The mystery continues to shroud the missing billions at bankrupt crypto exchange FTX after its disgraced founder Sam Bankman-Fried denied trying to perpetrate a fraud while admitting to grievous managerial errors.
In his first major public appearance following the Nov. 11 implosion of FTX and sister trading house Alameda Research, Bankman-Fried said he “screwed up” at the helm of the exchange and should have focused more on risk management, customer protection and links between FTX and Alameda.
“I made a lot of mistakes,” the 30-year-old said Wednesday by video link at the New York Times DealBook Summit. “There are things I would give anything to be able to do over again. I didn’t ever try to commit fraud on anyone.”
Bankman-Fried’s participation was controversial given there are outstanding questions about how Bahamas-based FTX ended up with an $8 billion hole in its balance sheet and whether it mishandled customer funds. Reports that FTX lent client money to Alameda for risky trades have stoked such concerns.
Interviewed by New York Times columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin, who said Bankman-Fried was joining from the Bahamas, the fallen crypto mogul didn’t give a straight answer about whether he had at times lied.
Bankman-Fried told the summit that he “didn’t knowingly commingle funds.” At the same time, he said that FTX and Alameda were “substantially more” linked than intended and that he failed to pay attention to the trading house’s “too large” margin position.
He said he wasn’t running Alameda and added that he was “nervous about a conflict of interest.” No person was in charge of position risk at FTX, he said, describing the lack of oversight as a mistake.
Out of Control
The comments shed little light on the question of where client funds ended up as Bankman-Fried stuck to a hard-to-parse account of how Alameda ran up a massive margin position on the exchange.
The restructuring expert who took over the firm in bankruptcy, John J. Ray III, has painted a picture of FTX as a mismanaged, largely out-of-control company bathed in conflicts and lacking basic accounting practices, calling it the worst failure of corporate controls he’d ever seen.
Bankman-Fried faces a complex web of lawsuits and regulatory probes into alleged wrongdoing. Some observers speculate his public comments could be used against him in litigation.
The spotlight has also fallen on an apparent company culture of working and playing hard. Bankman-Fried said there were no wild parties and that he saw no illegal drug use. He added that he’s been prescribed drugs over time to help with focus and concentration.
The digital-asset sector is braced for widening contagion from FTX, which once boasted a $32 billion valuation before sliding into bankruptcy. It owes its 50 biggest unsecured creditors a total of $3.1 billion and there may be more than a million creditors globally.
A crypto lender, BlockFi Inc., filed for bankruptcy Monday after being buffeted by the wipeout. Embattled brokerage Genesis is striving to avoid the same fate.
BlackRock Inc. Chief Executive Larry Fink said earlier at the DealBook summit that most crypto companies will probably fold in the wake of FTX’s collapse. The world’s biggest asset manager was among firms stung by the chaotic unraveling of Bankman-Fried’s tangled web of 100-plus FTX-related entities.
Bankman-Fried has provided convoluted accounts on social media and in interviews with other news outlets about what led to FTX’s woes. Advisers overseeing the ruins of his business have slammed non-existent oversight.
As if such travails weren’t enough, the exact breakup of a $662 million outflow from FTX as it tumbled into bankruptcy remains another enigma. Bankman-Fried said in the summit interview that there was improper access to FTX after its spiral.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, another speaker at the summit in New York, called the FTX debacle “the Lehman moment within crypto,” referring to the collapse of investment-banking giant Lehman Brothers in 2008.
Crypto markets have stabilized somewhat after lurching lower in November as the turmoil around FTX thickened. Even so, a gauge of the top 100 tokens is down more than 60% this year, hit by tightening monetary policy and a series of crypto blowups of which FTX is the most spectacular.
Bankman-Fried’s fortune at one point reached $26 billion, and just weeks ago he was described as the John Pierpont Morgan of digital assets, willing to throw around his wealth to bail out the industry. He said during the interview that he’s down to one credit card and $100,000 in the bank.
Pressed on whether he had been straight about FTX, Bankman-Fried said: “I was as truthful as I’m knowledgeable to be.”
Crypto Money Laundering Down by 29% in 2023
According to recent findings from blockchain research firm Chainalysis, cryptocurrency money laundering activities experienced a significant downturn in 2023, dropping by 29% compared to the previous year.
In the report released on Thursday illicit funds laundered through cryptocurrency exchanges plummeted from $31.5 billion in 2022 to $22.2 billion in 2023.
Chainalysis attributed this decline to a general reduction in both legitimate and illicit crypto transaction volumes throughout the year.
The research platform highlighted that centralized exchanges remained the primary destination for funds originating from illicit sources, a trend that has persisted over the past five years.
However, there was a notable shift in the distribution of illicit funds, with an increasing proportion flowing into decentralized finance (DeFi) protocols.
The report suggested that this shift was influenced by the transparency inherent in DeFi platforms, making them less favorable for concealing the movement of funds compared to traditional exchanges.
Furthermore, Chainalysis noted changes in the methods used for laundering illicit cryptocurrency.
The report observed a significant rise in funds being channeled through cross-chain bridges from addresses associated with stolen funds.
Also, there was a notable increase in funds originating from ransomware attacks being directed towards gambling platforms and bridge protocols.
In terms of concentration, the report highlighted that 109 exchange deposit addresses received over $10 million worth of illicit cryptocurrency each, collectively receiving $3.4 billion in illicit funds in 2023.
This represents a considerable increase compared to 2022 when only 40 addresses received similar amounts.
The findings underscore evolving trends in cryptocurrency laundering and signal a growing sophistication in illicit financial activities within the digital asset space.
Regulatory bodies and law enforcement agencies continue to grapple with emerging challenges posed by crypto-related crimes as the landscape evolves.
Binance Reaffirms Commitment to Fraud-Free Trading Amid Nigeria’s Currency Concerns
In response to growing concerns about exchange rate manipulation in Nigeria, Binance, one of the world’s leading cryptocurrency platforms, has issued a resolute statement reaffirming its commitment to maintaining a fraud-free trading environment.
The announcement comes amidst reports of heightened tensions regarding the devaluation of the Nigerian currency and suspicions of illicit activities on digital asset platforms.
Binance emphasized its dedication to providing users with a market-driven, transparent, and manipulation-free platform.
The company stressed its unwavering responsibility to safeguard users against fraudulent behavior and ensure the integrity of the trading ecosystem.
Binance asserted that any users found engaging in malicious or manipulative activities would face swift removal from the platform in line with its zero-tolerance policy for market manipulation.
The cryptocurrency exchange also highlighted its ongoing investment in enhancing processes and tools aimed at preventing fraudulent practices.
Measures include setting upper limits for advertisements, implementing rigorous ad screening procedures, and increasing deposit requirements for merchants posting ads.
As industry leaders, Binance reiterated its commitment to working closely with stakeholders to promote innovation while prioritizing user protection.
The platform assured users of its adherence to strict global security protocols across all products and services offered.
Binance’s statement underscores its proactive stance in addressing concerns related to market manipulation, emphasizing transparency, accountability, and the preservation of market integrity in Nigeria’s evolving cryptocurrency landscape.
Meanwhile, there were unconfirmed reports that the Nigerian government is considering blocking Binance and other cryptocurrency platforms amid concerns over alleged forex market manipulation and illicit financial activities.
Nigeria Mulls Blocking Binance, Crypto Platforms Over Forex Manipulation
Nigeria’s government is contemplating the drastic step of blocking Binance and other cryptocurrency platforms amid concerns over alleged forex market manipulation and illicit financial activities.
According to officials familiar with the matter, the move comes as the Nigerian currency experiences an unprecedented depreciation to an all-time low of N1,800 against the dollar in the parallel market.
Presidential and regulatory sources have cited reports indicating that currency speculators and money launderers are exploiting platforms like Binance to orchestrate criminal activities, which are believed to be contributing to the naira’s weakening.
Binance, a prominent digital assets platform, facilitates peer-to-peer transactions, allowing users to advertise their interest in buying or selling currencies.
Despite a warning issued by Nigeria’s Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in September 2023, cautioning against Binance’s operations as illegal, the platform continued to operate, drawing significant patronage, especially among urban youths and suspected speculators and money launderers.
Officials have raised concerns not only about economic sabotage but also about national security implications as these platforms are reportedly used by criminal groups for activities such as ransom payments.
Law enforcement sources have described the exploitation of digital asset platforms as a sophisticated scheme against the Nigerian economy, involving the manipulation of forex values through fake deals to influence market dynamics.
A senior executive at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) emphasized the troubling trend of the naira’s depreciation, attributing it to artificial devaluation caused by speculative sites like Binance.
The potential ban on Binance and other crypto firms could follow actions taken by other countries like Malaysia, France, and Malta, which have implemented restrictions on such platforms due to similar concerns.
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