Venture capital firm Sequoia is suing Zhao Changpeng, the CEO and founder of Binance, currently the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange by trade volume, for allegedly breaching an exclusivity agreement during negotiations for an investment deal which broke down last year, Bloomberg reported April 25.
Sequoia has now appealed to Hong Kong’s High Court to secure a temporary injunction to bar Zhao from negotiating with other investors, causing the dispute to go public and revealing insights into VC firms’ past valuations of the exchange.
Citing the High Court documents, Bloomberg reports that Zhao and Sequoia began negotiating terms in August 2017 for an 11% stake investment in Binance, at a proposed valuation of $80 million. The talks continued as Bitcoin’s trading price soared to $20,000 in mid-December, at which point Zhao’s negotiators broke off talks, considering that the deal undervalued the exchange.
As the Sequoia deal fell through, the alleged exclusivity agreement breach involved another VC investment firm, IDG Capital, which reportedly expressed interest in investing in Binance over two funding rounds, at significantly higher valuations of $400 mln and $1 bln respectively.
Bloomberg reports that IDG has responded to the news outlet’s questions, stating that it has not invested in Binance and has no relationship with the exchange. Sequoia and Zhao, meanwhile, reportedly intend to settle their dispute in arbitration.
In previous interviews with Bloomberg, Zhao has claimed his personal fortune is worth as much as $2 bln, but declined requests to provide proof of his wealth and grant access to the Binance’s financial statements. He has also reportedly said that Binance does not need investment from VC investment firms, and is only interested in partnerships if doing so would help the exchange to secure operating licenses from regulators.
It remains to be seen whether Binance’s multi-country presence can insulate it from the traditional financial system and secure room for manoeuvre from regulatory requirements.
When Japan’s Financial Services Authority (FSA) recently ordered Hong Kong-based Binance to halt its operations in Japan for its failure to register the exchange, Zhao announced the company would open an office in Malta. Hong Kong’s Securities and Futures Commission has also issued warnings to crypto exchanges, including Binance, this year.