It's appears to be another clear cut case of "crime pays".
Binance Holdings Chief Executive Officer Changpeng Zhao - who plead guilty to criminal charges and is facing prison time next year - saw his net worth rise by almost $25 billion in 2023, according to Bloomberg.
He's been one of the biggest beneficiaries of Bitcoin's stunning rise in 2023, up nearly 160% from the collapse in markets in 2022.
How's that for something to think about while you're sitting in the klink counting down the days until your release?
CZ's wealth has surged to over $37 billion, notably surpassing the $4.3 billion fine Binance paid to U.S. authorities. This fortune stems from his majority stake in Binance, the largest crypto exchange globally, which he founded.
Despite a dip in market share, Binance has profited from higher trading volumes amid crypto market recovery. Zhao also owns Bitcoin and Binance's BNB, that were not counted in Bloomberg's wealth estimate.
In a significant settlement with the U.S., Zhao and Binance admitted to anti-money laundering and sanctions violations earlier this year, allowing the exchange to remain operational. Zhao personally paid a $50 million fine and stepped down as CEO but kept his ownership stake.
Facing a potential 10-year prison sentence, Zhao is likely to serve no more than 18 months due to a plea deal. The exact term sought by the Justice Department is unknown. A federal judge recently barred him from returning to his UAE home, with sentencing set for February 23, the report says.
His wealth had peaked at around $97 billion at the beginning of 2022, the report notes. It's year to date high was about $50.4 billion in July of 2023.
Campbell Harvey, a finance professor at Duke University who studies digital-asset markets, told Bloomberg: “Investment in crypto is not for the faint of heart; you need to be prepared for the spectacular ups and downs. There is a reason that these investors are billionaires, and it is not luck. They are not tempted to dump their holdings in down markets. They believe in the long-term opportunities this space offers.”
If Bitcoin continues to hold and with the clock ticking already on days until he is a free man once again, CZ may have already hit his "spectacular" low. And if Bitcoin has another stellar year, we'll be left to ask: has anyone ever become the richest person in the world while serving a prison sentence?