Former FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried said that the quantitative trading firm Alameda Research may have had special privileges on FTX allowing it to avoid or delay liquidation, resulting in the vast build-up of unsecured borrowing that led to both firms’ recent collapse.
In an interview on Monday in which The Block’s Frank Chaparro questioned the former CEO on Alameda’s “special access” to FTX, Bankman-Fried described it as something that “may have changed over time.”
“I think that it [Alameda] may have had something like a delayed liquidation account near the end,” he said, adding that he was “not entirely confident in that fact.”
The former FTX CEO went on to say that he was not entirely sure who was responsible for giving Alameda this access and how that decision was ultimately made. He was deeply ashamed, he added, that he didn‘t know whether others had similar access, something he said he should have known about as CEO of the exchange.
The admission poses a challenge to the explanation of the exchange’s downfall that Bankman-Fried has been retailing to reporters over the past weeks. As he tells it, Alameda, a trading firm and FTX’s sister company, built up an enormous leveraged, or borrowed, position on FTX but failed to back it with additional collateral when the markets crashed, magnifying its losses. That jars, however, with FTX’s policy of automatically liquidating endangered positions, suggesting that Alameda may have had that “special access” preventing automatic selloffs. (It also sidesteps the question of why FTX used customer funds, which was against its own terms of service, rather than its own balance sheet to prop up Alameda.)
Many in the crypto community believe that Bankman-Fried is indeed putting on a show to convince observers that he was incompetent rather than fraudulent in his mismanagement of the insolvent crypto exchange. The position is also potentially a hint of how he may ultimately defend himself in court.
When questioned about this narrative, however, Bankman-Fried said he didn’t see himself trying to “paint a particular picture.”
“I mean, it’s just a question of trying to, as best I can, recall what happened and give you a description of that,” he told Chaparro, adding that he had limited involvement with Alameda Research due to his work at FTX and the obvious conflicts of interest. Bankman-Fried founded Alameda in 2017 but subsequently passed on leadership to Caroline Ellison, his sometime romantic partner.
Chaparro further asked Bankman-Fried if Alameda CEO Caroline Ellison was lying when she said FTX extended a significant amount of credit to Alameda and that Bankman-Fried himself was aware of this fact.
“I think she’s likely correct that Alameda Research was effectively extended a substantial amount of credit by FTX, and that you know, in the end that margin position came under severe stress and effectively blew out and was not going to be margin callable,” he said.
Bankman-Fried did not acknowledge that he was aware of what happened, maintaining that this was information he put together in recent weeks.