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FTX: It’s a family affair
FTX’s lawyers have questions. Specifically, they have questions for Sam Bankman-Fried’s brother Gabriel and his parents, Joseph Bankman and Barbara Fried.
Joseph advised FTX. He recruited its first lawyers and joined FTX staff in meetings on Capitol Hill. When visiting the FTX offices in the Bahamas, he and Barbara stayed in a $16.4 million house with its title in their names. Barbara founded a political action committee called Mind the Gap, which received donations from FTX.
Gabriel launched Guarding Against Pandemics, an organization funded by Sam. Gabriel purchased a multimillion-dollar property in Washington D.C., which John Jay Ray III’s current FTX team believe was purchased using FTX customer funds.
Every member of Sam’s family had some involvement in FTX — and they aren’t responding to requests for documents. So Ray’s team and the Unsecured Creditors’ Committee (UCC) want to subpoena Joseph, Barbara and Gabriel under rule 2004. [Doc 579, PDF; Bloomberg]
We’ve detailed rule 2004 previously. Federal Rule of Bankruptcy 2004 allows tremendously broad discovery and deposition. A witness is not always entitled to attorney representation or cross-examination and has only a limited right to object to questions. 2004 exams are sometimes referred to as “fishing expeditions” — because they need to be.
Included in the same 2004 motion, Ray is also asking the court’s permission to subpoena Sam and several other FTX insiders, including FTX cofounders Gary Wang and Nishad Singh, former Alameda CEO Caroline Ellison, and former FTX COO Constance Wang. Along with SBF’s family, they have not been very responsive:
“Mr. Wang and Ms. Ellison expressly declined to provide the requested information, and Ms. Fried has ignored the Requests altogether. The Debtors have not received meaningful engagement or any response from Mr. Singh or Mr. Gabriel Bankman-Fried.”
Ray’s team are investigating the FTX hack on November 11-12, which saw $300 million in crypto siphoned off the exchange while crypto Twitter watched in horror. They’ve requested an order pursuant to Rule 2004 here too — under seal, because the information in the motion could “reveal or lead to evidence that will reveal the identity and activities of the perpetrator(s).” It sounds like they already have a very good idea who was behind the hack. [Doc 581, PDF]
A mostly-unredacted list of FTX creditors is now available. It includes investment banks, such as Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan; media companies, such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal; commercial airliners, including American, United, Southwest, and Spirit; as well as several large tech players, including Netflix, Apple, and Meta. Individual customers’ names remain withheld. [Doc 574, PDF]
FTX objects to the US Trustee’s request to appoint an independent examiner. They argue an examiner would duplicate work that’s already underway by FTX, the UCC, law enforcement, and regulators. “Indeed, if history is a guide, the cost could near or exceed $100 million.” They point out that “it is difficult to imagine an examiner candidate whose qualifications exceed those of Mr. Ray.” Which is a good point. The UCC concurs. [Doc 573, PDF; Doc 571, PDF]
What’s a little witness tampering between friends?
SBF is playing fast and loose with potential witnesses in his criminal trial. He contacted “Witness-1,” the “current General Counsel of FTX US” (Ryne Miller) to work out a story with. We doubt Miller would want anything to do with such a scheme. But this was enough for the government to ask Judge Lewis Kaplan to modify Sam’s bail: [DOJ letter to judge, PDF]
“Specifically, the Government respectfully requests that the Court impose the following conditions: (1) the defendant shall not contact or communicate with current or former employees of FTX or Alameda (other than immediate family members) except in the presence of counsel, unless the Government or Court exempts an individual from this no-contact rule; and (2) the defendant shall not use any encrypted or ephemeral call or messaging application, including but not limited to Signal.”
SBF’s lawyers responded by pounding the table. Judge Kaplan has told both sides to chill. The government should get its reply in, with substantiation of its claims, by February 2. [letter, PDF; order, PDF]
Dirty Bubble has found another link between FTX and the fraud-riddled binary options industry. In September 2021, FTX purchased the ZUBR derivatives exchange for $11 million. The exchange was registered in Gibraltar. By the time Gibraltar rescinded ZUBR’s license, the exchange had no active customers. The exchange was a collaboration
between Belarusian binary options and crypto “billionaire” Viktor Prokopenya and his former business partner Said Gutseriev, the son of one of Russia’s wealthiest oligarchs. [Dirty Bubble]
(Update, March 15, 2023: Viktor Prokopenya tells us he “never had any commercial interest or other involvement in ZUBR.” Dirty Bubble has updated his story to note that FTX purchased ZUBR directly from Prokopenya’s business partner Said Gutseriev. Dirty also notes interesting connections between ZUBR and Prokopenya’s other entities in his story.)
Would it surprise you to learn that FTX made political donations to George Santos? [SFGate]
Celsius Network: Let’s make more magic beans!
Celsius has rejected the Binance US bid for Celsius assets, and four other bids. In the January 23 hearing, Ross Kwasteniet of Kirkland & Ellis, speaking for Celsius, said the bids “have not been compelling.”
Instead, Celsius have concocted a plan to reorganize into a publicly traded company and issue a new “Asset Share Token” to creditors. Those following the Celsius disaster will recognise this as Alex Mashinsky’s very dumb and bad Kelvin Plan from September 2022.
Creditors weren’t told about the other bids. As it happened, Tiffany Fong — Celsius creditor and YouTuber — got all the bids in a leak in December. Bidders included Binance US, Bank To The Future (Simon Dixon), Galaxy Digital, Cumberland DRW, and NovaWulf. Fong posted full text of the leaked bids. [Substack; Youtube]
- Binance US: buy just the crypto, assume liabilities (with a haircut); excludes FTT, CEL, and other illiquid trash tokens. Pay $15 million cash.
- Bank to the Future: crypto returned to customers pro rata. Other Celsius assets to special-purpose vehicles, customers get an ownership share. Cash to be raised through rights offering to creditors.
- Galaxy Digital: Acquire illiquid assets and staked ETH. Pay $66.8 million cash.
- Cumberland DRW: Purchase certain tokens and portfolio of alternative investments, excluding CEL. $1.8 billion total payment, includes various haircuts.
- NovaWulf: Transfer substantially all assets and businesses to SEC-compliant NewCo, 100% owned by the creditors. Issue revenue share tokens. NovaWulf to pay $60-120 million, mostly in tokens. This is also a version of the Kelvin plan.
Many ad hoc creditors were disappointed that the Binance bid was rejected — but it shouldn’t be surprising, given the issues that Binance is already having with its bid for Voyager.
Frankly, we don’t think the other bids look all that great either — they’re fanciful coiner dreams that first assume the crypto market is healthy, which it isn’t.
We think Celsius should have just liquidated in July rather than taking several months and handing millions of dollars to bankruptcy professionals to get to the same place.
Silvergate is short on cash, so it’s suspended dividend payments on its preferred stock. [Business Wire]
The stock in question (NYSE:SI) is going down the toilet. It’s crashed from $220 in November 2021 to below $14 in January 2023. Signature Bank (NASDAQ: SBNY) has gone from $365 to $127 over the past year.
Moonstone Bank says that “recent events” — FTX tried to use them as a financial laundromat — and “the changing regulatory environment around crypto businesses” — the regulators are on the warpath — have prompted it to ditch the “innovation-driven business model” it adopted in recent years. [WSJ, paywall]
Federal bank regulators are not keen on dodgy crypto banks authorized by captured Wyoming state regulators. Custodia Bank can’t get a Fed account: [Federal Reserve]
“The Board has concluded that the firm’s application as submitted is inconsistent with the required factors under the law. Custodia is a special purpose depository institution, chartered by the state of Wyoming, which does not have federal deposit insurance. The firm proposed to engage in novel and untested crypto activities that include issuing a crypto asset on open, public and/or decentralized networks.”
Crypto.com’s old gateway for GBP and EUR was Transactive Systems of Lithuania. Transactive has been cut off by the Bank of Lithuania, after it found “significant violations and shortcomings of the Law on the Prevention of Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing.” Transactive had apparently been giving accounts to a long list of low-quality institutions in low-quality jurisdictions. Transactive can no longer serve financial institutions, forex, or crypto clients. They also got cut off from the UK Faster Payments system. Your EUR and GBP sent to Crypto.com via Transactive are probably now stuck. [Twitter; Offshore CorpTalk; Bank of Lithuania, in Lithuanian]
Before Crypto.com got kicked off Silvergate, it used to get US dollar deposits via an oddly roundabout method: customers would send USD to Circle’s account at Silvergate, and Circle would mint that much USDC and send the USDC to Crypto.com. It is possible this was not in full compliance with KYC and AML regulations. [Twitter; crypto.com, archive]
Other happy little accidents
London-based crypto exchange Luno, a subsidiary of DCG, is laying off 35% of its staff. About 330 employees will be let go from the firm, which has offices in Africa, Asia, and Europe. [WSJ, paywall; archive]
DeFi volumes are right down. The amount of money (or “money”) involved has been flat for months, and — most importantly — you can’t get the ridiculous yields you could in the bubble. Oh no! Anyway. [Bloomberg]
Happy Penis Day, to those who celebrate
It was five years ago today, January 28, 2018, that the Prodeum initial coin offering took everyone’s money and disappeared, leaving behind only a new jargon term for “exit scam” or “rugpull.” You get a penis! And you get a penis! And you get a penis! Everybody gets a penis! [The Next Web, 2018]
Image: Sam Bankman-Sopranino and family.