Bankman-Fried Seeks to Block Prosecutors Calling FTX Investors, Former Insiders as Witnesses

Lawyers are still quibbling over what evidence can be brought to the FTX founder’s fraud trial, hours before jury selection is due to start.

AccessTimeIconOct 3, 2023 at 9:28 a.m. UTC
Updated Oct 3, 2023 at 1:52 p.m. UTC
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  • Sam Bankman-Fried’s trial for fraud is due to start Tuesday morning Eastern time.
  • His lawyers are querying the government’s right to call witnesses including a Ukrainian investor and former FTX executives.

Former crypto boss Sam Bankman-Fried wants to stop the government from calling multiple witnesses, including company investors and a Ukrainian customer left bereft by the collapse of his FTX exchange, according to court filings made just hours before his trial is due to begin.

Bankman-Fried, who has pleaded not guilty to multiple counts of fraud after FTX filed for bankruptcy in November, doesn’t want former company insiders testifying about the meaning of supposedly “coded” expressions used as part of an alleged conspiracy to misuse customer funds.

While prosecutors at the U.S. Department of Justice want former customers and investors to testify about how they understood FTX would safeguard their assets, Bankman-Fried’s lawyer Mark Cohen said in a filing made public Tuesday that the request was “premature,” and would prompt members of the jury to conclusions they should draw for themselves.

The DOJ “asks the Court to permit percipient witnesses to offer their own opinions and interpretations on issues that the jury must evaluate from the objective perspective of a reasonable person,” a move for which there’s no legal basis, Cohen said, adding that the defense should at least be able to cross-question any government witnesses.

A proposed Ukrainian FTX customer who the government says lost a substantial portion of his life savings on the exchange, and who cannot leave the country, should not be allowed to testify remotely, and had been picked only to generate the jury’s “sympathy and outrage” linked to the war, Cohen said in an earlier, Monday night filing.

Cohen also accused the government of “gamesmanship” for seeking to call expert investors after Judge Lewis Kaplan blocked Bankman-Fried’s own proposed witnesses, and said that the meaning of Bankman-Fried’s words doesn’t need to be explained to the jury by the former FTX insiders who are cooperating with prosecutors.

While the DOJ does not name the alleged co-conspirators it wants to call to offer those explanations, it's likely to refer to colleagues and friends such as Caroline Ellison, Bankman-Fried’s former romantic partner and ex-head of FTX’s hedge fund arm Alameda Research.

The trial, whose initial phase will select jury members, starts on Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. Eastern time in a lower Manhattan courthouse.

Edited by Sandali Handagama.

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Jack Schickler

Jack Schickler was a CoinDesk reporter focused on crypto regulations, based in Brussels, Belgium. He doesn’t own any crypto.


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