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Forbes Magazine in September listed Changpeng Zhao, a.k.a. CZ, the Chinese-born founder and CEO of crypto-trading exchange Binance, as the 22nd richest person in Singapore, a tiny island nation of 5.5 million people. The magazine put the wealth of CZ, as he’s known, at $1.9 billion.
But CZ, who fully controls Binance, by far the largest crypto exchange in the world, believes this valuation grossly underestimates his wealth. He’s coy about exactly how much he’s worth, say people who talk to him, and that’s understandable given the various regulatory challenges he’s facing around the world.
So far in this series to uncover the world’s richest people, Project Brazen has looked at Middle Eastern royals, rulers whose personal wealth is vast and blurred with the assets of their states (See last week's post on UAE President and Abu Dhabi royal Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan here). Another fruitful area of exploration for under-counted wealth is the crypto world.
Singapore, the tiny island state where I live, has become a magnet for crypto billionaires, attracted by its practical approach to dealing with the industry. The country has received applications from hundreds of crypto services to operate, and while it reviews these, it’s allowing entrepreneurs to set up shop under an exemption from holding a license.
Vitalik Buterin, a co-founder of Ethereum, is based here. So is Crypto.com, the crypto exchange, which paid $700 million this month for the right to rebrand Los Angeles’ Staples Center, home to the Lakers, as Crypto.com Arena. (You’ve probably also seen their ad campaign, featuring Matt Damon.) The Winklevoss twins, too, have been hiring aggressively in Singapore for their Gemini crypto exchange.
Singapore’s most famous crypto resident, however, is CZ, a charming Canadian-Chinese man in his mid-40s, who rides around his gated neighborhood of mansions on an electric scooter. Like many of the crypto elite who’ve chosen Singapore, CZ lives in hope of a full license.
Many are hostile to Binance, in large part because regulators can’t work out where it’s based or much about how it operates (hat tip to our former colleagues' front-page story on Binance earlier this month). The platform has faced bans in the U.S. and U.K. In May, Bloomberg reported the U.S. Justice Department is investigating whether Binance has abetted money laundering.
So getting a handle on CZ’s wealth isn’t the easiest thing to do. But there’s a rumor in the crypto world here that he may be the world’s richest person.