Star witness says FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried hoped to become US president

The trial of FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried on Tuesday saw his former fellow top executive, Caroline Ellison, begin giving evidence against him.

She immediately blamed her former boyfriend for directing her to commit crimes before his cryptocurrency empire collapsed last November.

She also revealed that her former boss thought he might be US president some day.

With Bankman-Fried looking on from his seat in the courtroom, Ellison, 28, testified at the New York City trial that she committed fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud and money laundering along with Bankman-Fried and others.

Ellison’s highly anticipated turn in the witness box in Manhattan federal court took place just moments before the trial broke for lunch.

When she was asked to identify Bankman-Fried in the courtroom, Ellison stood and scanned the courtroom, at first unable to find him, before gesturing his way with a flip of her hand and saying he was “over there wearing a suit”.

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A court sketch of Caroline Ellison giving evidence in Manhattan federal court on Tuesday (Elizabeth Williams via AP/PA)

Bankman-Fried could face decades in prison if he is convicted of charges lodged against him when he was brought to the US from the Bahamas last December. He has pleaded not guilty.

Bankman-Fried, 31, was one of the world’s wealthiest people on paper, with an estimated net worth of 32 billion dollars (£26 billion), when his cryptocurrency businesses collapsed as investors and customers sought to empty their accounts last November.

Bankruptcy proceedings followed as prosecutors alleged that stolen funds were used to fund his businesses, make donations and contribute to political campaigns in the hopes of influencing cryptocurrency regulation in Washington.

At one time, FTX was the second-largest cryptocurrency exchange in the world.

Ellison testified under a co-operation deal that could win her leniency when she is sentenced. It could also be pivotal when the jury decides whether Bankman-Fried is guilty of fraud charges among seven counts in an indictment against him.

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FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried leaves Manhattan federal court in New York after an earlier hearing (Bebeto Matthews/AP/PA)

As Ellison testified, several of her friends or online fans were in attendance at the courthouse. In an overflow courtroom where spectators could watch proceedings on a television monitor, some of them, smiles on their faces, rushed toward a screen to see her up close.

Ellison seemed composed, answering questions posed by Assistant US Attorney Danielle Sassoon.

At the outset, Ms Sassoon asked her how she knew the defendant. She said she met him at Jane Street, a hedge fund, where she worked as an intern before joining his company after he formed Alameda Research in 2017.

She then volunteered that they had “dated a couple years”.

Eventually, Bankman-Fried installed Ellison as chief executive at Alameda.

Ellison said Bankman-Fried set up systems that enabled Alameda to withdraw unlimited sums of money from FTX accounts and he “directed us to take FTX money to repay our loans”.

She said Alameda eventually withdrew up to 14 billion dollars (£11.4 billion) from FTX, although some of it was paid back.

Ellison’s testimony immediately followed two days of testimony from Gary Wang, an FTX co-founder and another key figure in Bankman-Fried’s inner circle. He also testified under a plea agreement with prosecutors that he was directed by the defendant to set up software loopholes that allowed Alameda to drain FTX accounts of unlimited funds.

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