FTX, Binance Deal Draws Antitrust Concern

The proposed sale of FTX’s non-U.S. business to Binance, announced Tuesday amid concerns over stability at FTX, has drawn concerns of antitrust retaliation in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Regulators across the world have the power to block major mergers if they fear they would limit market choice, and also have strict laws against anti-competitive behavior. Binance is the world’s largest crypto exchange by volume, while FTX is within the top five, according to data site CoinGecko.

Binance Chief Executive Changpeng “CZ” Zhao and FTX boss Sam Bankman-Fried tweeted news of the plans on Tuesday, drawing immediate questions over compliance with antitrust laws.

Read more: FTX Agrees to Sell Itself to Rival Binance Amid Liquidity Scare at Crypto Exchange

“Next time, check the compliance of your tweet with antitrust laws before you post,” tweeted Thibault Schrepel, an Associate Professor at Amsterdam University who specializes in blockchain and antitrust issues, of CZ’s announcement. “At this stage, I wouldn’t be surprised to find this tweet in a forthcoming court document/antitrust litigation.”

In the U.S., antitrust laws such as the Sherman Act outlaw direct competitors from acting to protect each other. CZ said that he had stepped in to protect users after FTX, faced with a “significant liquidity crunch” had asked for help. That suggests an illegal agreement, Schrepel says – who believes that U.S. laws would apply, as the deal affects the entire company, including U.S. operations.

Antitrust authorities in jurisdictions such as the European Union must also approve, and can block, mergers and acquisitions. Those between major market players vying for the same customers are likely to be of particular interest. For larger deals, the European Commission can fine companies up to 10 percent of turnover if they “jump the gun” by anticipating its approval.

CZ characterized the deal as a non-binding intention, that would be the subject of due diligence investigations in the coming days.

Spokespeople for FTX, Binance and the European Commission did not immediately respond to a request for comment.