The former boss of FTX must answer, during his trial which begins Tuesday, to seven counts in a Manhattan court.
He was the face of cryptocurrencies, a media genius with teenage looks, who was supposed to unite the sector, but the meteoric rise of Sam Bankman-Fried was matched only by his fall, with that of his FTX platform. In just a few months, this physics graduate from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) made a small start-up, launched in 2019, into the world’s second largest cryptocurrency exchange platform.
He quickly rises above his status as a young boss, determined to play the role of crypto ambassador, in front of the media or in Congress where he makes his first appearance in December 2021, during a hearing on the sector . The public discovers an atypical character, with abundant curly hair and a round face, who, when he is not in costume in the aisles of Congress, always wears a t-shirt and Bermuda shorts.
“SBF” appeals to American elected officials with its clear language and its vision of the future of cryptocurrencies, including an extensive regulatory framework, while many in the industry are opposed to it.
26 billion dollars
He is multiplying new projects, from a cryptocurrency donation platform for Ukraine to crypto credit cards, including the creation of a derivative financial products market which works directly on the flower beds of the American stock exchanges.
Majority shareholder of his group, the native Californian is at the head of a fortune estimated at its peak at 26 billion dollars. “Only Zuck (Mark Zuckerberg) became so rich, so young”, headlines Forbes magazine in October 2021. This son of two Stanford academics ventures well beyond the crypto universe, making donations to candidates American politicians and convinced celebrities like American football legend Tom Brady or basketball player Stephen Curry to extol the merits of FTX, for high remuneration.
According to the channel CNBC, “SBF” even signed a contract with Taylor Swift, before finally giving up the partnership. This vegan advocates the concept of effective altruism, which consists in particular of donating all or part of one’s fortune to charities. When the storm rises over cryptocurrencies, in the spring of 2022, it acts as a stabilizing element, buying the platform in difficulty BlockFi or the assets of another bankrupt player, Voyager.
“We take seriously our duty to protect the digital asset ecosystem and its customers,” tweeted Sam Bankman-Fried, who some were already comparing to the pope of American capitalism Warren Buffett, even though he had only just had 30 years.
But behind this reassuring facade, the troublemaker engages in a financial balancing act and takes colossal risks, according to what court documents will later reveal. His team allegedly used the money deposited by clients on the FTX platform to fuel, without their consent, the bold bets of its Alameda subsidiary, buy real estate or its donations to politicians.
At the beginning of November 2022, the CoinDesk media revealed that Alameda had converted a good part of its assets into FTT, the cryptocurrency created by FTX, which exposed it to a fall in the currency. A few hours later, Changpeng Zhao, boss of Binance, the world’s leading platform, announced the sale of all FTTs held by his group. The cryptocurrency collapsed, losing 90% of its value over a few days, and the “SBF” empire with it.
Extradited from the Bahamas, where FTX’s headquarters were located, the young thirty-year-old, whose fortune had evaporated, was charged in mid-December with fraud and criminal conspiracy. He must answer, during his trial which begins Tuesday, to seven counts in a Manhattan court.
“I am broke, I wear an electronic bracelet and I am one of the most hated people in the world,” the accused wrote in a document recently published by the New York Times.
A few days after the implosion of FTX, “SBF” admitted to having “messed up”, but he denies any embezzlement and regularly accuses his former colleagues, some of whom are expected to testify against him at trial. “There is nothing I can do that will give my life a positive balance,” he wrote. “But the truth is, I did what I thought was right.”