Lack of U.S. Crypto Laws Irrelevant to Bankman-Fried Allegations, DOJ Says

The FTX founder’s fraud trial began selecting a jury Tuesday as lawyers spar about what evidence its members can see.

AccessTimeIconOct 4, 2023 at 7:36 a.m. UTC
Updated Oct 4, 2023 at 3:49 p.m. UTC
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  • Prosecutors of Sam Bankman-Fried clarified legal arguments over U.S. crypto regulation, political donations and charity work
  • Bankman-Fried's fraud trial started on Tuesday.

The absence of a clear U.S. legal framework for crypto is no bar for pressing fraud charges against FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried, the Department of Justice said in a filing published early Wednesday morning.

Bankman-Fried’s trial began Tuesday. Bankman-Fried has pleaded not guilty to allegations he misappropriated customer funds from FTX.

Meanwhile lawyers from both the sides are still sparring over what evidence the as-yet-unselected jury will be able to hear. The prosecutors are now fighting claims, reiterated by Bankman-Fried on Monday, that the regulatory status of crypto exchanges is relevant.

“While the existence of a law might be relevant to establish a statutory duty of care, the absence of regulation is not relevant to whether money was, in fact, entrusted to the defendant’s care by his victims,” the DOJ filing said, adding that the existing criminal rulebook is sufficient. “There are prohibitions on misappropriating customer assets – they are the very laws that the defendant has been charged for violating.”

Prosecutors also dismissed Bankman-Fried’s arguments that pooling and reallocating customer funds was common in the crypto industry at the time, saying that legal argument only worked if he believed the practice was lawful.

Bankman-Fried can point the jury towards his philanthropy and charity work, the DOJ said – but he will need to raise his plans to do so with the court first to ensure he isn’t merely trying to paint a rosier picture of his character.

Congress’s failure to regulate a specific treatment for crypto has been a sore point for the industry for some time. In the absence of tailored laws, federal regulators have argued crypto should be treated like conventional securities trading, a legal claim opposed by major players such as Ripple, Binance and Coinbase (COIN).

The government also clarified how it plans to handle allegations that Bankman-Fried orchestrated illegitimate and indirect donations to political candidates – something that was withdrawn from the charge sheet as it wasn’t included in the original extradition deal with the Bahamas, where the crypto tycoon was arrested in December.

“The Government will not elicit evidence that such a straw donor scheme is itself unlawful under the election laws,” the DOJ said, but was raising the topic “to establish that the defendant spent these funds in a manner inconsistent with his representations to customers, and took steps to conceal his disposition of these proceeds.”

Edited by Parikshit Mishra.


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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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