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    FTX founder charged in scheme to defraud crypto investors

    NEW YORK (AP) – The United States (US) government charged cryptocurrency exchange FTX founder and former CEO Samuel Bankman-Fried with a host of financial crimes on Tuesday, alleging he intentionally deceived customers and investors to enrich himself and others, while playing a central role in the company’s multibillion-dollar collapse.

    Federal prosecutors said Bankman-Fried devised “a scheme and artifice to defraud” FTX’s customers and investors beginning in 2019, the year it was founded.

    He illegally diverted their money to cover expenses, debts and risky trades at the crypto hedge fund he started in 2017, Alameda Research, and to make lavish real estate purchases and large political donations, prosecutors said in a 13-page indictment.

    Bankman-Fried, 30, was arrested on Monday in the Bahamas at the request of the US government, and remains in custody after being denied bail.

    He has been charged with eight criminal violations, ranging from wire fraud to money laundering to conspiracy to commit fraud. If convicted of all the charges, Bankman-Fried – referred to by crypto enthusiasts as “SBF” – could face decades in jail.

    At a news conference on Tuesday, US Attorney Damian Williams in New York called it “one of the biggest frauds in American history”, and said the investigation is ongoing and fast-moving. Bankman-Fried has fallen hard and fast from the top of the cryptocurrency industry he helped to evangelise.

    United States Attorney Damian Williams speaks during a news conference about the criminal charges filed against FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried. PHOTO: AP

    FTX filed for bankruptcy on November 11, when it ran out of money after the cryptocurrency equivalent of a bank run.

    Before the bankruptcy, he was considered by many in Washington and on Wall Street as a wunderkind of digital currencies, someone who could help take them mainstream, in part by working with policymakers to bring more oversight and trust to the industry.

    Bankman-Fried had been worth tens of billions of dollars – at least on paper – and was able to attract celebrities like Tom Brady or former politicians like Tony Blair and Bill Clinton to his conferences at luxury resorts in the Bahamas. One prominent Silicon Valley firm, Sequoia Capital, invested hundreds of millions of dollars in FTX.

    Sporting shorts and t-shirts to contrast himself with the buttoned-down world of Wall Street, he was the subject of fawning media profiles, a vocal advocate for a type of charitable giving known as “effective altruism”, and garnered millions of Twitter followers.

    But since FTX’s implosion, Bankman-Fried and his company have been likened to other disgraced financiers and companies, such as Bernie Madoff and Enron.

    The criminal indictment against Bankman-Fried and “others” at FTX is on top of civil charges announced on Tuesday by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. The SEC alleges Bankman-Fried defrauded FTX customers by making loans to himself and other FTX executives, and illegally using investors’ money to buy real estate for himself and his family.

    No other FTX executives were named in the indictment, nor was Alameda Research CEO Caroline Ellison. Also not named in the indictment was Bankman-Fried’s father, Joseph Bankman, a Stanford University law professor who was considered an adviser to his son.

    US authorities said they will try to claw back any of Bankman-Fried’s financial gains from the alleged scheme. A lawyer for Bankman-Fried, Mark S Cohen, said on Tuesday he is “reviewing the charges with his legal team and considering all of his legal options”.

    At a congressional hearing on Tuesday that was scheduled before Bankman-Fried’s arrest, the new CEO brought in to steer FTX through its bankruptcy proceedings levelled harsh criticism. He said there was scant oversight of customers’ money and “very few rules” about how their funds could be used.

    John Ray III told members of the House Financial Services Committee that the collapse of FTX, resulting in the loss of more than USD7 billion, was the culmination of months, or even years, of bad decisions and poor financial controls. “This is not something that happened overnight or in a context of a week,” he said.

    He added, “This is just plain, old-fashioned embezzlement, taking money from others and using it for your own purposes.”

    Before his arrest, Bankman-Fried had been holed up in his luxury compound in the Bahamas. US authorities are expected to request his extradition to the US.

    Bankman-Fried was denied bail at a court hearing in the Bahamas on Tuesday after prosecutors argued he was a flight risk, according to Our News, a broadcast news company based there. He will remain in custody at the Bahamas department of corrections until February 8, Our News reported.

    Bankman-Fried’s was previously one of the world’s wealthiest people on paper; at one point his net worth reached USD26.5 billion, according to Forbes. He was a prominent personality in Washington, donating millions of dollars to Democrats and Republicans. US Attorney Williams said on Tuesday that Bankman-Fried made “tens of millions of dollars” in illegal campaign donations.

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