters found that the Russians wanted Binance to agree to hand over client data, including names and addresses, to help them fight crime, according to text messages the binance company official sent to a business associate.
- A Reuters investigation in January reported publicly, Binance said it welcomed government oversight, but at the same time, the firm was withholding information from regulators, maintaining weak checks on customers and acting against its own compliance department’s recommendations.
Wilson and Berwick discuss their coverage of Binance and its importance:
Wilson said, “Binance is the biggest in the sector by far, and we’re covering it at a time when governments across the world are grappling with how to regulate cryptocurrencies. Our reporting showed how Binance has operated outside rules that govern traditional financial firms and many crypto rivals during its breakneck growth.”
“In our April report, we revealed that in 2021, a Russian financial intelligence unit met in Moscow with the regional head of Binance. We were the first to report this encounter, and we found it was part of behind-the-scenes efforts by Binance to build ties with Russian government agencies as it sought to boost its growing business in the country,” explained Berwick.
Wilson added, “The flow of illicit crypto through Binance that we identified in June represents a small portion of the exchange’s overall trading volumes. Yet as policymakers and regulators, including U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde voice concern over the illegal use of cryptocurrencies, the trade demonstrates how criminals have turned to the technology to launder dirty money. Our investigation was cited by a French Member of the European Parliament, who last month urged France’s market regulator to review its decision to register Binance as a digital assets service provider.”
Berwick said, “A lot of coverage of the crypto sector has focused on the fascinating technology, and of course on the rapid rise in value of cryptocurrencies – and now their crash. We’ve decided to focus on one of the key issues regulators are struggling with – the ways in which crypto traders are using the exchanges for allegedly illicit ends, and what the impact of this has been. We think the work is a great example of how Reuters investigative journalism can serve our core business and financial clientele, while also serving the much broader public interest.”
For more of Reuters ground-breaking investigations, visit Reuters.com/investigates.