Finance

FTX hires former regulators to investigate what led to the crypto giant’s bankruptcy


Cryptocurrency exchange FTX, whose recent collapse has led to questions about lacking regulatory oversight, has hired a fitting team to help untangle the mess: former senior US regulators.

In its first hearing in Delaware bankruptcy court on 22 November, a lawyer representing FTX said the firm has hired former enforcement chiefs from the US Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, now both partners at law firm Sullivan & Cromwell, to help the company’s new chief executive investigate what went wrong.

FTX has hired Steven Peikin, who served as co-director of the SEC enforcement division between 2017 and 2020, and James McDonald, who was director of enforcement at derivatives regulator CFTC, also from 2017 to 2020.

Another prominent FTX hire is Nicole Friedlander, who from 2008 to 2016 served as chief of the complex frauds and cybercrime unit at the US attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York, one of the nation’s most influential federal law-enforcement agencies. Friedlander is also a partner at Sullivan & Cromwell.

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McDonald declined to comment, while Peikin and Friedlander didn’t respond to requests for comment.

FTX’s bankruptcy hearing disclosed that a “substantial amount” of assets are missing and may have been stolen as a run on customer deposits and a liquidity crunch precipitated a crisis of leadership, which led the firm to collapse. The SEC and the Justice Department are investigating FTX following its implosion this month. FTX said this week it has been in contact with investigators, The Wall Street Journal previously reported.

Hiring investigators to look into claims is a common practice in the bankruptcy process. But hiring two high-profile former regulators with enforcement background signals FTX is committed to conduct a full internal investigation, according to lawyers who defend people or companies accused of white-collar crimes.

“What a former government official brings to the table is a very sophisticated understanding of how to conduct investigations and how to interface with… various government agencies,” said Justin Weitz, a partner at law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius and a former Justice Department official, who added the newly appointed team’s priorities likely include preserving documents.

The team will help assess what led to the collapse of the crypto exchange and will communicate with regulators in the US and around the world, according to James Bromley, counsel to FTX’s new management and a partner at Sullivan & Cromwell. The team of former regulators will report to John J Ray III, who was named FTX’s chief executive when the company filed for bankruptcy this month.

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FTX, which is based in the Bahamas, also has hired Nardello, an investigations firm that specialises in anti-corruption and fraud cases, Bromley said in court on 22 November. It also retained blockchain data platform Chainalysis to help identify and secure digital assets and a cybersecurity company to help with other parts of the investigations, Bromley said. The name of the cybersecurity company wasn’t disclosed because of concerns over continuing cyberattacks on FTX, he said.

The bankruptcy petition filed by FTX last week said one of its core objectives is transparent investigations into FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried and others involved in the company, coordinating with regulators in the US and elsewhere. Another goal of the petition is to implement controls at FTX — in areas such as accounting, audit, cybersecurity and human resources — that didn’t exist or may not have been strong enough.

Ray, who has helped oversee some of the biggest bankruptcies ever, including the 2001 collapse of energy company Enron, said that FTX suffered a “complete failure of corporate controls” that culminated in an “unprecedented debacle,” according to the filing.

Bromley said in court on 22 November, “It’s fair to say, we typically would not quote things that happen on Twitter, but there was a quote that I think summarises this quite well, which is ‘What appears to be taking place is a serious investigation by serious adults.’”

Write to Mengqi Sun at [email protected]

This article was published by The Wall Street Journal, part of Dow Jones

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