OWith customers, investors and, potentially, law enforcement closing in, the fate of crypto prodigy-turned-outcast Sam Bankman-Fried may hinge on two key questions: What did he know about Alameda Research? and when did he find out?
Since the stunning early November collapse of Alameda, a secretive crypto hedge fund Bankman-Fried co-founded in 2017, and FTX, a crypto exchange he co-founded in 2019 and became one of the biggest in the world, the Speculation grew about how the two operations were intertwined and what chain of events drove the two companies into bankruptcy.
Bankman-Fried, in a series of high-profile media appearances this week, began offering his own working theory: Alameda has gained far too much leverage to make risky investments on the FTX platform, and FTX hasn’t failed to recognize or prevent it. A key claim: that Bankman-Fried himself didn’t really know what Alameda was doing.
“I was frankly surprised by the importance of Alameda’s position,” Bankman-Fried told The New York Times‘DealBook Summit on Wednesday. “Alameda is not, like, a company that I watch day to day,” he asserted. New York magazine in an article published Thursday. “It’s not a business that I run. It’s not a business I’ve run for the past two years. And Alameda’s finances that I wasn’t deeply aware of. I was only superficially aware of Alameda’s finances.
Just how much of the “surface level” remains to be discovered, as a bankrupt team scours the wreckage to trace what happened. But a look at Bankman-Fried’s discussions with Forbes provides a first reference of Bankman-Fried’s knowledge of Alameda’s transactions: since January 2021, Bankman-Fried has sent Forbes details of some of Alameda’s major holdings at least five times in response to questions about his net worth, including explaining details of certain transactions and updating the number of FTT, Solana and Serum tokens held by Alameda – as recently as late August.
MMost of the world’s billionaires prefer not to discuss their wealth. Not Bankman-Fried, who Forbes first approached on the subject in January 2021.”[H]I’d like to provide some insight,” he wrote in an email. Later that week, he sent a handful of documents showing his holdings in FTX (about half) and Alameda (90%), screenshots of wallets containing cryptocurrencies – and a Google Sheet listing his assets line by line, including details of his FTX equity plus his holdings of 67.8 million Solana tokens, 193.2 million FTT tokens and 3 billion Serum tokens.
Two months later, when Forbes was updating the estimates for our annual list of the world’s billionaires, Bankman-Fried has updated the spreadsheet. Crypto prices were on the rise, and Alameda had increased its share of FTT tokens, to 195.8 million. “Alameda funds under management, approx.” reads one line: $32,534,779,809. A separate column, listing only tokens that have been unlocked, i.e. tradable, pegs Alameda’s total holdings at a more modest $14.7 billion.
Updates like this would come in periodically – pretty much every time Forbes asked them. In September 2021, Bankman-Fried added a new tab to Google Sheet. Alameda’s funds under management had grown to $37.6 billion, $16.8 billion when counting only unlocked tokens. The company had made Solana transactions, he explained, and the number of FTT tokens on its balance sheet had also changed. Bankman-Fried knew the details well:[W]We used around 20mm FTT tokens as part of the funds to buy back Binance’s FTX shares (causing the decline) and then bought back that FTT in the market,” he wrote. Forbes. “So as of now (a bit different than a few weeks ago!) we’re back to 186,442,198 unlocked FTTs (after selling off a bit in the recent rally).”
In March 2022, Bankman-Fried again updated the spreadsheet with more details about its share of what Alameda owned. FTT holdings had fallen to 176 million tokens; Solana had fallen to 53 million. In late August, about a month before the Bankman-Fried empire began to crumble, he walked again Forbes through its net worth, providing a table of capitalization of major shareholders of FTX and FTX US. A new tab in the Google Sheet also showed Alameda’s holdings, with its investments in Solana, Serum and FTT unchanged at 53 million, 3 billion and 176 million, respectively. The total value of his share of Alameda funds under management, per Bankman-Fried at the time: $8.6 billion, or $6.4 billion counting only unlocked tokens. At that time, much more was happening below the surface, with Alameda likely in deep trouble, suffering trade losses on high leverage bets.
Jhe level of detail that Bankman-Fried provided to Forbes over the years shows that he had detailed knowledge of some of Alameda’s holdings and at least some knowledge of the transactions it carried out, particularly in 2021, despite his retirement from managing the hedge fund after co-founding FTX in 2019. Bankman-Fried has long insisted that two companies operate independently of each other, despite being a shareholder in both.
It remains unclear how involved he was in Alameda operations and his conversations with Forbes do not necessarily show that he was aware of all the activity of the hedge fund – the snapshots he sent were clearly incomplete, listing only the main holdings, and he only explained a few major transactions, such as token purchases in 2021. Bankman-Fried said that Alameda has had some issues in recent months. He declined to comment for this story.
Forbes based much of its estimate of Bankman-Fried’s net worth, which peaked at $26.5 billion at the end of 2021 but now looks close to zero, on value outside of investors like Sequoia Capital and the government fund of Singapore Temasek attributed to FTX and its US operations. We have applied deep discounts to Alameda’s self-reported holdings by Bankman-Fried. In August, Forbes pressed Bankman-Fried for more details on its assets and liabilities, including a breakdown of Alameda’s balance sheet — both its investments and any debt it owed. “[W]work on it! he wrote in an email, opening up the possibility that he went digging through the Alameda books at least as recently as late August, more than a month before saying this week that he had realized what the company was doing. “[W]I don’t see what I can get,” Bankman-Fried wrote later that day, “a bunch is split between a ton of wallets…” He never sent further details.
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