FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried charged with paying $40m bribe to Chinese officials

·2 min read
FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried - AP Photo/John Minchillo, File
FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried - AP Photo/John Minchillo, File

The founder of FTX, alleged fraudster Sam Bankman-Fried, has been accused of paying a $40m (£32.5m) bribe to Chinese officials so they would release frozen cryptocurrency assets.

The 31-year-old, who is currently on bail and facing multiple fraud charges, allegedly organised the payment to unlock around $1bn in digital coins that had been seized by Beijing in 2021.

According to new US charges, Mr Bankman-Fried is said to have “agreed to and directed a multimillion-dollar bribe to unfreeze the accounts”, paying “one or more” Chinese government officials via his Alameda crypto hedge fund.

The fresh allegations come after US prosecutors also accused Mr Bankman-Fried of an illicit campaign of political donations to buy influence in Washington DC worth more than $100m.

FTX, at one stage the world’s second largest cryptocurrency exchange, collapsed into bankruptcy last year after revealing an $8bn black hole in its accounts and suffering from a flood of withdrawals.

Mr Bankman-Fried has been charged with multiple counts of fraud for allegedly misusing customer funds to fuel high-risk investments, before these backfired amid a sell-off of cryptocurrencies and generated billions of dollars in losses.

The FTX founder has attributed the massive losses to incompetence and denies wrongdoing. He has pleaded not guilty to the US charges.

The new charges against Mr Bankman-Fried come as his rival, Changpeng “CZ” Zhao of cryptocurrency giant Binance, was forced onto the defensive after US regulators filed charges that threaten his digital coin company with a trading ban.

In a complaint filed on Monday, the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), accused Binance of offering crypto services to US customers, despite publicly claiming to block them, and of multiple money-laundering and anti-terror funding failings.

The regulator said it would seek an injunction against Binance, including a trading ban.

Mr Zhao, however, has hit back at the claims, rejecting accusations that Binance was responsible for market manipulation of cryptocurrencies.

He said: “The complaint appears to contain an incomplete recitation of facts, and we do not agree with the characterization of many of the issues alleged in the complaint.”

He added the cryptocurrency exchange “does not trade for profit or ‘manipulate’ the market under any circumstances”.

On Monday, the CFTC accused Binance of multiple money-laundering failings and of directing users in the US to sign up to its cryptocurrency trading website using virtual private networks, tools which can be used to hide a users’ identity online.

In the civil complaint, the regulator said Binance had relied on a “maze of corporate entities” to hide its true ownership.