Good morning. The FT has learnt that Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, hid links to China for several years, according to internal company documents.
The findings contradict executives’ claims that the company left the country after a clampdown on the industry in late 2017. Chief executive Changpeng Zhao and others at the company repeatedly instructed Binance employees to hide Binance’s presence in China.
“We no longer publish our office addresses . . . people in China can directly say that our office is not in China,” Zhao said in a company messaging group in November 2017, seen by the FT.
The documents underscore how Binance has sought to conceal the extent and location of its operations as regulators scrutinise crypto-related activity.
Earlier this week, a US financial regulator accused Binance and Zhao of operating illegally in the country. The company says it has no formal headquarters and does not serve US customers.
Here’s what else I’m watching today:
Alibaba: The Chinese tech group will hold a conference call to discuss its new organisational and governance structure.
Asean: Finance and central bank deputies will meet today in Bali, Indonesia.
US GDP: Final gross domestic product figures for the fourth quarter will be released today.
What did you think of today’s FirstFT? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading.
Five more top stories
1. China has threatened to retaliate if Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen meets US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy during her trip to the US this week. Such a meeting would be “another provocation” that would “sabotage peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait”, the Chinese government’s Taiwan policy body said.
2. Walt Disney has ousted Marvel chair Isaac Perlmutter after he clashed with CEO Bob Iger, as the entertainment group embarks on thousands of job cuts. Perlmutter’s $4bn sale of Marvel was transformative for Disney, but he was also considered difficult to work with.
3. Elon Musk and other executives have called for a six-month “pause” on the development of advanced artificial intelligence systems such as OpenAI’s GPT to halt what they call a “dangerous” arms race. Musk is among more than 1,000 tech researchers and executives who signed the open letter published by a non-profit campaign group.
4. Tesla’s move to slash prices in China has backfired as Elon Musk’s company loses market share to Warren Buffett-backed BYD. Sales by Chinese carmakers are on course to overtake foreign rivals in the country this year for the first time.
5. US Treasury Secretary said she expected former Mastercard chief executive Ajay Banga to be elected president of the World Bank. Speaking to lawmakers, Janet Yellen said that if Banga secured the role, he would be “charged with accelerating our progress to evolve the institution to better address 21st-century challenges”.
The Big Read
In a complex tale traced through ghost ships, shell companies, triad networks, underground financing channels and sprawling family connections, the FT investigates North Korea’s oil smuggling, shedding new light on how dictator Kim Jong Un has propped up Pyongyang’s shattered economy through murky intelligence and financing operations in Hong Kong and Macau.
We’re also reading and listening to. . .
Awkward: Among the participants in President Joe Biden’s democracy summit are countries in the process of jailing opposition leaders, shutting down judicial independence and trying to end free and fair elections.
TikTok tussle: The fight over who really controls TikTok shows the degree to which American finance and business remain deeply entwined with China, writes Gillian Tett.
🎧 UBS-Credit Suisse: In this week’s edition of the Behind the Money podcast, banking editor Stephen Morris explains how the shotgun marriage was brokered.
Chart of the day
Turkey’s population faces a squeeze from severe inflation that has caused the price of everything from groceries to housing to soar. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s unconventional economic policies have inflamed the crisis, which has weighed heavily on the president’s popularity ahead of its toughest election during his two decades in power.
Take a break from the news
Twice married, and best known via party pictures in the Spanish tabloids, Marta Ortega Pérez had been dismissed frequently by the chauvinistic media as being a showjumping socialite. But no one at Inditex and Zara, co-founded by her father, was ruffled when she took over as non-executive chair last year. Read HTSI’s exclusive interview with her on succession, sustainability and sales.
Additional contributions by Gordon Smith and Tee Zhuo