FTX collapse: Storm looms over Sam Bankman-Fried's Crypto Bahamas conference as A-list pals go dark
Sam Bankman-Fried hoped the FTX-SALT Crypto Bahamas conference would become the industry standard
NASSAU, Bahamas – Months before his $32 billion fall from grace, FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried drew world leaders, celebrities and possibly the NFL’s top quarterback to a $3,000-a-head pet-project cryptocurrency conference at an exclusive resort near his Bahamas headquarters.
It was the inaugural conference in what organizers said they hoped to build into "the premier institutional digital assets event in the world." FTX and SALT, which co-hosted the forum, said 2,000 people attended from April 26 to 29. Prime Minister of the Bahamas Philip "Brave" Davis personally welcomed them from the convention center's stage.
Keynote speakers included former President Clinton and former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair – as well as Tom Brady. Gisele Bundchen, Orlando Bloom and Katy Perry also featured prominently. Perry is one of just two people Bankman-Fried follows on Instagram.
Brady and Bundchen have both be named as co-defendants in a class-action lawsuit alleging $11 billion in damages stemming from FTX's collapse – which the firm's newly appointed CEO described as "a complete failure of corporate controls."
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The conference kicked off on a Tuesday with a series of receptions and ended with a "VIP Pool Party" four days later at the exclusive Grand Hyatt Baha Mar, a two-towered, five-star hotel at the heart of the Baha Mar resort complex that opened in 2017. The beachside complex boasts a golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus, casinos, a water park and a wildlife sanctuary.
"It's been a wild last few years for the industry," Bankman-Fried told the audience on day two. "This is such a different vibe than the first crypto conference I went to, which was 2018."
A month before the conference, the resort received the royal treatment – with a visit from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
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The stars and influential global leaders were photographed smiling and enjoying the environment at the conference, but none responded to Fox News Digital's requests for comment by time of publication Friday.
During the conference, Bloom, the "Pirates of the Caribbean" star, posted for a lighthearted Instagram photo with Bankman-Fried, in which they both pulled their long hair back.
"Like looking in a mirror," the A-lister wrote in the caption, tagging the soon-to-be disgraced Democratic megadonor. "@sbf_ftx #cryptobahamas."
Under the same hashtag, users can find fan selfies with the stars on Instagram and Twitter.
Bankman-Fried, an American ex-pat who moved his crypto business to the Bahamas for its lax regulatory environment, personally hosted his keynote speakers on stage for two nights of the conference.
The first was Brady, Wednesday, for a discussion titled simply, "Winning," in which the future Hall of Famer vowed to try for another record-setting Super Bowl victory.
Bankman-Fried, who has not responded to multiple requests for comment, hosted Clinton and Blair Thursday for an "off-the-record" discussion on "The World Today."
However, audio of the VIP-only panel was obtained by TrustNodes, a crypto trade publication, revealing Clinton advocated a "do no harm" regulatory approach.
"It does look cool, and they’re of course two big names," the outlet reported, adding prophetically, "But it is a bit fake isn’t it?"
Politico, which obtained a partial transcript, added that the former president also warned of a "temptation to abuse" emerging technologies.
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Within months, Bankman-Fried would be under investigation in multiple countries with that question in mind.
Guests met on the resort’s Jasmine Lawn, outside its massive convention center, for breakfast each morning.
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At the same time, they were offered sunrise yoga on the waterfront Palm Lawn, where visitors can get a view of the sea or pose for photos with a flock of flamingos.
Guests returned to the Jasmine Lawn for networking lunches daily.
Most of the presentations came in panel format, with a moderator and speakers on stage discussing crypto-related topics.
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Andrew Yang, a former Democratic presidential candidate and math-minded entrepreneur, took the stage alongside the Blockchain Association’s executive director Kristin Smith for a discussion titled, "How Governments Can Empower the People with Crypto."
And "Shark Tank" star Kevin O’Leary joined Jeremy Allaire and former Trump White House spokesman Anthony Scaramucci, who helped organize the event, to delve into Wall Street’s flirtations with crypto markets.
Other speakers included numerous tech and business journalists, including FOX Business Network’s Susan Li.
The lineup lent Bankman-Fried an air of credibility months before his shadowy crypto platform and sister hedge fund would collapse overnight.
Two speakers from Coinbase, a former FTX rival and the world’s second-largest cryptocurrency exchange, took part in panels focused on a crypto-based financial system and digital asset infrastructure.
"We often speak at industry conferences," a company spokeswoman said.
The event was a success, according to organizers, and in June they announced a follow-up for 2023.
"We're excited to welcome the crypto community back to the Bahamas in 2023," Bankman-Fried said at the time. "Our inaugural Crypto Bahamas conference was a huge success and brought some of the biggest innovators in the industry to the island to collaborate on the continued collaboration between TradFi, crypto and DeFi. Everyone at FTX is eager to unveil our plans as we go bigger and better for next year’s conference."
But when Changpeng "CZ" Zhao, the CEO of crypto giant Binance, got a look at Bankman-Field's finances, he said he saw red flags and unloaded roughly a half a billion dollars of FTX's FTT token – which quickly led to the collapse.
"He was lying to everyone," he told Li Friday morning. "This guy is probably going to be in a lot of trouble, most likely going to jail."
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SALT did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether they still planned to host the second conference after FTX's collapse. The communications firm that had previously represented FTX for Crypto Bahamas said it no longer worked with the company Friday.
Fox News’ Chris Pandolfo, Megan Henney and Matteo Cina contributed to this report.