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FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried charged with paying $40m bribe to Chinese official

FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried leaves Manhattan federal court in New York in February
FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried leaves Manhattan federal court in New York in February Copyright John Minchillo/AP
Copyright John Minchillo/AP
By Euronews with AP
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FTX filed for bankruptcy in November when it ran out of money after the equivalent of a bank run on the global cryptocurrency exchange.

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FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried has been charged with directing $40 million (€36.86 million) in bribes to one or more Chinese officials to unfreeze assets relating to his cryptocurrency business.

In a newly rewritten indictment, which was unsealed on Tuesday March 28, the charge was revealed to be in relation to a violation of anti-bribery provisions, and it brings the number of charges facing the cryptocurrency platform founder to 13.

Bankman-Fried was arrested in the Bahamas in December and brought to the United States after FTX filed for bankruptcy following the equivalent of a bank run on the global cryptocurrency exchange.

He has remained free on a $250 million (€230.37 million) personal bond that lets him stay with his parents in California.

He has pleaded not guilty to charges that he cheated investors out of billions of dollars before his business collapsed.

The charge also contains language revealing that a fifth arrest was imminent in what US Attorney Damian Williams has repeatedly described as a continuing investigation. That unidentified individual, according to the indictment, participated in the bribery conspiracy with Bankman-Fried and “will be arrested in the Southern District of New York."

A spokesperson for Bankman-Fried's lawyers told The Associated Press Tuesday that they had no comment.

On Tuesday a judge banned Bankman-Fried from communicating with current or ex-employees of FTX or Alameda Research, its affiliated cryptocurrency hedge fund trading firm. 

The order also limits Bankman-Fried to one laptop and phone and bans him from encrypted communications or other cellphones, computers, or “smart” devices with internet access.

Bribes to unfreeze accounts

The alleged bribes stemmed from the operation of Alameda Research. The indictment said Chinese law enforcement authorities in early 2021 froze certain Alameda cryptocurrency trading accounts containing about $1 billion (€0.92 billion) in cryptocurrency on two of China's largest cryptocurrency exchanges.

Bankman-Fried, 31, understood that the accounts had been frozen by Chinese authorities as part of an ongoing probe of a particular Alameda trading counterparty, the indictment said.

After Bankman-Fried failed multiple attempts over several months to unfreeze the accounts through methods including using lawyers to lobby, Bankman-Fried ultimately agreed to direct a multimillion-dollar bribe to try to unfreeze the accounts, the indictment said.

Among failed attempts, the indictment said Bankman-Fried and others he directed opened new fraudulent accounts on the Chinese exchanges using personal identifying information of several individuals unaffiliated with FTX or Alameda to try to evade freeze orders and move cryptocurrency from frozen accounts to the fraudulent accounts.

A portion of the bribe payment of cryptocurrency was moved from Alameda's main trading account to a private cryptocurrency wallet in November 2021 and the frozen accounts were unfrozen at about the same time, the indictment said.

After Bankman-Fried received confirmation that the accounts were unfrozen, he authorized the transfer of additional tens of millions of dollars in cryptocurrency to complete the bribe, according to the indictment.

Among those already charged in the case is Carolyn Ellison, Alameda's former chief executive. She has agreed to testify against Bankman-Fried, as have two former FTX executives who have pleaded guilty in cooperation deals with the government.

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