Oct 11, 2023 - Economy

FTX tried a lawyer, Thai prostitutes and finally a bribe to get frozen funds unlocked, witness says

A woman with sunglasses and a had pulled tight on her head holds a blue mug, with security around her.

Former Alameda Research CEO Caroline Ellison arrives at court Wednesday ahead of her second day of witness testimony. Photo: Yuki Iwamura/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Alameda Research bribed a Chinese government official to unlock $1 billion of its frozen funds on other crypto exchanges connected to money laundering, its former CEO testified Wednesday in the criminal trial of Sam Bankman-Fried.

Driving the news: In Caroline Ellison's continued testimony, she said that — at the FTX and Alameda co-founder’s behest — the firm sent a $150 million payment to the unidentified official.

Details: In 2021, the crypto trading firm's funds were frozen on the OKX and Huobi exchanges — someone at Alameda had traded with someone else suspected of money laundering.

  • "He seemed concerned," Ellison said of Bankman-Fried's demeanor, and said he had several meetings and started a Signal group chat to discuss how to retrieve the funds.
  • Ellison said some of the companies' Chinese employees were involved in the meetings.

Details: At first, they tried a lawyer, but that was "unsuccessful," Ellison said.

  • They then tried to use the identification of Thai prostitutes to create accounts on those exchanges in a bid to get those funds back.
  • When that didn't work, SBF — who initially did not want to try the employee-suggested bribe — changed his mind and agreed to do it.

The intrigue: A former Alameda trader named "Handi" objected to the bribe when it was initially suggested; her father was a government official, Ellison said.

  • When Handi became overly vocal about her concerns, SBF "yelled at her to shut the f**k up," Ellison said.

Zoom in: Judge Lewis Kaplan reminded the jury that bribing a Chinese government official "is not on the list of charges" against the defendant, but that the testimony spoke to the trust and confidence between SBF and Ellison.

Flashback: The bribe would later become a line item on "State of Alameda" documents prepared by Ellison.

  • Under "notable/idiosyncratic pnl stuff," the bribe was listed as "150m from the thing?"
  • Ellison explained that it was written this way due to SBF having warned before about using explicit language that "could eventually be used against us in court," she said.

The bottom line: SBF's worldview appears to have allowed for these events to unfold.

  • "[SBF] said he was a utilitarian," Ellison explained. "He didn't think rules like 'don't lie' and 'don't steal' fit into that framework."

Go deeper: The trial of Sam Bankman-Fried: Key players

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