FTX assets frozen by Bahamas regulator as crypto exchange fights to survive
The Bahamas securities regulator has frozen the assets of part of Sam Bankman-Fried’s crypto empire and moved to adjunct a liquidator for one of his entities, as the entrepreneur raced to raise as much as $8bn to save FTX.
The Securities Commission of The Bahamas took the action on Thursday against FTX Digital Markets, the Bahamian subsidiary of FTX. No assets belonging to the business can be transferred without the approval of a provisional liquidator, the regulator said. FTX moved to the Bahamas in 2021 from Hong Kong, where it was launched.
“The commission is aware of public statements suggesting that clients’ assets were mishandled, mismanaged and/or transferred to Alameda Research,” the announcement said. Alameda is Bankman-Fried’s crypto trading business.
Bankman-Fried was seeking to raise as much as $8bn to save his crypto company on Thursday as more of his former backers wrote down their investments in FTX.
The crisis prompted contagion in the crypto sector as BlockFi, a digital assets lending platform, paused client withdrawals.
BlockFi said on Thursday that it could not operate its business as usual because of the “lack of clarity on the status” of FTX and Alameda. Amid a meltdown in cryptocurrencies this year, the FTX chief had bailed out BlockFi with a $250mn loan.
The 30-year-old conceded on Twitter that the FTX trading platform had an insufficient store of readily accessible funds to meet client demands. Investors described a chaotic appeal from the humbled crypto chief executive to plug his company’s financial hole.
The outcome of Bankman-Fried’s dash for cash will determine the fate of FTX amid mounting doubt about its ability to remain afloat without an injection of capital, and anxiety for customers with money stuck on the frozen exchange.
In a sign of how pressures are rising across businesses affiliated with him, FTX US, which is separate from the international exchange, said it may halt trading on its platform in the coming days.
FTX’s Australian business was placed into administration on Friday. Its customers were advised not to deposit any money or make any trades. Japan ordered FTX’s local subsidiary to suspend some of its operations.
Investors estimate Bankman-Fried is seeking $6bn-$8bn. Alameda Research, his trading firm, owes $10bn to FTX, said two people familiar with the matter.
Several investors have marked down their equity stakes in FTX to zero, including Paradigm, which had a $300mn holding, and venture capital firm Sequoia, which announced the move on Wednesday.
One investor said Bankman-Fried was looking to tap crypto exchange OKX, stablecoin operator Tether and Tron founder Justin Sun for the fundraising.
Tether chief technology officer Paolo Ardoino told the Financial Times: “We were asked if we were interested to invest or lend money. We said no.” He said Bankman-Fried had been in touch several days ago, before the aborted Binance bailout was announced, to ask for the stablecoin issuer’s help.
Sun did not respond to a request for comment but has said on Twitter: “We are putting together a solution together with FTX to initiate a pathway forward.”
On Thursday, FTX said it had reached an agreement with Tron to establish a “special facility” that would allow holders of some crypto tokens to swap assets one-to-one from FTX to external wallets.
OKX turned down an exclusive deal to bail out FTX on Tuesday but is still considering whether to commit funds, said people familiar with the matter. Its executives are concerned about the risk that FTX misused customer deposits and the possibility of lawsuits by clients.
Investors and customers have approached the prominent American litigator David Boies about launching a suit, people familiar with the matter said. Meanwhile, Bankman-Fried has hired Paul Weiss partner Martin Flumenbaum, known for representing the junk bond trader Michael Milken who was jailed for violating US security laws and later pardoned.
Boies declined to comment, while Flumenbaum did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The push to raise funds comes less than a month after FTX was poised to carry out a series C funding round matching its $32bn valuation from January.
One investor said Bankman-Fried appeared to be steering the financial rescue attempt without professional advisers. “It seems like he’s running this process by text message by himself. He doesn’t have a guy,” the investor added.
Bankman-Fried blamed poor internal record keeping for a mistaken accounting of leverage and liquidity on the exchange. “I’m sorry . . . I fucked up,” he tweeted.
He pledged that current assets and any money raised would be used first to pay back customers — and offered to step down as chief executive if the company survived.
“There are a number of players who we are in talks with,” Bankman-Fried said. “We’ll see how that ends up.”
Reporting by Kadhim Shubber, Arash Massoudi, Joshua Oliver and Scott Chipolina in London; Ortenca Aliaj in New York; and Richard Waters and Tabby Kinder in San Francisco. Additional reporting by William Langley Chan Ho-him in Hong Kong, James Fontanella-Khan in New York and Nic Fildes in Sydney.