FTX Founder Gamed Markets, Crypto Rivals Say

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Since his company imploded, Mr. Bankman-Fried has repeatedly denied accusations that he tried to manipulate cryptocurrency markets. In a text message, he compared his company’s efforts to bolster the price of FTT — by publicly announcing that it would buy large quantities — to share buyback schemes at public companies. And he said that his firm’s trading of FTT was designed keep the market running smoothly by buying coins when people wanted to sell, and selling when they wanted to buy. “Neither I, nor to my knowledge Alameda, ever intended to manipulate markets,” he wrote.

Signs that Mr. Bankman-Fried was orchestrating trades to his firms’ benefit weren’t all that hard to see in the crypto world, according to crypto developers who shared their stories on public forums and investors interviewed by The New York Times. The trades at the center of many of these schemes were openly visible on the blockchain, the digital ledger that records every transaction made in the public sphere of cryptocurrencies.

Mr. Bankman-Fried also created FTT to facilitate the trading of other coins on FTX. But according to fraud charges filed by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission on Dec. 13, Mr. Bankman-Fried kept FTT’s value artificially high, and then used it as collateral to borrow funds from lending firms. In the 40-page complaint, the C.F.T.C. said Alameda borrowed as much as $10 billion from various digital lenders against FTT and other holdings.

At one point, Mr. Bankman-Fried became concerned about the “the psychological effect of the price of FTT dropping below a specific threshold” and ordered Alameda to buy FTT to push the price back up, according to separate fraud charges filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“The question always was: How does FTX have so much money?” said Haseeb Qureshi, a managing partner at Dragonfly, a San Francisco-based venture capital firm to which Mr. Bankman-Fried and his team pitched investment deals, including new coin launches.

Mr. Qureshi wasn’t the only one with doubts.

While Mr. Bankman-Fried was raising funds to start FTT in mid-2019, there were rumors that Alameda was struggling. Ryan Salame, a top FTX executive, told an industry participant that Alameda was losing money, according to screenshots of text messages viewed by The Times; the industry participant did not want to be named because he considered Mr. Salame a friend. (A spokesman for Mr. Bankman-Fried said in a statement that the FTX founder was “fairly confident” that Alameda made money in 2019.)

Still, FTT was lucrative for early investors. The coin’s price skyrocketed to nearly $80 in late 2021, about 40 times what it was worth two years earlier. As the broader crypto market surged, Mr. Bankman-Fried cultivated a public persona as a wunderkind entrepreneur who intended to donate all his wealth to charity.