Opinion: Trial of FTX’s Sam Bankman-Fried is about more than crypto

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FILE – FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried leaves Federal court docket, July 26, 2023, in New York. Jury choice begins Tuesday, Oct. 3 in a case during which the 31-year-old crypto mogul faces the opportunity of a protracted jail time period if convicted. Prosecutors say he cheated 1000’s of people that deposited cryptocurrency on the FTX trade by illegally diverting large sums of their cash for his private use, together with making dangerous trades at his cryptocurrency hedge fund. (AP Photograph/Mary Altaffer, File)Mary Altaffer/The Related Press

Gus Carlson is a U.S.-based columnist for The Globe and Mail.

All traders, whether or not or not they’ve any curiosity in cryptocurrency, ought to pay shut consideration to what’s occurring in a Manhattan courtroom over the following few weeks.

That’s the place disgraced FTX Buying and selling Ltd. founder Sam Bankman-Fried stands trial for fraud and cash laundering in one of many world’s largest monetary scandals. It entails the collapse of his firm, which as soon as had a market worth of greater than US$32-billion; the evaporation of billions of crypto traders’ cash; and the seismic shocks of the implosion on the cryptocurrency market.

The case is seen as a referendum not solely on the collapse of FTX, but in addition on the sketchy credibility of the crypto world and the fast-and-loose behaviour of a few of its key gamers extra broadly. The intercourse attraction of the platform and its high-flying profile as the following large factor attracted big volumes of funding cash, together with billions from common particular person retail traders with visions of sugarplum-like returns dancing of their heads.

However the trial of Mr. Bankman-Fried is greater than that, which is why even traders who don’t care a whit about crypto may study one thing. It’s one more reminder of the gullibility of traders and their age-old penchant for chasing any shiny new lure in hopes of getting wealthy fast – and scarcely caring about the place they put their cash of their breathless pursuit.

Regardless of what number of occasions persons are advised one thing appears too good to be true, they don’t wish to consider it. Due diligence? An excessive amount of work. Like Bernie Madoff, Mr. Bankman-Fried appeared like a pleasant, reliable man who knew what he was doing. As Forrest Gump stated, “Silly is as silly does.”

In constructing their case towards Mr. Bankman-Fried, prosecutors have painted him as a talented con artist who lied to the world. Investigation into the FTX collapse final November uncovered what they are saying was large misuse and misappropriation of traders’ funds, the granting of loans and residential mortgages by Mr. Bankman-Fried to FTX workers with out correct documentation, and the incorporation of the corporate within the Bahamas, which is on a number of world watchlists as a tax haven and money-laundering centre.

Michael Lewis dives into the mind of Sam Bankman-Fried in his new book Going Infinite

They level to Mr. Bankman-Fried’s lavish way of life, private-jetting from place to position, rubbing of shoulders with celebrities and supporting distinguished Democrat politicians, and big spending on advertising, together with the sponsorships of sports activities and leisure venues. It was not the kind of conduct one may anticipate from the mild-mannered chief of a startup with the most effective pursuits of his traders in thoughts.

As Mr. Bankman-Fried’s profile and that of FTX grew, so did the variety of pink flags fluttering over them. Extra folks did homework on his credentials and pedigree. What they discovered had been maybe the constructing blocks of a promising future profession – a level from MIT, a brief stint on Wall Road and the assist of oldsters with impeccable credentials as Stanford regulation professors – however hardly the chops that will give most traders the boldness to ship large cash his means at such an early stage in his growth.

By all accounts, what Mr. Bankman-Fried could have lacked in hard-boiled expertise, he made up for in disarming private appeal. He was affable, and his geeky quirkiness attracted folks. Like Mr. Madoff, folks appreciated him and trusted him to the purpose the place he attained close to cult standing – some extent prosecutors will say enabled him to drag the wool over the eyes of so many followers.

Of their opening remarks at trial this week, Mr. Bankman-Fried’s legal professionals steered the portrait of him as a slick operator eager to separate fools from their cash is a gross mischaracterization. In actuality, they are saying, he’s a well-meaning math nerd who operated in good religion however obtained out over his skis and didn’t know the best way to get again. It was the enterprise that went dangerous – as companies typically do – not Mr. Bankman-Fried. He was, in some methods, a sufferer of his personal inexperience.

The defence faces a tricky slog in proving their portrait of Mr. Bankman-Fried as naive rather than nefarious. A number of of FTX’s prime executives, together with his girlfriend, have pleaded responsible to fraud and are set to testify towards him. And plenty of traders who had been bilked by FTX have already stated their piece within the court docket of public opinion.

Whether or not or not the trial reveals the reality about Mr. Bankman-Fried’s intentions, motivations and self-awareness stays to be seen. However what is evident even within the first week of the proceedings – and no matter its end result – is that the well-worn warning of purchaser beware is as legitimate now as when it was coined centuries in the past.

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