Lawyers for collapsed crypto exchange FTX said on Tuesday, in the company’s first bankruptcy hearing, that regulators from the Bahamas, where FTX was headquartered, have agreed to consolidate proceedings in Delaware.
FTX’s lawyers, who were brought in by new leadership to handle restructuring, filed an emergency motion last week to secure the move to the U.S. The hearing on Tuesday was the initial step in the resolution of the largest cryptocurrency bankruptcy on record.
“What we are dealing with is a different sort of animal,” said FTX counsel James Bromley. “Unfortunately, the FTX debtors were not particularly well run, and that is an understatement.”
Regarding FTX’s founder, this was an organization that was “effectively run as a personal fiefdom of Sam Bankman-Fried,” an FTX attorney told the court.
FTX lawyers confirmed earlier reports that the Southern District of New York’s Cyber Crimes unit has begun an investigation into the matter. FTX lawyers have also made reference to cyberattacks, suggesting there were multiple attacks beyond the $477 million hack that occurred shortly after the company entered bankruptcy on Nov. 11. In that attack, hackers extracted ether out of FTX wallets.
The central challenge for the new team is “working to bring order to disorder,” Bromley told the court. After introducing his fellow counsel, Bromley dove into what FTX has been doing to understand the complex morass of data and finances left behind by FTX and Bankman-Fried, who was replaced by restructuring expert John Ray III.
Bankman-Fried exercised a level of control over the business that “none of us have ever seen,” Bromley said, referring to the bankruptcy experts and attorneys the company has employed as part of the restucturing process.
FTX had been valued by private investors at $32 billion earlier this year, and Bankman-Fried was making himself out to be an industry savior during the crypto winter.
“The FTX situation is the latest and the largest failure in this space,” Bromley said. “There was effectively a run on the bank, both with respect to the international exchange […] as well as the U.S. exchange. At the same time that the run on the bank was occurring, there was a leadership crisis […] The FTX companies were controlled by a very small group of people, led by Mr. Sam-Bankman-Fried. During the run on the bank, Mr. Fried’s leadership frayed, and that led to resignations.”
FTX has just begun to implement “standard” risk and data management practices, he said. As part of the process, lawyers had earlier to approve roughly $1 million in salary expenses for existing FTX employees.
The process is designed to get as much as possible for creditors, Bromley said.
“It is essential that we first maximize the value of the assets we have, whether that means selling assets, selling businesses or restructuring businesses,” he said. “All of that is on the table.”
FTX customers had a global presence, but many were based in tax havens. The largest geographic areas represented included:
- Cayman Islands — 22% of registered customers.
- U.S. Virgin Islands — 11% of registered customers.
- China — 8% of registered customers.
“We will be before you quite quickly with an attempt to sell certain of the business that we understand […] are self-sufficient and robust [with] interest from others,” Bromley added.
FTX lawyers said they’ve established four silos for the company’s assets and various entities. They are:
- The WRS (West Realm Shires) silo, which controls and encompasses U.S. holdings.
- The Alameda silo, which includes Alameda Research, Bankman Fried’s now defunct hedge fund.
- The venture silo, which invested in crypto companies and startups.
- The dot-com silo, which encompasses the international business, the bulk of FTX’s deposits.
Bromley said the asset recovery and protection efforts encompass not just crypto assets and currency, but “information.” The company has also brought on independent directors for the first time ever.
“A substantial amount of assets have either been stolen or missing,” Bromley said. “Additionally, “substantial funds appear to have been transfered from other silos to Alameda.”
A key aspect of the FTX crisis is around Alameda and the FTT token, a coin issued by FTX. Lawyers have walked through the history of FTX and affiliated companies, pointing at the creation of the FTT token in April 2019 and the foundation of the Alameda entities in November 2017.
Investments were made in the crypto and technology venture space, Bromley said, but almost $300 million was also spent on real estate in the Bahamas. That number is higher than previously reported, and Bromley said most of those purchases were home and vacation properties for senior executives.
Employees have left the company in droves. As of October 2022, the main FTX parent company had 330 employees around the world, with 127 in the U.S. Including the Australian businesses and FTX Digital Markets which had 190 employees, the global headcount was 520.
The best guess for the headcount now, according to FTX attorneys, is “around 260.”
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.
Broke and down to one credit card: Former FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried claims he committed no fraud
Striking a contrite tone, former FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried said he “didn’t do a good job” at upholding his responsibilities to regulators, customers, and investors in a hotly anticipated conversation with CNBC’s Andrew Ross Sorkin at the Dealbook Summit.
“I didn’t ever try to commit fraud on anyone,” Bankman-Fried said. “I saw it as a thriving business and I was shocked by what happened this month.”
“I’ve had a bad month,” Bankman-Fried added later.
“We completely failed on risk,” Bankman-Fried continued. “That feels pretty embarrassing, in retrospect.”
Tom Williams | CQ-Roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images
Bankman-Fried appeared by video feed from the Bahamas, Sorkin said. “I’ve been in the Bahamas for the last year,” Bankman-Fried said when asked about why he remained in the island nation.
Sorkin asked Bankman-Fried what motivated his acquisitions in the crypto industry, given the size of Alameda’s borrowing from companies Bankman-Fried intended to acquire.
Bankman-Fried claimed that he believed that by the middle of 2022, Alameda had repaid all lines of credit to various borrowing desks. But Alameda still owes BlockFi over $670 million, according to court filings.
“What are your lawyers telling you right now? Are they suggesting it’s a good idea for you to be speaking?” Sorkin asked the former billionaire.
“No, they’re very much not.”
“The time that I really knew there was a problem was November 6,” Bankman-Fried said, after Alameda’s sizable FTT position was exposed by Coindesk. “When we looked at that, there was a potential serious problem.”
“Alameda had taken a huge hit” by that point. “We were seeing a run on the bank start,” Bankman-Fried said.
“I was nervous [when] the Alameda balance sheet” was exposed by Coindesk, Bankman-Fried said, but expected the damage was going to be limited to Alameda, not an “existential” crisis for FTX.
Sorkin asked Bankman-Fried why FTX and Bankman-Fried even had access to customer money.
“I wasn’t running Alameda, I didn’t know exactly what was going on, I didn’t know the size of their position,” Bankman-Fried said. “A lot of these are things I’ve learned over the last month [in the days leading up to bankruptcy.]”
New leadership at FTX said that Bankman-Fried exercised significant control over the entire empire.
Sorkin pressed Bankman-Fried on Alameda’s gambling on questionable cryptocurrencies, reading a letter out from an investor who lost his life savings of $2 million.
“The U.S. platform is fully solvent and funded,” Bankman-Fried claimed. “I believe withdrawals could be opened up today and be made whole.”
“Can I ask you about the drugs?” Sorkin said. “It’s funny hearing this. I have half a glass of alcohol a year,” Bankman-Fried responded.
The FTX founder repudiated claims of wild partying and off-label drug use, saying that FTX functions consisted of “board games,” or “dinner parties.”
Bankman-Fried claimed he was unaware of the Alameda exposure. In 2019, he said, 40% of FTX’s volume was from Alameda. By 2022, Bankman-Fried claimed, that number was down to 2%, which led him to believe that FTX’s exposure was lessened.
Sorkin continued to press Bankman-Fried on the lending of customer assets. Bankman-Fried demurred.
“In 2018, FTX didn’t have bank accounts,” Bankman-Fried said as justification for why users were asked to wire funds to an account in Alameda’s name instead of directly to FTX.
Bankman-Fried has engaged with the media only sporadically. “F*** regulators,” he told a Vox reporter in a Twitter message.
“I f***** up,” he wrote in another Tweet.
FTX was once hailed as the poster child of responsible crypto. Regulators and lawmakers looked to Bankman-Fried as the future of crypto regulation, a reputation that Bankman-Fried cultivated through appearances before Congress and deepened through generous political contributions.
Bankman-Fried was already known as one of the largest donors to Democratic candidates. He claimed in a recent interview that he gave equally generously to Republican causes, through so-called “dark pool” contributions.
Reporters, Bankman-Fried said, “freak the f*** out if you donate to Republicans.”
Elon Musk may be luring Apple into a fight with Republicans
Tim Cook walks in the Paddock prior to the F1 Grand Prix of USA at Circuit of The Americas on October 23, 2022 in Austin, Texas.
Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images
Apple has remained a sleeping bear in the face of Musk’s provocations. It has not commented, nor has CEO Tim Cook, and while its app review moderation staffers may be talking to Twitter behind the scenes over questionable content, Apple hasn’t pulled the app. In fact, Twitter got an update through app review last week.
Twitter is not that important to Apple from a business perspective. It’s just one of a vast number of apps on the App Store, and it isn’t a huge moneymaker for Apple through in-app purchases.
But on Tuesday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Ohio Senator-elect J.D. Vance, both Republicans, made remarks about Apple’s situation that show how Musk could put Apple in a tough spot.
Here’s one way it could go:
- Musk makes a change to Twitter in order to bypass Apple’s 30% fees, such as allowing users to plug their credit cards in to the app to subscribe to Twitter Blue or other new features.
- Apple pulls the app because of these violations.
- Musk frames the dispute with Apple as an issue over free speech and content moderation, and Republican politicians agree.
- Apple gets caught up in a nationwide debate over free speech and monopoly power focusing on its App Store.
On Tuesday, DeSantis said at a press conference that if Apple were to kick Twitter off, it would show that Apple has monopolistic power and that Congress should look into it. DeSantis framed it as an issue of free speech — many conservatives believe that social networks, including Twitter, generally discriminate against conservative viewpoints.
“You also hear reports Apple is threatening to remove Twitter from the App Store because Elon Musk is actually opening it up for free speech, and is restoring a lot of accounts that were unfairly and illegitimately suspended for putting out accurate information about Covid,” DeSantis said.
“If Apple responds to that by nuking them from the app store, I think that would be a huge, huge mistake, and it would be a really raw exercise of monopolistic power,” he continued.
Vance framed the situation similarly in a tweet, saying that if Apple pulled Twitter, “This would be the most raw exercise of monopoly power in a century, and no civilized country should allow it.”
In fact, Apple’s app review department is unlikely to pull Twitter over content. While Apple regularly bans apps over questionable content, they are rarely big brand names such as Twitter — they’re usually smaller, lesser-known apps. Apple’s rules for apps with significant user-generated content, such as Twitter, focus less on specific kinds of infringing content and more on whether the app has a content filtering system or content moderation procedures. Twitter has both, although Musk’s recent cuts to Twitter’s staff could hurt its ability to flag problem posts.
But Apple would be much more likely to pull the Twitter app if Twitter tries to cut Apple out of its platform fees.
It’s happened before. In 2020, Fortnite added a system inside its iPhone app that allowed users to buy in-game coins directly from Epic Games, cutting out the 30% of sales that Apple typically takes. Apple removed Fortnite from the App Store the same day. The episode kicked off a legal battle, which Apple won on most counts but is currently in appeals.
Google takes a similar cut for Android apps sold through its Play Store but also allows other Android app stores to exist and allows people to “sideload” apps directly onto their phones, while Apple has an exclusive lock on all iPhone app distribution.
Musk has good business reasons to pick this fight.
In particular, Musk wants Twitter to make much more money from direct subscriptions and not advertising. But Apple’s 30% cut of purchases made inside apps is a major hurdle for a company that is slashing costs and has a significant debt load.
So Musk could pull an Epic Games move and enable direct billing, spurring Apple to take action, while at the same time framing the debate around free speech. If that happened, as DeSantis suggested, perhaps Congress would start asking questions. Apple would become a football in political debates. Executives could be forced to testify or provide written responses.
At the very least, you’d have lawmakers such as Vance using the words “monopoly” and “Apple” in the same sentence. That’s a risk to Apple’s brand. Debate over these topics could reenergize pending regulation such as the Open Markets Act which threatens its control over the App Store and its significant profits.
The last time Apple pulled an app that was popular with conservatives for lack of content moderation was Parler in January 2021. It was restored in April.
In the interim, Apple faced official inquiries from Republican Sens. Ken Buck and Mike Lee about why Parler was removed from the App Store. Cook appeared on Fox News to defend the company’s decision.
Twitter is a significantly more important and well-known social network than Parler was and would grab more attention.
It’s probably most valuable for Apple if Twitter remains on the platform. The controversy-averse iPhone maker would probably like this whole Elon Musk narrative to go away.
Indeed, it could play out this way: Apple remains silent, working with Twitter behind the scenes on its app, and Musk tweets about the 30% cut when it irks him. Nothing really changes.
But Musk is unpredictable, and if he does really want to “go to war” over 30% fees, Apple could be forced into a tough spot.
Apple and Twitter did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Amazon touts record sales over holiday shopping weekend
An Amazon worker moves a cart filled with packages at an Amazon delivery station on November 28, 2022 in Alpharetta, Georgia.
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images
Amazon said Wednesday it rang up record-breaking sales between Thanksgiving Day and Cyber Monday, adding to what has been a strong showing for many retailers so far this holiday shopping season.
The company said the holiday shopping weekend was its “biggest ever,” with consumers snapping up hundreds of millions of products during the period. Apple AirPods and Amazon-branded devices like Echo Dot smart speakers and Fire TV streaming sticks were among the top-selling items. It said Champion apparel, Nintendo Switch consoles and Hasbro Gaming Connect 4 were also hot items.
Amazon didn’t provide sales figures for the five-day shopping weekend, which tends to be some of its busiest days in the holiday period. The company’s fourth-quarter results, typically released in late January or early February, will give Wall Street a more complete picture of the holiday shopping season.
Consumers spent $9.12 billion online on Black Friday, a 2.3% jump from last year, while online Cyber Monday sales rose 5.8% to $11.3 billion, according to Adobe Analytics, which tracks 1 trillion visits to retail websites, and sales of 100 million products.
Expectations for this year’s holiday shopping season had been lackluster, with many analysts projecting that consumers would be more budget conscious due to near-record inflation.
But so far, figures from Adobe and other third parties suggest consumers are opening their wallets and searching for deals, lured by deep discounts from retailers. A survey by the National Retail Federation released Tuesday found that, on average, consumers are about halfway done with holiday shopping, indicating that more purchases could be coming in the weeks ahead.
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