FTX’s Bankman-Fried pleads not guilty to campaign finance, China bribery charges
4:57 pm Thursday, March 30th, 2023
By Luc Cohen
NEW YORK (Reuters) -Sam Bankman-Fried, the disgraced founder of the now-bankrupt FTX cryptocurrency exchange, pleaded not guilty on Thursday to new U.S. charges of conspiring to violate campaign finance laws and bribe Chinese authorities.
The 31-year-old Bankman-Fried entered his plea to a new, 13-count indictment through his lawyer, Mark Cohen, at a hearing before U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan in Manhattan federal court.
Bankman-Fried previously pleaded not guilty to eight counts of fraud and conspiracy for allegedly stealing billions in FTX customer funds to plug losses at his hedge fund, Alameda Research.
The former billionaire could spend decades in prison if convicted at a trial set to start on Oct. 2.
Bankman-Fried was arrested in December and extradited from the Bahamas, where FTX was based.
The exchange collapsed in November after a flurry of customer withdrawals spurred by concerns about commingling of funds between FTX and Alameda.
In an unusual post-arrest blog post, Bankman-Fried admitted that FTX had inadequate risk management but said he did not steal funds.
Cohen said he planned to challenge by a May 8 deadline the campaign finance and China-related charges because they were brought after Bankman-Fried’s extradition.
Under an extradition treaty between the United States and the Bahamas, Bankman-Fried may only be tried and punished for charges he faced at the time of his extradition, unless the Bahamas government consents to the new charges.
Representatives of the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan and the Bahamas Ministry of Foreign Affairs had no immediate comment.
Bankman-Fried’s original indictment contained few details about his alleged scheme.
A 12-count indictment filed in late February elaborated on the fraud charges, and accused Bankman-Fried of illegally contributing tens of millions of dollars to U.S. political campaigns through straw donors, to buy influence in Washington.
On Tuesday, yet another indictment accused Bankman-Fried of orchestrating a $40 million bribe to Chinese authorities to regain access to $1 billion of cryptocurrency in frozen Alameda accounts.
Three former members of Bankman-Fried’s inner circle – former Alameda CEO Caroline Ellison, former FTX technology chief Zixao “Gary” Wang, and former FTX engineering director Nishad Singh – have all pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.
Apart from his court appearances, Bankman-Fried is confined to his parents’ Palo Alto, California, home as a condition of his $250 million bail package.
Kaplan on Tuesday approved bail modifications designed to prevent Bankman-Fried from tampering with witnesses.
(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Additional reporting by Jasper Ward in Washington; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Daniel Wallis)