Sam Bankman-Fried — the cryptocurrency entrepreneur who has struggled to control the narrative and dispel suspicions of fraud after his FTX exchange collapsed in early November — has agreed to be extradited to the United States after being arrested and jailed in the Bahamas, The New York Times reports.
On Monday, Dec. 19, Jerone Roberts — a local defense lawyer for Bankman-Fried — told reporters that Bankman-Fried’s extradition agreement was voluntary, eschewing “the strongest possible legal advice.”
“We as counsel will prepare the necessary documents to trigger the court,” Roberts added. “Mr. Bankman-Fried wishes to put the customers right, and that is what has driven his decision.”
Bankman-Fried appeared in court on Dec. 19 at a hearing where he was expected to tell authorities that he would not contest extradition. The hearing instilled confusion — Roberts said he was “shocked” his client was in court, and spoke with Bankman-Fried privately. Roberts said that his client wanted to go over the indictment before deciding on extradition.
Roberts added that Bankman-Fried’s legal team had been preparing documents so a “time and date could be fixed for the extradition process to continue and to be completed.”
Bankman-Fried was arrested in the Bahamas on Monday, Dec. 12, the country’s attorney general announced in a statement. The next day, a grand jury indicted him on eight counts of wire fraud, securities fraud, money laundering and a campaign finance violation, according to federal prosecutors. He was denied bail later that week and was moved to Fox Hill prison.
The arrest, according to the statement, “followed receipt of formal notification from the United States that it has filed criminal charges against SBF and is likely to request his extradition.” Bankman-Fried had continued to reside in the island nation, where FTX is headquartered, after being forced to step down as its CEO. The company, once among the largest crypto platforms in the world and valued at $32 billion, is now in bankruptcy proceedings.
Prime Minister Philip Davis vowed that whatever actions the U.S. government may take against Bankman-Fried, the Bahamas “will continue its own regulatory and criminal investigations” in the matter.
While it’s not entirely a surprise that Bankman-Fried would wind up in custody a month after FTX imploded, leaving many investors wiped out and a host of unanswered questions about what happened, it’s an outcome he had tried to avoid and downplay. Against his lawyers’ advice, SBF two weeks ago appeared by video for a keynote interview at the New York Times‘ DealBook Summit conference, where he denied wrongdoing while blaming the financial ruin on a series of his “mistakes.”
Asked at that event about whether he felt he could safely travel to the U.S. without fear of detainment, he said he believed he could and bore no criminal liability. He also said the possibility of facing criminal charges was “not what I’m focusing on.”
During that event and other interviews granted in defiance of sound legal advice, the 30-year-old Bankman-Fried — previously hailed as a wunderkind — fended off accusations of misuse of customer funds, shady real estate dealings in the Bahamas, and a hedonistic atmosphere at FTX’s offices and residential properties there. His former representation at the law firm Paul Weiss dropped him in mid-November, partly because he wouldn’t stop tweeting.
Shortly before the arrest was announced, Sens. Sherrod Brown and Pat Toomey blasted Bankman-Fried’s refusal to testify before the Senate Banking Committee as “an unprecedented abdication of accountability.” He has, however, accepted various invitations to speak on Twitter Spaces, and did so for an audience of thousands on Monday morning — reportedly while gaming.
Despite his supposed transparency so far, SBF’s explanations for the monumental crash he oversaw have remained frustratingly vague and incomplete. A formal prosecution — no matter what the verdict — is certain to change that by bringing out hard evidence and cooperating witnesses. Starting now, his I-screwed-up defense likely doesn’t cut it anymore.
This post was updated on Dec. 19 to add Sam Bankman-Fried’s agreement to be extradited to the U.S. from the Bahamas.