Politico

Washington’s new crypto shocker: Sam Bankman-Fried’s arrest

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FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried’s day of reckoning has arrived. Here’s what we know.

The U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York announced Monday evening that Bahamian authorities arrested the former crypto exchange executive at the request of the U.S.

Federal prosecutors plan to unseal their indictment Tuesday morning. The charges include wire fraud, securities fraud and money laundering, according to the New York Times.

The SEC early Tuesday charged Bankman-Fried with orchestrating a “years-long fraud” to conceal from investors the misuse of FTX customer money. SEC Chair Gary Gensler said the former FTX CEO “built a house of cards on a foundation of deception while telling investors that it was one of the safest buildings in crypto.”

The arrest and planned extradition were announced on the eve of Bankman-Fried’s previously scheduled appearance at Tuesday morning’s House Financial Services Committee hearing on FTX’s disastrous collapse. Financial Services Chair Maxine Waters said in a statement that she was disappointed he would not testify but that she remained committed to getting to the bottom of what happened at the company.

Bankman-Fried’s absence may not ultimately derail lawmakers’ fact-finding mission, as he had already warned that his answers would be “frustrating and underwhelming.” Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.) told Morning Money before the arrest that Bankman-Fried’s testimony would be a “complete goat rodeo.”

The headlines from the hearing will now be dominated by what are likely to be damning revelations from John Ray III, the corporate wind-down specialist who took the helm of FTX upon its bankruptcy and will be the sole witness fielding questions from lawmakers.

Ray will blame “the absolute concentration of control in the hands of a very small group of grossly inexperienced and unsophisticated individuals,” according to prepared testimony. He will cite not only problematic handling of customer funds but also a recent $5 billion “spending binge” on “a myriad of businesses and investments, many of which may be worth only a fraction of what was paid for them.”

Ray will describe his internal investigation of FTX as “enormous” in scope, involving the tracking of money flows from the time of the company’s founding. He is crafting findings to make it useful for government officials in the U.S. and around the world.

What lawmakers want to know — Look for members to try to nail down not just what went wrong at FTX but to also take shots at regulators. The committee is rife with crypto-friendly lawmakers who want the SEC to back off regulation of digital assets, and they want to use the FTX collapse to showcase how the agency is ineffective. (A hearing memo from Waters’ staff focuses on the public tick-tock of FTX’s demise and the SEC’s role in crypto.)

Huizenga: “I am very curious to know how current operations are and what’s sort of being uncovered. Everybody’s trying to figure out what ratio of incompetence versus fraud this might be. Is it more Enron, or is it more Bernie Madoff?”

Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.): “We’re going to try to get a sense of [Bankman-Fried’s] deliberate conduct to avoid regulation that’s in place right now.”

Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.): “Where was the SEC? What kind of oversight was there? What should the SEC be doing? What proposed regulations would he suggest?”

Rep. French Hill (R-Ark.): “We hope to take the bankruptcy filing, along with John Ray’s testimony and all the public comments that Bankman-Fried has made recently — and in the past — and pose questions to him around those issues to elicit the best responses we can.”

Key context: SBF’s political groundwork — Bankman-Fried spent about $40 million on the last election, according to Open Secrets, with some of his campaign contributions going to Financial Services Committee members. Bloomberg reports that $73 million of the overall political donations tied to FTX and its executives may be at risk of being clawed back in bankruptcy.

“There’s a lot of hype, there’s a lot of misinformation and this industry is really pumping money into Congress,” Lynch said. “That’s a real concern because I think members might be influenced by that.”

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