In the unfolding legal drama surrounding Sam “SBF” Bankman-Fried, the legal team representing the former CEO of FTX has taken a bold step. They have approached the court, seeking to bar specific witnesses from testifying about their expectations regarding FTX’s safeguarding of their assets.
Currently, in the heart of New York City, the criminal trial of Sam Bankman-Fried, the ex-CEO of FTX, is in full swing. His legal representatives have submitted motions with the intent to prohibit certain individuals—users and investors of the exchange—from sharing their perspectives within the courtroom.
In a series of filings made on October 2nd, presented before the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Bankman-Fried’s attorneys have vehemently contested the pretrial requests made by the prosecutors. These requests aimed to have FTX’s customers and investors provide testimonies regarding their beliefs concerning how the cryptocurrency exchange would handle their assets. Additionally, the defense has sought to bar the testimony of an unidentified Ukrainian national, who is an erstwhile FTX user, with the intention of conducting this testimony via a “live two-way video” platform. This request is partially grounded in the principles of the Sixth Amendment.
The legal filing argued, “Decisions concerning the specific testimonies of particular witnesses regarding their individual comprehension of specific statements or aspects of their association with FTX or Mr. Bankman-Fried cannot be rendered in a theoretical manner.”
According to Bankman-Fried’s legal team, the prosecutors were attempting to adopt a dual stance by preventing similar witnesses, proposed by the defense, from expressing their understanding of how FTX would manage their funds. The defense’s attorneys deemed this motion as “premature” and contended that this matter should be left for the jury to assess.
The filing further asserted, “The Government appears to desire that evidence related to how customers (and other potential victims) perceived the relationship they entered into with FTX be considered admissible only if presented by the Government and inadmissible if introduced by the defense.”
The lawyers also put forth the argument that allowing the Ukrainian witness to testify “would seemingly allude to the hardships and personal circumstances brought about by the Russian invasion of Ukraine” and might “evoke sympathy and indignation from the jury.” It’s important to note that the Russian military had invaded Ukraine in February 2022, leading to ongoing security concerns in the region, making international travel challenging.
The lawyers further contended, “Courts routinely exclude pertinent evidence that might invoke sympathy among jurors, which is unrelated to the facts of the case. The circumstances surrounding [the Ukrainian user’s] testimony and the reasons for his absence from the courtroom could themselves be prejudicial… Jurors would inevitably speculate about why a Ukrainian national (and no other witness) is testifying via video, and the most evident explanations would almost certainly arouse ‘sympathies that have no relevance to the merits of the case.'”
These motions were submitted shortly before the commencement of jury selection for Bankman-Fried’s criminal trial in New York City. As of now, Judge Lewis Kaplan is in the process of questioning potential jurors to identify any conflicts that might disqualify them from serving in this trial, which is anticipated to continue through November.
Since his bail was revoked by Kaplan in August, Sam Bankman-Fried, the former CEO of FTX, has been predominantly incarcerated, despite several unsuccessful attempts by his legal team to secure temporary release. He is set to face two criminal trials in October 2023 and March 2024. Bankman-Fried has pleaded not guilty to all 12 criminal charges related to alleged fraud at FTX and Alameda Research.