After 15 days of testimony for one of the most high profile financial crime cases in years, the closing arguments of Sam Bankman-Fried’s fraud trial have been given.
In New York on Wednesday, a federal prosecutor said that Bankman-Fried built his FTX crypto exchange into a “pyramid of deceit” resting on a “foundation of lies and false promises”.
Bankman-Fried is an “awkward high-school maths nerd” unfairly depicted by the government as “some sort of monster”, his lawyers argued in their last pitch to convince jurors to free the former cryptocurrency mogul.
Addressing the jury on Wednesday afternoon, made up of nine women and three men, defence lawyer Mark Cohen acknowledged his client may have made “bad business judgements”, but those were “not a crime”.
Bankman-Fried has pleaded not guilty to eight fraud charges, including money laundering, after being arrested at his home in the Bahamas last December. This was the aftermath of the implosion of his FTX exchange which collapsed last November with an $8bn hole in its balance sheet.
Over the past 15 days, the jury heard from former executives at the exchange and Alameda, including co-operating witnesses Caroline Ellison, Gary Wang and Nishad Singh.
The closing arguments from both sides sought to contextualise the five weeks of testimony presented to the jury, some of which shone a light on the inner workings of FTX and its affiliated hedge fund Alameda Research.
“This is not about complicated issues of cryptocurrency, not about hedging… it’s about lies, it’s about stealing, it’s about greed,” assistant US attorney Nick Roos told the court about Bankman-Fried.
“He took the money, he knew it was wrong, and he did it anyway.”
Roos said that while the defendant was fluent when questioned by his own lawyer, “he was a different person” on cross-examination and “couldn’t remember a single detail” about the alleged scheme, claiming some 140 times that he could not recall specifics.
But Cohen contended that the prosecution’s case was based on the “false premise” that FTX was a fraud from the get-go, when in fact “the government did not establish that Sam knew about [the size of the hole in FTX’s balance sheet] until the fall of 2022, because he didn’t”.
He said the government had deliberately focused on his hair, clothes and sex life in order to paint him as a movie villain.
Today in New York, the jury is expected to begin deliberating on a verdict after Judge Lewis A. Kaplan instructs them on the relevant law.