FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried's under scrutiny for witness tampering

ByKara Scannell
Saturday, January 28, 2023
Former FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried arrested in the Bahamas
The founder and former CEO of FTX, Sam Bankman-Fried, was arrested in the Bahamas.

Federal prosecutors said FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried contacted the former general counsel of the crypto trading platform earlier this month in a move they say may constitute witness tampering.

A spokesperson for Bankman-Fried declined to comment.

The video in the media player is from a previous report.

Prosecutors with the US attorney's office for the Southern District of New York asked the judge to amend Bankman-Fried's bail conditions to prohibit him from communicating with current or former employees of FTX or its sister hedge fund Alameda research unless he is with his attorney or has approval from the government.

They also want the judge to block Bankman-Fried from using any encrypted communication devices out of concerns he will obstruct the ongoing investigation.

Prosecutors said in a letter to the judge that Bankman-Fried contacted the former general counsel of FTX on January 15 using Signal and email - stating, "I would really love to reconnect and see if there's a way for us to have a constructive relationship, use each other as resources when possible, or at least vet things with each other."

That contact, prosecutors said, is suggestive of witness tampering since the ex-general counsel, who is identified as "Witness-1," may testify against Bankman-Fried at trial.

"Efforts by the defendant to improve his relationship with potential witnesses that may testify against him may itself constitute witness tampering," prosecutors wrote.

"The Government has interviewed Witness-1, who has firsthand knowledge of the defendant's conduct during the charged conspiracies, including during the collapse of FTX in November 2022. Witness-1 participated in Signal and Slack communications with the defendant and a small group of company insiders during the relevant events of November 2022. In those messages, among other things, the defendant gave instructions for liquidating Alameda's investments to satisfy FTX customer withdrawals, and indicated that he transferred approximately $45 million dollars of Alameda funds to FTX US to fill an apparent hole in FTX US's balance sheet," prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said it's likely that many of FTX and Alameda's current and former employees will be witnesses at the trial, adding that their investigation is ongoing and they are still identifying potential witnesses.

In addition to limiting Bankman-Fried's contact with former colleagues, prosecutors want to restrict his use of Signal and Slack, messaging apps that enable users to auto-delete messages after a certain time period.

Prosecutors say Caroline Ellison, the former chief executive of Alameda who pleaded guilty and is cooperating, informed them that Bankman-Fried indicated "that many legal cases turn on documentation and it is more difficult to build a legal case if information is not written down or preserved."

Authorities said the lack of Slack and Signal communications has already "impeded" its investigation. Several potential witnesses told prosecutors of "incriminating conversations" they had with Bankman-Fried over the messaging platforms that were deleted because Bankman-Fried set the programs to auto-delete after 30 days.

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