As the year comes to an end and the crypto market capitalization approaches the $2T mark, there are many reasons for crypto enthusiasts to be happy. From mass adoption milestones and major institutional investments to groundbreaking innovations, 2023 saw tremendous growth and progress across the ecosystem.
However, 2023 hasn’t been without its share of high-profile industry scandals. Of these, three involved key industry figures who were seen by many as the leaders of the cryptocurrency revolution. FTX’s Sam Bankman Fried, Binance’s Changpeng “CZ” Zhao, and Celsius’ Alex Mashinsky were all found guilty of violating the law or financial regulations this year.
While the consequences for each of them differ at this time, the effects of their downfall were all the same for the crypto space. With the regulatory crackdown expected to continue next year, these events offer a unique insight into what it could mean for the industry as a whole.
Changpeng “CZ” Zhao
As CEO of the world’s largest crypto exchange, CZ was one of the most influential voices in the world of cryptocurrency. However, his reputation started suffering thanks to his handling of the FTX collapse and his role in precipitating its bankruptcy.
After failing to save FTX, CZ expressed his belief that the fall of the exchange would clear the path by allowing the industry to “become healthier”. One year later, Kraken Co-Founder Jesse Powell expressed the same sentiment when CZ was fined $150M and forced to step down as CEO of the exchange.
The crackdown on the exchange also saw Binance pay $2.7B in fines to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission after a settlement was approved by a U.S. District Court earlier this month. The case was raised against the exchange and its founder as a result of their failure to comply with federal anti-money laundering and sanction laws.
Once seen as crypto’s “wunderkind”, FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried saw his $24B empire collapse in a matter of days as a result of an $8B “miscalculation” that was deemed as fraud by the US Justice Department. The case against Bankman-Fried was based on his unethical business practices, which included the funneling of customer funds to his trading firm, Alameda Research.
Most of Bankman-Fried’s moves were meant to cover poor investments and inflate both companies’ financial reports. Once the fraud was discovered, the former crypto titan saw himself arrested and deported to the United States, where he failed prosecution and saw his former executives turn on him.
Bankman-Fried was convicted in November after having been found guilty of 7 counts of fraud and conspiracy, which could translate to 110 years in jail. With prosecutors having declared the exchange to be fraudulent “from the start”, suspicion arising from irregular transfers, and its reputation tarnished, the future of FTX is all but certain.
The case of Celsius Network CEO Alex Mashinsky and Bankman-Fried are quite similar, with both having cultivated a persona as crypto’s savior. Unfortunately for him, reality hit after he had grown Celsius into one of the most popular crypto platforms in the industry.
Celsius’ popularity was the result of its incredibly high returns on deposits, which resulted in all withdrawals being frozen in 2022 when liquidity evaporated. The liquidity problems faced by Mashinsky’s platform were the results of the LUNA crash, and would eventually force Celsius to file for bankruptcy.
According to prosecutors, Mashinsky would also have used investor money for personal loans and extremely high salaries before laying off employees abruptly. Despite this, Mashinsky assured its customers that the future of the platform was bright and stronger than ever. Celsius was approved for restructuring and a customer repayment plan back in November of this year, five months after Mashinksy’s arrest.