Bankman-Fried’s close associate pleads guilty to criminal charges

Nishad Singh says he knew by mid-2022 that FTX funds were being borrowed by its sister firm without customer knowledge.

FTX logo on black and gold-coin background
Former cryptocurrency tycoon Sam Bankman-Fried rode a boom in the values of bitcoin and other digital assets to amass an estimated $26bn fortune and become an influential US political donor [File: Dado Ruvic/illustration/Reuters]

Nishad Singh, the former director of engineering at now-bankrupt cryptocurrency exchange FTX, has pleaded guilty to US criminal charges and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors investigating FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried.

“I am unbelievably sorry for my role in all of this,” Singh said on Tuesday, adding that he knew by mid-2022 that Bankman-Fried’s hedge fund, Alameda Research, was borrowing FTX customer funds and customers were not aware. Singh said he would forfeit proceeds from the scheme.

Bankman-Fried pleaded not guilty to eight criminal charges filed against him in December. Prosecutors say he stole billions of dollars in FTX customer funds to plug losses at Alameda. He has acknowledged inadequate risk management but says he did not steal  the money.

Singh, 27, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud, three counts of conspiracy to commit fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States by violating campaign finance laws.

He travelled from the Bahamas shortly after FTX imploded in November in part to assist the US investigation, prosecutor Danielle Sassoon said at Tuesday’s hearing. He was released on $250,000 bond.

Bankman-Fried, 30, now faces 12 criminal charges after prosecutors unsealed a new indictment against him last week. A spokesman for Bankman-Fried declined to comment.

Singh is the third close associate of Bankman-Fried to plead guilty and cooperate with the inquiry. Caroline Ellison, who was Alameda’s chief executive, and Gary Wang, who was FTX’s chief technology officer, pleaded guilty in December to seven and four criminal charges, respectively.

“He wants to do everything he can to make things right for victims, including by assisting the government to the best of his ability,” Singh’s lawyers, Andrew Goldstein and Russell Capone, said in a statement.

Separately on Tuesday, the US Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission filed civil lawsuits against Singh.

‘Straw’ donors

Bankman-Fried rode a boom in the values of bitcoin and other digital assets to amass an estimated $26bn net worth and become an influential US political donor.

Singh also became a major donor to Democratic politicians, contributing $8m to campaigns in the 2022 election cycle, according to OpenSecrets, a non-profit group that promotes government transparency.

In the new charges filed last week, prosecutors said Bankman-Fried conspired with two other former FTX executives to donate tens of millions of dollars to influence lawmakers to pass legislation favourable to the company.

The donations were illegal because they were made with “straw” donors or corporate funds, prosecutors said. A straw donor scheme is used to cover up the true source of financing for political campaigns. Prosecutors said Bankman-Fried directed another FTX executive, identified as CC-1, to donate more than $21m to a pro-LGBT group.

Federal Election Commission records show that Singh contributed $1.1m on July 7, 2022, to the LGBTQ Victory Fund, a national organization dedicated to electing openly LGBTQ people.

Singh said in court that he agreed in 2022 to make political donations in his own name that were funded in part by transfers from Alameda without providing details of the donations. He said that while he agreed with the political leanings of those he donated to, he did not select the candidates.

Singh was a close friend of Bankman-Fried’s younger brother in high school, Bankman-Fried wrote in a deleted blog post.

“Today’s guilty plea underscores once again that the crimes at FTX were vast in scope and consequence,” Damian Williams, the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, said in a statement.

“They rocked our financial markets with a multibillion-dollar fraud,” he said. “And they corrupted our politics with tens of millions of dollars in illegal straw campaign contributions.”

Source: Reuters