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Binance in France: from idyll to controversy

Natasha Kumar By Natasha Kumar Apr18,2024

 Binance in France: from idyll to controversy

David Ryder/Getty Images via AFP Changpeng Zhao leaves the court in Seattle (Washington), November 21, 2023.

TECH – A decade ago, France faced an innovation deficit. Then came Emmanuel Macron and his vision of France as a “start-up nation”… However, the policy of openness to technological players carries risks, as evidenced by the Binance hiccup.

It all started in November 2021, during the meeting at the Elysée between Changpeng “CZ” Zhao, co-founder and former CEO of Binance. The company announced a €100 million investment in the French crypto scene the same month. The Financial Markets Authority (AMF) granted regulatory approval in May 2022, marking the start of a collaboration between France and Binance. In October 2022, “CZ” was featured at the France Fintech conference, attracting the admiration of founders in the sector. At that time, the French government would have granted Binance more than a hundred technical visas to help it develop its activities on its soil.

The French Minister of Economy and Finance, Bruno Le Maire, declared last year on BFM Business that he was “proud” of the French registration of Binance. Attracting foreign players, including Binance, was essential for France to become a “European hub of the cryptoasset ecosystem”.

Shaken reputation, ongoing investigations and unwavering French support

Since then, the cryptocurrency sector has been turned upside down. Sam Bankman-Fried, founder and former CEO of FTX, fell from grace and was convicted of fraud and money laundering in the United States. Regulators have also taken a close look at Binance, leading Changpeng Zhao to plead guilty last month to criminal charges related to money laundering and violating international financial sanctions. “CZ”, who of course resigned as CEO of Binance, faces up to 18 months in prison. In France, authorities are investigating the platform that allegedly advertised and promoted its services before being allowed to operate in the country.

Recent events might have been expected to cool relations between France and Binance. But the French government seems to have remained under the spell of the Tech company…

Following the collapse of FTX, French lawmakers have tightened requirements for industry newcomers looking to set up shop in the country. From January 2024, obtaining registration with the Financial Markets Authority will have to take into account new criteria, in particular the establishment of a resilient and secure IT system, and a process for managing conflicts of interest. However, these requirements will not apply to companies already registered with the AMF, including Binance.

The French government also resisted pressure to bring forward the deadline by which registered cryptocurrency companies were required to apply for a regulatory license to October 2023, as such a move risks scaring away investors. Under the revised legislation and European law, Binance's French regulatory status allows it an 18-month grace period before needing to apply for a license, meaning it can continue to operate with local registration until … July 2026.

The hidden side of Binance's educational initiative in France

Behind a seemingly benevolent charitable program, Binance has used aggressive tactics to encourage people to use its services in some of the most deprived areas of France. Far from its flashy offices on Place de la Bourse, the company has targeted suburbs such as Aulnay-sous-Bois and Montreuil. Its commitment: to train students from all backgrounds in the technical skills required to find employment in blockchain-related industries, including as engineers. The goal was to reach 10,000 students by the end of the year.

But, according to an investigation by the Financial Times, last October, an information session took place in Aulnay-sous-Bois, a Parisian suburban town, where precariousness combines with crime. The session consisted of a presentation on blockchain technology, followed by a short hands-on exercise on Solidity, a blockchain programming language. Participants received promotional gifts from Binance, such as caps, brochures, pens or notebooks. They were also invited to download MetaMask wallets, software for accessing decentralized applications and storing digital assets, including unregulated financial instruments.

Prohibited marketing approaches and contested educational program

However, French regulations do not allow registered cryptocurrency companies such as Binance to make unsolicited approaches to potential customers for marketing purposes. This constitutes a criminal offense which can result in fines of up to 7,500 euros for individuals and 37,500 euros for businesses.

Binance France simply stated: “We recognize that digital education and skills development may be out of reach for many, resulting in a blockchain industry that lacks diversity and talent. The Binance Scholar program is helping to change this, by covering tuition and course fees at some of the best universities or colleges in the world.”

Still according to the Financial Times survey, out of the 10 000 people that Binance intends to train by the end of 2023, less than a hundred will have received coding lessons! The others will receive “awareness courses”. “It looks more like a marketing operation than anything else,” said French MEP Aurore Lalucq, who last June opposed France's registration of Binance. For her, the initiative looks like an attempt by the platform to find new users in vulnerable areas, under the cover of a pseudo-educational project.

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Natasha Kumar

By Natasha Kumar

Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my natasha@thetimeshub.in 1-800-268-7116

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