FTX founder Bankman-Fried denied bail in Bahamas on fraud charges, faces decades in jail

Sam Bankman-Fried is escorted out of the Magistrate Court building after his arrest in Nassau, Bahamas, on Dec 13, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS
Chief Magistrate Joyann Ferguson-Pratt said that the FTX co-founder posed too big of a flight risk to be released. PHOTO: AFP

NASSAU – Sam Bankman-Fried, who faces 115 years in prison if convicted of charges against him, was denied bail by a judge in the Bahamas on Tuesday and ordered to prison in the island country.

During Bankman-Fried’s first court appearance since his arrest on Monday, Chief Magistrate Joyann Ferguson-Pratt said the FTX founder posed too big of a flight risk to be released. An attorney for Bankman-Fried had proposed that his client pay US$250,000 (S$337,000) cash bail and wear an ankle bracelet to be allowed to leave his cell. 

“Risk of flight is so great that Samuel Bankman-Fried ought to be remanded in custody,” Ms Ferguson-Pratt said. “I am not satisfied that there is any condition that I could place in Samuel Bankman-Fried to sufficiently satisfy, because of his access to substantial finances, that he would not and could not abscond.”

An extradition hearing for Bankman-Fried was set for Feb 8. Earlier in the arraignment proceedings on Tuesday, his lawyer said he would fight plans to send him to the United States to face charges.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan have charged Bankman-Fried with eight criminal counts, including conspiracy and wire fraud, for allegedly misusing billions of dollars in customers’ funds before November’s spectacular collapse of his cryptocurrency empire.

Dressed in a blue suit and white shirt for the arraignment proceedings, Bankman-Fried at times appeared shaky and fidgety. His parents were present in the courtroom as their 30-year-old son was frequently referred to as a “fugitive”.

After the judge announced that his bail would be denied, his mother, visibly upset, hugged him with teary eyes. Bankman-Fried was allowed 15 minutes with his parents before he was to be taken to prison. 

Bankman-Fried faces up to 115 years in prison if he is convicted on all eight charges filed by the US Department of Justice on Tuesday – though he is unlikely to be sentenced to that long a term. 

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) have been working round the clock to unravel what happened in “one of the biggest financial frauds in American history”, Manhattan US Attorney Damian Williams said during a press conference.

Sam Bankman-Fried and his mother Barbara Fried at the Magistrate’s Court in Nassau, Bahamas, on Dec 13, 2022. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

The SEC and the CFTC sued Bankman-Fried separately on Tuesday for his alleged role in the collapse of FTX. White-collar defendants, if convicted, rarely serve statutory maximum sentences.

“Fraud is fraud,” FBI New York assistant director in charge Michael Driscoll said in the press conference. “It does not matter the complexity of the investment scheme, it does not matter the amount of money involved.” BLOOMBERG

FBI New York assistant director in charge Michael Driscoll speaks during a news conference at the US Attorney’s Office in New York, on Dec 13, 2022. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
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