Binance Facilitated Crypto Theft for Years, Says Investigative Report

Binance facilitated at least $2.35 billion in transactions from illicit sources between 2017 and 2022, according to a Reuters report.

The investigative report claims that billions of dollars in cryptocurrency sourced from hacks, investment frauds, and illegal drug sales passed through Binance over the course of five years. In one instance, users of the Russian-language site Hydra, a darknet drug market, processed transactions through Binance totaling $780 million, between 2017 and 2022.

The total figure is based on statements from law enforcement around the globe, an examination of court records, and an analysis of blockchain data, most of which were provided by Amsterdam-based analysis firm Crystal Blockchain. Reuters also reviewed Binance client transactions on darknet sites. The data also included crypto that had passed through several digital wallets before reaching Binance, the “indirect” flows being a red flag for money laundering according to the Financial Action Task Force.

The article also cited crypto researcher Chainalysis, who stated in a 2020 report that Binance had received illicit funds amounting to $770 million in 2019 alone. However, the article also acknowledged that the amount of illicitly-sourced crypto passing through Binance represented a small portion of the world’s largest exchange’s overall trading volumes. 

Lazarus hack

The article featured a prominent case, when Slovakian crypto exchange Eterbase was infiltrated by North Korean hacking group Lazarus in September 2020. After stealing $5.4 million in crypto, the hackers opened multiple anonymous accounts on Binance several hours later using only encrypted email addresses as identification, then proceeded to convert the stolen funds and obscure their trail. 

These transactions were confirmed by records that Binance had shared with Slovakia’s national police. Ultimately, Eterbase was unable to locate and recover the funds. According to Eterbase co-founder Robert Auxt, “Binance had no idea who was moving money through their exchange.” 

Binance response

While Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao was unavailable to comment, Chief Communications Officer Patrick Hillmann responded to written questions posed by Reuters. While stating that Binance did not consider the estimate to be accurate, he neglected to provide any figures to counter the accusation, despite a request for data about the cases identified in the article.

According to Hillmann, Binance is building “the most sophisticated cyber forensics team on the planet,” while striving to “further improve our ability to detect illegal crypto activity on our platform.” Currently, Binance monitors transactions and utilizes risk assessments to “ensure that any illegal funds are tracked, frozen, recovered and/or returned to their rightful owner,” Hillmann said. 

Earlier this year, another Reuters investigative article accused Binance of sharing users’ personal data with Russian authorities, potentially putting them at risk of reprisals. Binance responded with a lengthy statement, claiming the article represented a “false narrative.”

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Nicholas Pongratz

Nick is a data scientist who teaches economics and communication in Budapest, Hungary, where he received a BA in Political Science and Economics and an MSc in Business Analytics from CEU. He has been writing about cryptocurrency and blockchain technology since 2018, and is intrigued by its potential economic and political usage.

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