Sam Bankman-Fried will testify at criminal trial, lawyer says

By Luc Cohen and Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) -FTX cryptocurrency exchange founder Sam Bankman-Fried plans to testify in his own defense at his criminal fraud trial, defense lawyer Mark Cohen said during a telephone hearing on Wednesday.

Bankman-Fried has pleaded not guilty to charges he looted billions of dollars in FTX customer funds to plug losses at his Alameda Research hedge fund, make speculative venture investments, and donate more than $100 million to U.S. political candidates and campaigns.

Three former members of Bankman-Fried’s inner circle at FTX and Alameda testified during his trial earlier this month that he directed them to commit fraud. The jury in Manhattan federal court has also heard from FTX customers and lenders to Alameda who said they were duped by Bankman-Fried.

Bankman-Fried has acknowledged making mistakes running FTX and Alameda, but has said he never knowingly committed fraud. Taking the stand will also give him an opportunity to win over jurors’ trust after government witnesses shared anecdotes that painted an unflattering portrait of his character.

But testifying comes with significant risks for criminal defendants such as Bankman-Fried. It will expose him to probing cross-examination by prosecutors who would come armed with documents, messages and testimony from cooperating witnesses that they can use to attack his credibility.

Still, experts told Reuters that Bankman-Fried’s penchant for risk and his willingness to speak publicly about the charges after his arrest suggested he may bet that he can convince at least one juror that he did not intend to commit fraud, legal experts told Reuters.

In a telephone conference with U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan, who is overseeing the case, Cohen said the defense planned to call witnesses including Christina Rolle, the chief securities regulator in the Bahamas, where FTX was based until its November 2022 collapse.

“Our client is also going to be testifying,” Cohen said.

Prosecutors are expected to rest their case on Thursday after a weeklong break. The defense is then expected to begin presenting its case.

(Reporting by Luc Cohen and Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Daniel Wallis)