Sam Bankman-Fried, the jailed founder of the collapsed cryptocurrency exchange FTX, is expected to fly back to the US on Wednesday to face criminal charges after waiving his right to contest extradition from the Bahamas.
After several days of conflicting signals from Bankman-Fried’s US and Bahamian legal teams, the disgraced crypto king appeared in court in Nassau to inform a magistrate judge of his decision.
At the hearing Bankman-Fried consented to extradition to the US. Reuters reported that his lawyer read an affidavit in which Bankman-Fried said that he has decided to agree to extradition in part out of a “desire to make the relevant customers whole”.
After the hearing, Bankman-Fried was set to be transferred to US custody and returned to the US to be arraigned in criminal fraud charges connected to FTX’s dramatic collapse.
The US attorney’s office for the southern district of New York charged Bankman-Fried, 30, with eight criminal counts, including fraud, conspiracy and money-laundering offenses – including making illegal political contributions.
In a series of sometimes rambling media interviews, Bankman-Fried has said he did not plan to commit fraud and was not aware of what was going on at Alameda Research, a hedge fund he founded that allegedly received billions in customers funds from FTX.
Federal prosecutors hinted strongly last week that some members of the FTX-Alameda team in the Bahamas had become government witnesses. “This was not a case of mismanagement or poor oversight, but of intentional fraud, plain and simple,” US attorney Damian Williams said last week.
Williams said Bankman-Fried’s wrongdoing included “fraud on customers, investors, lenders and our campaign finance system”.
Bankman-Fried’s return to the US resolves what has appeared to be a conflict between his US and Bahamian legal teams. At a chaotic hearing in Nassau on Monday, Jerone Roberts, Bankman-Fried’s Bahamas lawyer, told a judge he did not know the reason for the proceedings.
After speaking with both sets of lawyers, Bankman-Fried reportedly agreed to extradition.
“He’s waiving extradition to curry favor with the government, whether it’s via a deal in order to save the government from spending potentially years trying to extradite him, or he’s trying to cooperate,” said Jeffrey Lichtman, a defense attorney who has been involved in a number of high-profile criminal defense cases, including that of the drug boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.
“If he’s waiving extradition,” Lichtman added, “he’s not going to trial. That’s not exactly a surprise in a case like this because he may not have a defense. In a case where the fraud is plain and easy to prove, it may not go to trial so he’s very possibly looking to get the best deal he can.”
In Lichtman’s view, Bankman-Fried is likely to try to cooperate but the government may not want him, given that as founder and chief executive officer of FTX, he is at the top of the fraud scheme it has alleged.
Bankman-Fried’s initial defense lawyer, Paul Weiss, resigned two weeks ago saying he could not represent the talkative defendant, saying his “incessant and disruptive tweeting” was making the task impossible.