A trajectory built on “lies” or management in complete “good faith”, two visions of the same character clashed on Wednesday October 4 at the opening of the debates in the trial of the fallen angel of cryptocurrencies, Sam Bankman- Fried, in New York. Seven charges were brought against the thirty-year-old, mainly fraud, embezzlement and criminal association. He faces more than 100 years in prison if convicted.
“SBF”, his nickname, “had the fortune and the power”, but all this “was built on lies”, launched prosecutor Thane Rehn, who represented the prosecution, in his introductory remarks. For the public prosecutor, the former darling of cryptos committed “massive fraud” by “stealing” money from the customer accounts of his FTX exchange platform, insisted this deputy federal prosecutor from Manhattan, Damian Williams. “He was taking client funds and spending them for his own account,” according to Thane Rehn, without the knowledge of FTX users, who “had no way of knowing” how their money was used.
In November 2022, the cryptocurrency exchange imploded, unable to cope with requests for mass withdrawals from customers, panicked to learn that part of FTX's funds had been engaged in risky operations by Alameda, the hedge fund of “SBF”.
“Sam didn't defraud anyone,” replied Mark Cohen, one of the defendant's lawyers. “There was no theft.” The board acknowledged that FTX funds had been used by Alameda, but assured that it was simply a matter of putting the money to work and not embezzling it. On several occasions, he mentioned “good faith” to describe his client's behavior when he was at the helm of FTX. “Sam had to make hundreds of decisions every day” to guide this start-up in rapid growth, explained the lawyer. “The result is that certain things have been neglected,” according to Mark Cohen, notably risk management.
As expected, he implicated Caroline Ellison, former girlfriend of Sam Bankman-Fried, who had placed her in charge of Alameda. According to him, she would not have followed the advice of “SBF”, which had suggested that she use financial instruments to hedge against a possible slippage in the cryptocurrency market. But for the prosecution, Sam Bankman-Fried “acted as if he was no longer in charge of Alameda, when that was false,” said Thane Rehn, for whom Caroline Ellison was only a “nominee”.
Also implicated, Caroline Ellison pleaded guilty in December to seven counts and agreed to collaborate with the federal prosecutor in Manhattan. Thane Rehn indicated on Wednesday that, as expected, the young woman would testify during the trial, and would tell, on this occasion, how “she and the accused (had) stolen money from clients” of FTX.