Departures of key executives in Binance’s legal and compliance departments may ratchet up pressure at the crypto exchange as it navigates investigations from several government agencies.
Binance’s general counsel, Hon Ng; senior vice president for compliance, Steven Christie; and chief strategy officer, Patrick Hillmann, this week told the exchange’s founder, Changpeng Zhao, they are leaving the company, according to Fortune and Bloomberg.
Ng was forced out of the company because of disagreements with Zhao, people familiar with his exit told The Wall Street Journal. Ng didn’t reply to requests for comment from the publication.
But not all of the departures may have stemmed from differences of opinion.
“It’s true that I am leaving @Binance, but I’m doing so on good terms,” Hillmann tweeted Thursday. “My wife is literally going to give birth to our second child any hour now (literally), so the time is right for me to step aside.”
Christie, too, cited a desire for more time with family, adding, in a comment to The Wall Street Journal: “The executive leadership team at Binance has invested more into compliance, the people, and the technology than anywhere I have ever worked, or even heard of in my career.”
Zhao also took to Twitter on Thursday to deflect rumors of discord at the crypto exchange.
“More FUD about some departures,” he tweeted, using an acronym for fear, uncertainty and doubt. “Yes, there is turnover (at every company). But the reasons dreamed up by the ‘news’ are completely wrong.”
In a message to Fortune, Zhao said Binance’s chief compliance officer, Noah Perlman, is staying and that the company promoted a new general counsel a month ago.
Eleanor Hughes will succeed Ng as general counsel, a person familiar with the matter told Bloomberg. Hughes has served for the past year as the company’s head of legal in Asia-Pacific and the Middle East and North Africa, according to her LinkedIn profile.
There’s no public indication of who may succeed Hillmann.
Departures haven’t been contained to the C-suite, apparently. Some staffers, during midyear performance reviews last month, were asked whether they would be willing to relocate, Bloomberg reported Thursday. Some who declined were let go, a person familiar with the matter told the wire service.
“As markets and the global environment for crypto changes, as our organization evolves, and as personal situations change, there is turnover at every company,” Zhao tweeted Thursday. “We continue to BUILD, and continue to hire.”
Hillmann, for his part, had been with Binance since 2021 and said, “it’s simply time for me to move on to the next challenge.”
“I’ve taken this company through a lifetime of industry crises and regulatory challenges — from Luna to 3AC to FTX,” he tweeted Thursday. “Despite all of these challenges, the company has continued to grow and thrive.”
Binance is just one of several crypto companies to see legal action in event weeks. The SEC charged Coinbase last month with operating an unregistered national securities exchange and with failing to register the offer and sale of its staking-as-a-service program. And a judge last week ruled that Kraken users who have traded $20,000 or more in any year between 2016 and 2020 may have their personal data shared with the Internal Revenue Service.
At least three U.S. agencies are probing Binance’s operations. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission sued Zhao and Binance in March for operating an “intentionally opaque” enterprise that violated the Commodity Exchange Act.
The Securities and Exchange Commission, meanwhile, charged Zhao, Binance and its U.S. affiliate last month with 13 violations of U.S. securities laws. The regulator alleged that while both Binance and Zhao said U.S. customers were restricted from transacting on Binance.com, high-value U.S. customers were allowed to continue trading on the platform. The SEC also alleged that Binance commingled users’ funds and that the exchange secretly controlled Binance.US’s operations despite claims that it was separate and independent.
An anonymous source told Fortune that this week’s departures stemmed from disagreements over Zhao’s response to an investigation by the U.S. Justice Department.
Separately, Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-MA, and Chris Van Hollen, D-MD, wrote U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland last month asking the DOJ to investigate Binance and Binance.US for potentially making false statements to Congress about the nature of their businesses.
Zhao, in his tweet Thursday, reiterated that Binance has “been able to protect our users at all times.”