The world's largest crypto exchange, Binance, continued to process trades by clients in Iran despite US sanctions and a company ban on doing business there, a Reuters investigation has found.
In 2018, the United States reimposed sanctions that had been suspended three years earlier as part of Iran's nuclear deal with major world powers. That November, Binance informed traders in Iran it would no longer serve them, telling them to liquidate their accounts.
But in interviews with Reuters, seven traders said they skirted the ban. The traders said they continued to use their Binance accounts until as recently as September last year, only losing access after the exchange tightened its anti-money laundering checks a month earlier. Until that point, customers could trade by registering with just an email address.
"There were some alternatives, but none of them were as good as Binance," said Asal Alizade, a trader in Tehran who said she used the exchange for two years until September 2021. "It didn't need identity verification, so we all used it."
Eleven other people in Iran beyond those interviewed by Reuters said on their LinkedIn profiles that they too traded crypto at Binance after the 2018 ban. None of them responded to questions.
The exchange's popularity in Iran was known inside the company. Senior employees knew of, and joked about, the exchange's growing ranks of Iranian users, according to 10 messages they sent to one another in 2019 and 2020 that are reported here for the first time. "IRAN BOYS," one of them wrote in response to data showing the popularity of Binance on Instagram in Iran.
Binance did not respond to Reuters' questions about Iran. In a March blog post, published in response to Western sanctions on Russia, Binance said it "follows international sanction rules strictly" and had assembled a "global compliance task force, including world-renowned sanctions and law enforcement experts." Binance said it used "banking grade tools" to prevent sanctioned people or entities from using its platform.
Iran's mission to the United Nations in New York did not respond to a request for comment.