It could be years before FTX customers get any of their money back. The amount that was stolen, borrowed or mismanaged away from the bankrupt crypto exchange has not been disclosed, however, lawyers say they have recovered $5.5 billion of missing FTX money and crypto.
Prosecutors accuse FTX founder and former CEO Sam Bankman-Fried of treating customer deposits like a piggy bank that he used as he saw fit. SBF and two other associates allegedly borrowed more than $1 billion from the exchange to cover losses at Alameda Research, a crypto trading firm owned by SBF. Now living with his parents under house arrest and awaiting trial, SBF denies stealing any customer money and pleaded not guilty to charges of fraud, money laundering and campaign finance violations.
FTX’s new CEO, John J. Ray — an attorney who specializes in recovering funds from failed corporations –took over in November and is reportedly getting paid $1,300 an hour. Customers will foot the bill, CNBC reported. Initially, Ray said at least $8 billion of FTX customer assets were unaccounted for in the “worst” case of corporate control he’s ever seen.
Bankman-Fried has a different amount in mind. He said FTX has more than enough money to repay U.S. customers, who, by his estimates, are owed $181 million to $497 million based on his “best guess,” Reuters reported. Bankman-Fried has not had access to FTX records since November when he stepped down as CEO.
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In a Jan. 17 court filing, lawyers from the New York law firm Sullivan & Cromwell — which is facing conflict-of-interest challenges over work it did for FTX before the bankruptcy — said that they had found $5.5 billion in assets held in customer accounts and other parts of the company.
About $1.7 billion of the $5.5 billion is in cash on FTX’s books, and another $3.5 billion is in cryptocurrency assets including $268 million in Bitcoin and $245 million of so-called stablecoins — cryptocurrencies designed to maintain a constant value of $1, according to the attorneys. There’s $529 million of FTT, a coin created by FTX, and $42 million of Dogecoin, the meme cryptocurrency invented as a joke that enjoyed a price surge. Then there’s another $1.2 billion in various digital currencies held at other exchanges. The lawyers said they had “limited visibility” into the latter, New York Times reported.
About $300 million was found in investment funds tied to the crypto market. There are also holdings in lesser-known coins. The digital currencies can be turned into cash because they are relatively easy to trade, lawyers said. However, the lesser-known coins may not retain their value over the long term. FTX also holds sizable positions in 20 digital assets described by the lawyers “illiquid tokens” that are difficult to convert into cash.
FTX attorney Adam Landis told the court on Jan. 11 that the company’s holdings are so large, selling them would substantially affect the market, driving down their value.
FTX did not keep complete financial records. Prosecutors have charged that FTX regularly diverted customer deposits to fund trading and cover losses at Alameda Research. Federal authorities have said that SBF also used billions of dollars in customer deposits to invest at least $4.6 billion in about 300 other companies and that those funds could be reclaimed through litigation or negotiations. That amount does not count toward the $5.5 billion total.
FTX is planning to sell some business operations and properties in Japan, Europe and the Bahamas. There are 36 properties valued at $253 million in the Bahamas, New York Times reported.
A list of the top 50 FTX creditors filed in U.S. bankruptcy court indicates they alone are owed $3.1 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal.
In late December, Bahamas securities regulators said they had seized digital assets in mid-November worth $3.5 billion at the time from the local FTX operation headquartered in the Bahamas. The Bahamas regulators said this transfer was temporary pending delivery of the assets to customers and creditors who own them.
Experts say FTX customers and lenders should be prepared for a years-long wait before they see any money, and losses will be heavy.
On Jan. 13, Andrew R. Vara, the U.S. Trustee in the FTX bankruptcy proceeding, filed an objection to FTX’s decision to retain the law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell, claiming that its work before the bankruptcy is a potential conflict of interest. The trustee argued for appointing an independent examiner to investigate. Sullivan & Cromwell partners charge $1,575 to $2,165 per hour for their services, according to an earlier court filing, New York Times reported.