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Former FTX engineer tells jury about panicky rooftop meeting where he learned how bad things were

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Government exhibit in Sam Bankman-Fried’s criminal trial
Source: SDNY

In afternoon testimony Monday, former FTX engineering chief Nishad Singh told a Manhattan jury about two one-on-one meetings he held with Sam Bankman-Fried last year to discuss the dire state of the crypto firm’s finances.

Singh, who joined sister hedge fund Alameda Research in 2017 and then helped build the FTX exchange two years later, said that at most he would have a single private meeting with Bankman-Fried a year, so it was rare for him to get this much face time alone with the boss.

Singh said he asked for a meeting following a text exchange he had in June 2022 with Caroline Ellison, who ran Alameda, and Gary Wang, an FTX co-founder. The trio had a Signal chat called #organization to discuss the steep public relations costs to FTX if Alameda’s financial problems were made public. During that exchange, Singh said he learned from Wang that Alameda was borrowing $13 billion from FTX.

Until that point, Singh testified, he thought FTX’s assets were greater than its liabilities. To discuss the matter, Singh said he and Bankman-Fried met on the lush rooftop deck at the Orchid, the Bahamas residential building where the FTX and Alameda crew had an 11,500-square foot apartment.

Singh is cooperating with the prosecution as part of a plea deal he agreed to in February. At the time, Singh pleaded guilty to six charges, including conspiracy to commit securities fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to violate campaign finance laws. Bankman-Fried faces seven criminal fraud charges and the potential of life in prison. He pleaded not guilty.

Over the course of a conversation that Singh said lasted an hour to an hour and a half, Bankman-Fried reclined on a white chaise lounge chair. Singh said he started the conversation by saying, “Caroline is really freaked out about the NAV situation, and so am I.” NAV refers to net asset value, or the value of assets minus liabilities.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicolas Roos questions Nishad Singh, the former director of engineering at FTX, at Sam Bankman-Fried’s fraud trial over the collapse of FTX, the bankrupt cryptocurrency exchange, at Federal Court in New York City, October 16, 2023 in this courtroom sketch.
Jane Rosenberg | Reuters

Bankman-Fried tried to reassure Singh, telling him, “I’m not sure what there is to worry about” because NAV was “super positive.”

When Singh asked about the $13 billion that Alameda couldn’t pay back to FTX, Bankman-Fried responded, “Right, that, we are a little short on deliverables,” according to the testimony. Singh asked about the size of the shortfall, and Bankman-Fried said that was the wrong question to be asking. The right question, he said, was how much the company could deliver. Bankman-Fried said he thought it could deliver $5 billion relatively quickly and “substantially more” in the next few weeks to months.

Singh responded with an expletive. Bankman-Fried then said the issue had been taking up 5% to 10% of his productivity that year.

But Bankman-Fried said he wasn’t too worried, and that Alameda could sell assets. FTX could also raise money from investors and was launching its U.S. futures soon, which would be a boon for the business, Bankman-Fried said, according to Singh’s testimony.

After Singh asked if he would finally agree to curb spending, Bankman-Fried said, “Yes, definitely.” Singh testified that after five years of putting everything into the company, he “felt betrayed” that it “turned out to be so evil.” He said he considered leaving every day but wasn’t sure if he could live with himself if his exit resulted in the business failing.

Bankman-Fried told Singh that he and FTX product head Ramnik Arora would be in New York in two weeks, and then in a month he’d be heading to the Middle East with Anthony Scaramucci, an FTX investor.

Singh then described in detail a second meeting that he’d requested upon Bankman-Fried’s return from the Middle East. He said the FTX founder had come back in the middle of the day and immediately attracted a crowd, “like he so often does.”

That next meeting took place in Bankman-Fried’s second Bahamas apartment, which he called the Gemini 1D apartment. There, Singh told the jury, he thought he might quit but instead asked Bankman-Fried for a real sense of how things went on the overseas trip.

Bankman-Fried said it was still possible to get another $5 billion. Singh wanted to know the plan for getting the rest needed to fill the $13 billion hole. Bankman-Fried told him the main plan was that FTX remain successful, adding that Singh was one of the few people who could make that happen.

Singh described Bankman-Fried as on edge during that conversation. He appeared mad and had his hands back, grinding his fingers and grinding his teeth.

“He glared at me with some intensity,” Singh testified. Singh then asked, “Dear god, what else is there?” At the end, he apologized to Bankman-Fried for asking for the meeting.

Singh told the jury that he faces a max of 75 years in prison but is “hoping for no jail time.”

— CNBC’s Dawn Giel contributed to this report

WATCH: FTX top engineer testifies on Sam Bankman-Fried’s ‘excessive’ spending

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