By Angus Berwick and Tom Wilson
LONDON (Reuters) – Cryptocurrency exchange Binance has shared information with German police about two customers suspected of assisting an Islamist gunman who killed four people in Vienna in 2020, legal representatives for the company said.
In May and June of last year, Binance provided Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) with “as much information as they were able to given the limitations of the information held on file,” the legal representatives said in an emailed letter to Reuters.
Reuters reported on Jan. 21 that German police wrote to Binance last year saying there were indications that the two suspects bought or sold cryptocurrency on the exchange, the world’s largest by trading volumes. The police asked Binance to provide data relating to the suspects, including all digital currency transactions. Binance didn’t comment for the Jan. 21 Reuters article, nor did the BKA.
After Reuters published its story, legal representatives for Binance said the exchange responded to the BKA request on May 18, 2021, the day it was received, “providing a link to the requested information and accompanying password.”
Binance’s legal representatives said the BKA asked for further information on June 7. This time Binance’s compliance team replied noting the exchange “did not hold all the information requested as it related to fiat deposits that were processed by vendors.” Fiat refers to traditional currencies such as the dollar. A Binance spokesperson declined to comment on which vendors these were.
On June 22, the BKA asked for the information that Binance held, the company’s legal representatives said. Binance provided as much information as it could. “Our client’s team also informed the BKA that moving forward, they had developed their internal systems to track fiat deposits,” Binance’s legal representatives said. The Binance spokesperson said information sent to the BKA included the customers’ fiat deposit and withdrawal history.
In November 2020, Kutjim Fejzulai, a 20-year-old Austrian who also held North Macedonian nationality, opened fire on crowded bars near Vienna’s main synagogue. He was killed by Austrian police within minutes. Islamic State later claimed responsibility for the attack.
In a statement in July last year, Germany’s Federal Public Prosecutor General said the two men who used Binance were suspected of knowing about the attacks in advance and failing to report them to the police.
The Reuters investigation also found that, according to regulatory filings and people with direct knowledge, Binance withheld information about its finances and corporate structure from regulators, even as CEO Changpeng Zhao publicly welcomed regulatory oversight. Binance also maintained weak checks on customers, despite concerns raised by senior company figures, and acted against its own compliance department’s recommendations, according to internal records and messages.
In response to Reuters’ questions for the Jan. 21 article, Binance said it has “one of the most sophisticated approaches” to enforcing anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing “in the financial sector, let alone the blockchain industry.” Binance said it was helping drive higher industry standards and called Reuters’ reporting “wildly outdated.”
(Reporting by Tom Wilson and Angus Berwick; editing by Janet McBride)