BitMEX pleads guilty to AML compliance failures under Bank Secrecy Act

Crypto derivatives exchange BitMEX pleaded guilty to violating the US Bank Secrecy Act by failing to employ a sufficient anti-money laundering (AML) program.

On July 10, the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York said the company “willfully [failed] to establish, implement, and maintain” such a program from 2015 to 2020 to obtain revenue.

US Attorney Damian Williams said BitMEX’s compliance failures opened it to “large-scale money laundering and sanctions evasion schemes.” He said:

“Today’s guilty plea indicates again the need for cryptocurrency companies to comply with U.S. law if they take advantage of the U.S. market.”

Company executives also mispresented a BitMEX subsidiary, Shine Effort Inc., to a foreign bank, allowing it to move millions of dollars through the US financial system.

‘Toothless’ AML policies

The US Attorney’s Office described BitMEX’s minimal AML policies as “toothless or easily overridden.”

According to the case text, BitMEX left the US market in September 2015 and introduced an IP address check to identify and block US customers. However, it only checked IPs once per customer, allowing users who later displayed a non-US IP address to access the platform.

BitMEX also permitted access via Tor and did not take steps to block VPNs. Through late 2018, it exempted US IP addresses from internal terms of service that otherwise blocked access.

Furthermore, the company and its executives engaged in marketing activities to attract US customers, including appearances at conferences and on television.

Co-founders previously pleaded guilty

The case names BitMEX as the defendant and only mentions individual executives in passing. It states that the offense carries a maximum of five years in prison and an unspecified fine.

Several individuals tied to the case previously reached plea deals on similar charges and received sentencing. BitMEX co-founder and CEO Arthur Hayes pleaded guilty in Feb 2022 and was later sentenced to six months of home detention and two years of probation.

BitMEX co-founder Benjamin Delo pleaded guilty in February 2022 and received a 30-month probation sentence. Co-founder Samuel Reed pleaded guilty in March 2022 and received an 18-month probation sentence. Early BitMEX employee Gregory Dwyer pleaded guilty in August 2022 and received a one-year probation sentence.

Hayes, Delo, and Reed each agreed to pay a $10 million fine as part of their plea deals. Dwyer agreed to a $150,000 fine.

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