By Luc Cohen
NEW YORK (Reuters) -Ryan Salame, the former co-CEO of FTX’s Bahamian subsidiary and a top lieutenant to the cryptocurrency exchange’s founder Sam Bankman-Fried, is due for a “proceeding of interest” in Manhattan federal court on Thursday, federal prosecutors said.
Such appearances normally suggest a defendant has agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges.
A plea would come less than one month before Bankman-Fried’s scheduled Oct. 3 trial on fraud and conspiracy charges stemming from now-bankrupt FTX’s November 2022 collapse.
Prosecutors say Bankman-Fried stole billions of dollars in FTX customer deposits to plug losses at his hedge fund, Alameda Research, and lied to investors and lenders about his companies’ financial condition.
Salame is set to appear at 3 p.m. EDT (1900 GMT) before U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan in Manhattan, who also oversees Bankman-Fried’s case.
A guilty plea would make Salame the fourth former executive of one of Bankman-Fried’s companies to plead guilty.
He would join former Alameda Chief Executive Officer Caroline Ellison, former FTX technology chief Gary Wang and former FTX engineering chief Nishad Singh, who are each expected to testify against Bankman-Fried at trial.
Salame’s lawyer did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan confirmed Salame’s court appearance.
Bankman-Fried, 31, rode a boom in the values of bitcoin and other digital assets to become a multi-billionaire and an influential political donor before his exchange collapsed amid a flurry of customer withdrawals.
Prosecutors say Bankman-Fried used stolen customer funds to donate more than $100 million to political campaigns in a bid to support favorable cryptocurrency regulations and concealed some donations through two “straw donors,” Salame and Singh.
Salame had worked for Ernst & Young and Circle Internet Financial before joining FTX Digital Markets.
He gave more than $24 million to Republican candidates and causes in the 2022 election cycle, according to Federal Election Commision data, making him one of that year’s top donors.
Prosecutors in August said Salame told a family member in a November 2021 message that Bankman-Fried hoped political donations would “weed-out” anti-crypto Democratic and Republican lawmakers, and would likely “route money through me to weed out that republican [sic] side.”
Salame was not charged at the time, and his lawyer told prosecutors he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination if called to testify.
Salame shortly before FTX’s bankruptcy told the Securities Commission of the Bahamas – the Caribbean nation’s financial regulator – that client assets held at FTX Digital Markets may have been transferred to Alameda, the regulator said in a court filing.
Bankman-Fried has been jailed since Aug. 11, when Kaplan found he likely tampered with witnesses at least twice, including by sharing Ellison’s personal writings with a New York Times reporter.
(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Mark Porter)
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