FTX founder Bankman-Fried, charged with fraud, may fight Bahamas extradition

By Jared Higgs, Luc Cohen and Chris Prentice

NASSAU, Bahamas/NEW YORK (Reuters) -Sam Bankman-Fried indicated in a Bahamas courtroom on Tuesday that he would fight extradition to the United States, hours after U.S. prosecutors accused the founder and former CEO of FTX of fraud and violating campaign finance laws.

The 30-year-old Bankman-Fried, appearing relaxed and wearing a blue shirt, arrived at a heavily guarded Bahamas court on Tuesday for his first in-person public appearance since the cryptocurrency exchange’s collapse. He told the court he will not waive his right to an extradition hearing.

“Mr. Bankman-Fried is reviewing the charges with his legal team and considering all of his legal options,” his lawyer, Mark S. Cohen, said in a statement.

Bankman-Fried would face long odds fighting extradition to the United States on fraud charges, according to legal experts, but he has a number of legal options available under he Bahamas’ extradition treaty with the United States.

In the indictment, prosecutors said Bankman-Fried had engaged in a scheme to defraud FTX’s customers by misappropriating their deposits to pay for expenses and debts and to make investments on behalf of his crypto hedge fund, Alameda Research LLC.

He also defrauded lenders to Alameda by providing false and misleading information about the hedge fund’s condition, and sought to disguise the money he had earned from committing wire fraud, prosecutors said.

Both the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) alleged Bankman-Fried committed fraud in lawsuits filed on Tuesday.

“While he spent lavishly on office space and condominiums in The Bahamas, and sank billions of dollars of customer funds into speculative venture investments, Bankman-Fried’s house of cards began to crumble,” the SEC filing said.

The CFTC sued Bankman-Fried, Alameda and FTX on Tuesday, alleging fraud involving digital commodity assets.

Since at least May 2019, FTX raised more than $1.8 billion from equity investors in a years-long “brazen, multi-year scheme” in which Bankman-Fried concealed that FTX was diverting customer funds to its affiliated crypto hedge fund, Alameda Research LLC, the SEC alleged.

While the public believed Bankman-Fried’s “lies” and sent billions of dollars to FTX, he improperly diverted customer funds to his hedge fund, the SEC said in a court filing. He continued to divert FTX customer funds even as it was increasingly clear that Alameda and FTX could not make customers whole, the SEC said.

Bankman-Fried has apologized to customers and acknowledged oversight failings at FTX, but said he does not personally think he has any criminal liability.

Bankman-Fried founded FTX in 2019 and rode a cryptocurrency boom to build it into one of the world’s largest exchanges of the digital tokens. Forbes pegged his net worth a year ago at $26.5 billion, and he became a substantial donor to U.S. political campaigns, media outlets and other causes.

A crypto exchange is a platform on which investors can trade digital tokens such as bitcoin.

As legal challenges mount, the U.S. Congress is also looking at crafting legislation to rein in a loosely regulated crypto industry.

John Ray, named CEO of FTX last month, told lawmakers on Tuesday the implosion stemmed from the concentration of control in a small group of grossly-inexperienced individuals, and it will take weeks or months to secure company assets.

He told a Congressional panel FTX will turn over any relevant information to authorities, has shared findings with the SEC and U.S. prosecutors, and added he is investigating whether Bankman-Fried’s parents were involved in the operation.

FTX’s collapse was one of a series of bankruptcies in the crypto industry this year as digital asset markets tumbled from 2021 peaks. A broader downturn in financial markets and rising interest rates prompted investors to abandon riskier assets.

The collapse of several crypto lenders including Celsius and Voyager Digital Ltd, major tokens terraUSD and Luna, and hedge fund Three Arrows Capital, rang alarm bells even before the blow-up of FTX.

CRYPTO INVESTORS LOST BILLIONS

FTX filed for bankruptcy on Nov. 11, leaving an estimated 1 million customers and other investors facing losses in the billions of dollars. The collapse reverberated across the crypto world and sent bitcoin and other digital assets plummeting.

“The crypto sector must see the demise of FTX as a wake-up call,” said Viktor Prokopenya, founder of crypto platform Currency.com. “We must begin to engage proactively with regulators to find a middle ground which prevents an FTX-type situation ever occurring again.” 

Bankman-Fried was a prominent and unconventional figure. He sported wild hair, t-shirts and shorts on panel appearances with statesmen like former U.S. President Bill Clinton and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. He became one of the largest Democratic donors in the United States, contributing $5.2 million to President Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign.

Police in the Bahamas said he was arrested on Monday at his luxury gated community in the capital, Nassau. Damian Williams, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said the arrest came at the request of the U.S. government.

The attorney general’s office of the Bahamas said it expected Bankman-Fried to be extradited to the United States.

Bankman-Fried resigned as FTX’s CEO the same day as the bankruptcy filing. FTX’s liquidity crunch came after he secretly used $10 billion in customer funds to support his proprietary trading firm, Alameda Research, Reuters has reported. At least $1 billion in customer funds had vanished.

(Additional reporting by Luc Cohen and Jack Queen in New York and Hannah Lang, Chris Prentice and Susan Heavey in WashingtonWriting by Nick ZieminskiEditing by Megan Davies, Anna Driver and Matthew Lewis)

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