The New York Times has confirmed disgraced FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried will appear for a plum speaking gig next week, sparking widespread outrage.
The 30-year-old, who is under investigation by authorities in the US and the Bahamas over the sudden collapse of his $US32 billion cryptocurrency empire, had previously been on the line-up for the Dealbook Summit on Wednesday, November 30.
Other scheduled speakers at the event, which “brings together today’s most vital minds”, include the likes of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Blackrock CEO Larry Fink and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Following the spectacular implosion of FTX earlier this month — and the disappearance of billions of dollars in customer funds — Dealbook moderator Andrew Ross Sorkin said “a lot of folks had been asking” if he would still be interviewing “SBF”.
“The answer is yes,” Sorkin wrote on Twitter on Wednesday, confirming an earlier tweet by Mr Bankman-Fried about the upcoming appearance. “There are a lot of important questions to be asked and answered. Nothing is off limits. Looking forward to it.”
Social media users reacted with disbelief at the news.
“If I were Andrew Sorkin, the first question I would ask SBF is, ‘How are you not in jail right now?’” said Hidden Forces podcast host Demetri Kofinas.
TechDirt editor Mike Masnick said, “I almost feel bad for this man’s lawyers. Anyway, I guarantee you the DOJ will be in attendance taking very careful notes.”
One Twitter user claimed the “rule of law” in the US was dead.
“In 2008, Bernie Madoff was arrested within 24 hours of his fraud being revealed. In 2022, Sam Bankman-Fried will be attending the NY Times Dealbook Summit after his fraud was revealed,” another wrote.
Despite the outrage, a number of users suggested genuine questions they would like answered.
“Instead of talking about leverage and how it was all just a little accident I’d be really curious what made you think using customer funds without their knowledge was OK,” one said.
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Another added, “Would be good to hear … when/how you decided to take client funds and use them as collateral for loans — this is the key issue much more than margin issues and is being brushed off — more on the political donations process and what those conversations are like behind closed doors.”
The New York Times had previously been criticised last week for publishing a lengthy interview with Mr Bankman-Fried many described as a “puff piece”.
On Wednesday, the newspaper published another piece about the entrepreneur spending hundreds of millions of dollars on political donations and charitable contributions over the past three years.
“A network of political action committees, non-profits and consulting firms funded by FTX or its executives worked to court politicians, regulators and others in the policy orbit, with the goal of making Mr Bankman-Fried the authoritative voice of crypto, while also shaping regulation for the industry and other causes,” the article read.
“Politicians, advocacy groups and fundraisers are now distancing themselves. Some lawmakers are offloading campaign contributions from Mr Bankman-Fried and his allies by making donations to charity in the same amounts they received. Lawmakers are calling for hearings.”
Reacting to the article, citizen journalism crypto account Autism Capital wrote, “Damage control is in overdrive. We can’t be the only ones observing this? This is outrageous.”
It comes after Mr Bankman-Fried told former employees in a letter he was “deeply sorry” about the implosion of his crypto exchange – but continued to point the finger at the company’s bankruptcy filing, insisting that he could have saved the platform if given enough time.
“I feel deeply sorry about what happened. I regret what happened to all of you,” Mr Bankman-Fried – who reportedly purchased hundreds of millions of dollars worth of pricey real estate in the Bahamas, even as he claimed to champion “effective altruism” – said in the letter.
“I didn’t mean for any of this to happen, and I would give anything to be able to go back and do things over again. You were my family. I’ve lost that, and our old home is an empty warehouse of monitors. When I turn around, there’s no one left to talk to.”
The letter was posted on FTX’s internal Slack channel by a staff member. Mr Bankman-Fried resigned as CEO and is no longer employed by the company.
FTX lawyers told a bankruptcy judge in Delaware on Tuesday that “a substantial amount of assets have either been stolen or are missing”.
FTX filed for protection in the US after traders pulled $US6 billion ($8.9 billion) from the platform in three days and rival exchange Binance abandoned a rescue deal. The collapse has left an estimated one million creditors facing losses totalling billions of dollars.
During the bankruptcy hearing this week, a lawyer for FTX told the court that the company was run by Mr Bankman-Fried as his own “personal fiefdom”.
New FTX CEO John Ray, who took over when the company filed for bankruptcy, also accused Mr Bankman-Fried of working with Bahamian regulators to “undermine” the US bankruptcy case and shift assets overseas.
The FTX founder did not address allegations that customer funds were used by sister firm Alameda Research, run by his ex-girlfriend Caroline Ellison, to make risky bets.
In his letter, Mr Bankman-Fried instead continued to insist that he had a way out of the mess, writing to his employees, “Potential interest in billions of dollars of funding came in roughly eight minutes after I signed the Chapter 11 docs. Between those funds, the billions of dollars of collateral the company still held, and the interest we’d received from other parties, I think that we probably could have returned large value to customers and saved the business. I believe that there are billions of dollars of genuine interest from new investors that could go to making customers whole.”
Mr Bankman-Fried wrote in the letter that the plummeting value of cryptocurrencies cut FTX’s collateral in half to around $US30 billion ($44.5 billion). The company’s liabilities were valued at $US2 billion ($3 billion).
When cryptocurrencies failed to recover, collateral fell even further to around $US9 billion ($13 billion), according to Mr Bankman-Fried, who lamented the “run on the bank” as account holders sought to withdraw their deposits.
“I did not realise the full extent of the margin position, nor did I realise the magnitude of the risk posed by a hyper-correlated crash,” Mr Bankman-Fried wrote.
The chain of events led FTX to file for bankruptcy protection, he claimed.
— with NY Post