Bankman-Fried faces more criminal charges, allegedly hid political donations
Sam Bankman-Fried was hit with new criminal charges on Thursday, in an expanded indictment accusing the founder of the now-bankrupt FTX cryptocurrency exchange of conspiring to make more than 300 illegal political donations.
Mr. Bankman-Fried now faces 12 criminal charges, including four for fraud and eight for conspiracy, up from eight charges in an earlier indictment, to which he has pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors have accused Mr. Bankman-Fried of stealing billions of dollars in FTX customer funds to plug losses at Alameda Research, his crypto-focused hedge fund.
The new charges add to pressure on the 30-year-old former billionaire, who has seen two of his former top lieutenants plead guilty.
Mr. Bankman-Fried is also trying to stay out of jail, after his online activity since his arrest prompted U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan, who oversees the case, to signal a willingness to revoke his US$250-million bail package.
A spokesman for Mr. Bankman-Fried declined to comment.
Mr. Bankman-Fried’s trial is slated for October. Justice Kaplan on Thursday extended a temporary ban on Mr. Bankman-Fried’s contacting FTX and Alameda employees to March 3 from Feb. 24.
The new indictment said Mr. Bankman-Fried conspired with two former FTX executives to donate tens of millions of dollars in order to influence lawmakers to pass legislation favourable to the company.
Those donations were unlawful because they were made with “straw” donors or corporate funds, enabling Mr. Bankman-Fried – one of the largest donors to Democrats in the 2022 midterm elections – to evade contribution limits, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said Mr. Bankman-Fried directed one executive to donate primarily to left-leaning candidates and organizations and the other to Republicans, with many donations funded by Alameda and including FTX customer funds.
That executive gave more than $1-million to a pro-LGBTQ group at Mr. Bankman-Fried’s direction, the indictment said.
Federal Election Commission records show that Nishad Singh, FTX’s former engineering chief, contributed US$1.1-million on July 7, 2022, to the LGBTQ Victory Fund, a national organization dedicated to electing openly LGBTQ people.
In a statement, the group said it has “set aside funds and will take appropriate action once we receive guidance from authorities.”
A lawyer for Mr. Singh did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
After founding FTX in 2019, Mr. Bankman-Fried rode a boom in the value of Bitcoin and other digital assets to attain an estimated US$26-billion fortune.
His exchange collapsed in November amid a flurry of customer withdrawals over concerns the exchange was commingling assets with Alameda.
When it became clear FTX could not meet withdrawal demands, Mr. Bankman-Fried directed Alameda to sell assets to pay the exchange’s customers, prosecutors said.
The indictment said that on Nov. 6, five days before FTX’s bankruptcy filing, Mr. Bankman-Fried forwarded CC-1 a message from Caroline Ellison, then Alameda’s chief executive.
“I just had an increasing dread of this day that was weighing on me for a long time,” Ms. Ellison wrote, “and now that it’s actually happening it just feels great to get it over with one way or another.”
Ms. Ellison and former FTX technology chief Gary Wang pleaded guilty to fraud charges in December and agreed to co-operate with prosecutors.
The new charges against Mr. Bankman-Fried include conspiracies to commit bank fraud and operate an unlicensed money transmitting business.
Prosecutors said Mr. Bankman-Fried told an unnamed California bank he wanted to open an account for a trading company, but intended the account to process deposits and withdrawals for FTX customers.
The bank had previously told Mr. Bankman-Fried it was unwilling to process such transactions, the indictment read.
What every Canadian investor needs to know today – The Globe and Mail
Key indexes in both Canada and the U.S. opened down Friday as concerns about the global banking system continuing to ripple through markets.
At 9:34 a.m. ET, the Toronto Stock Exchange’s S&P/TSX composite index was down 100.75 points, or 0.52 per cent, at 19,359.17.
In the U.S., the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 67.03 points, or 0.21 per cent, at the open to 32,038.22. The S&P 500 opened lower by 9.51 points, or 0.24 per cent, at 3,939.21, while the Nasdaq Composite dropped 39.78 points, or 0.34 per cent, to 11,747.62 at the opening bell.
“The new market game is being played between two camps: ‘the financial stress and how the authorities are dealing or promising to deal with potential renewed turmoil’ camp, and ‘the recession worries’ camp,” Swissquote senior analyst Ipek Ozkardeskaya said in an early note.
“While the recession worries are not entirely bad for the stock valuations – at least in the immediate term, as they pull the yields lower, the financial stress is much less welcome, and there is a much stronger consensus among investors that… financial stress is bad.”
Markets drew some support on Thursday from comments by U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen who said the United States has more tools available to battle contagion in the banking sector if necessary.
“As I have said, we have used important tools to act quickly to prevent contagion. And they are tools we could use again,” Ms. Yellen said in prepared remarks to the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations subcommittee hearing.
Meanwhile, shares of Deutsche Bank were under pressure after a sharp jump in the cost of insuring against the risk of default again fuelled worries about Europe’s banks. Shares were down more than 10 per cent in morning trading in Europe. U.S.-listed shares were down more than 6 per cent shortly after the start of trading in New York.
In Canada, markets got a much stronger-than-expected reading on retail sales in January. Statistics Canada says sales rose by 1.4 per cent for the month. Economists had been expecting an increase of 0.7 per cent. Statscan says sales were up in seven of nine subsectors, led by motor vehicles and gas stations.
The government agency also said early indications suggest a decline of 0.6 per cent in February. That figure is subject to revision.
On the corporate side, Magnet Forensics Inc. shareholders voted in favour of U.S. private equity firm Thoma Bravo’s $1.8-billion takeover of the cybersecurity company. The Waterloo, Ont.-based technology company announced the approval during a shareholders’ meeting on Thursday afternoon.
Overseas, the pan-European STOXX 600 was down 1.84 per cent by midday with bank stocks sliding. Britain’s FTSE 100 lost 1.80 per cent. Germany’s DAX and France’s CAC 40 slid 2.44 per cent and 2.32 per cent, respectively.
In Asia, Japan’s Nikkei finished down 0.13 per cent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng lost 0.67 per cent.
Crude prices were weaker but on track for a weekly gain.
The day range on Brent was US$74.60 to US$76.32 in the predawn period. The range on West Texas Intermediate was US$68.63 to US$70.38.
Both benchmarks closed down about 1 per cent yesterday but are still up between 3 per cent and 4 per cent for the week so far, recouping some of the previous week’s losses amid heightened market volatility.
“The bears have been in control as many energy traders remain unconvinced that the demand will be improving enough to bring down stockpiles,” OANDA senior analyst Ed Moya said.
“The key takeaway from the FOMC meeting for energy traders is that the Fed is probably going to send this economy into a recession. China’s reopening story remains subdued and that is keeping oil grounded around the low US$70s.”
Prices saw some downward pressure after U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said refilling the country’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve could take years. The White House said in October it would buy back oil for the SPR when prices were at or below about $67-$72 per barrel.
Ms. Granholm told lawmakers that it would be difficult to take advantage of the low prices this year to add to stockpiles, which are currently at their lowest level since 1983 following sales directed by President Joe Biden last year, Reuters reported.
In other commodities, spot gold was down 0.4 per cent at US$1,986.40 per ounce early Friday morning, after two strongly positive sessions. U.S. gold futures also fell 0.4 per cent to US$1,988.90. Gold topped US$2,000 an ounce earlier this week, hitting its best level in more than a year, on safe-haven demand.
“A run to record territory is not that far away and could happen if financial stability concerns do note ease,” Mr. Moya said.
The Canadian dollar was weaker while its U.S. dollar edged up after touching its lowest level in more than a month during the previous session.
The day range on the loonie was 72.66 US cents to 72.96 US cents early Friday morning. The Canadian dollar is down 0.15 per cent against the greenback over the last five days and off more than 1 per cent for the year so far.
“The CAD is a moderate out-performer on the session, gaining a little ground against the EUR, GBP and AUD among the majors but it really can’t hold a bid against the USD,” Shaun Osborne, chief FX strategist with Scotiabank, said.
On world markets, the U.S. dollar index, which weighs the greenback against a selection of currencies, was up 0.39 per cent at 102.93 in the early premarket period.
The index touched a seven-week low of 101.91 on Thursday but managed to finish the session with a small gain, its first in six trading days, according to figures from Reuters.
Britain’s pound was flat at US$1.2285, having touched a seven-week high of $1.2341 on Thursday in volatile trading. The euro was up 0.03 per cent at US$1.0833, slightly below the seven-week high of US$1.0930 seen on Thursday.
In bonds, the yield on the U.S. 10-year note was lower at 3.343 per cent ahead of the North American opening bell.
More company news
The Globe’s Irene Galea reports Canada’s telecom regulator has asked Rogers Communications Inc. to disclose the details of its network-sharing agreements with Quebecor Inc.’s Videotron as part of its takeover of Shaw Communications Inc., in response to allegations that the agreements violate the Telecommunications Act and could stifle competition through price discrimination. The network-sharing agreements are a key issue with Rogers Communications Inc.’s proposed $20-billion takeover of Shaw Communications Inc.
Shares of Obsidian Energy Ltd fell as much as 4% pre-market on Friday after Alberta’s energy regulator said the Canadian oil and gas producer triggered a series of earthquakes in the province between November and March. The Alberta Energy Regulator’s (AER) environmental protection order against Obsidian came late on Thursday, following a separate study published by Stanford University and University of Alberta that said injection of wastewater from oil sands operations in the area caused one of the strongest earthquakes in the history of the region. –Reuters
Euro area manufacturing and services PMIs. UK consumer confidence, retail sales, and PMIs.
830 am ET: Canada retail sales for January.
830 am ET: U.S. durable orders for February. Consensus is for a 1.5% rise.
830 am ET: U.S. global PMIs
With Reuters and The Canadian Press
Shares in Deutsche Bank drop as global banking worries persist – Al Jazeera English
Tumbling stocks dragged down other major banks across Europe, fuelling fears about a banking sector crisis.
Shares in Deutsche Bank have fallen sharply, dragging down other major European banks and reigniting fears about a widening banking sector crisis.
Germany’s biggest lender dropped more than 14 percent on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange in Friday morning trading before clawing back ground in the afternoon to trade 9.5 percent lower, at 8.43 euros ($9.07) a share.
Tumbling bank stocks dragged down markets across Europe on Friday with Germany’s Commerzbank down 7.5 percent, France’s Societe Generale off 5.9 percent and Austria’s Raiffaisen down 5.9 percent.
Deutsche Bank is one of 30 banks considered globally significant financial institutions, so international rules require it to hold higher levels of capital reserves because its failure could cause widespread losses.
The long-troubled bank has become the focus of investor concerns after the collapse of three regional US lenders and the Swiss government-brokered takeover of Credit Suisse by rival UBS triggered market turmoil this month.
The cost of insuring the bank’s debt against a risk of defaulting, known as credit default swaps, has surged as investors fret about the banking sector’s health.
Rising costs on insuring debt were a prelude to Credit Suisse‘s rescue by UBS. That hastily arranged takeover on Sunday and jitters about Credit Suisse’s long-running troubles led its shares to tank and customers to pull out their money.
Asked whether Deutsche Bank could be the next Credit Suisse, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said, “There is no reason to be concerned.”
Scholz expressed confidence in Deutsche Bank, saying it had “modernised and organised the way it works. It’s a very profitable bank.”
Speaking in Brussels after a summit of EU leaders, he also said the European banking system was “stable” with strict rules and regulations.
Deutsche Bank said on Friday that it would redeem $1.5bn in tier 2 bonds early. Such a move is normally aimed at boosting confidence in a bank although its shares plunged regardless.
The bank was hit by a string of problems linked to its attempts before the 2008 global financial crisis to compete with Wall Street investment banking giants.
But it launched a major restructuring, which involved thousands of job cuts and a greater focus on Europe, and has returned to financial health. Last year, it booked its highest annual profit since 2007.
European officials said banks in the European Union’s regulatory system, which does not include Credit Suisse, are resilient and have no direct exposure to the failed California-based Silicon Valley Bank and little to Credit Suisse.
Efforts to strengthen banking regulation in recent years “puts us all in a position to say that European banking supervision and the financial system are robust and stable and that we have resilient capitalisation of European banks”, Scholz said.
European leaders, who played down any risk of a possible banking crisis at their summit on Friday, said the financial system is in good shape because they require broad adherence to tougher requirements to keep ready cash on hand to cover deposits.
International negotiators agreed to those rules after the 2008 financial crisis, triggered by the failure of US investment bank Lehman Brothers. US regulators exempted midsized banks, including Silicon Valley Bank, from those safeguards.
Restaurants and bars brace for biggest alcohol tax jump in 40 years – Ottawa.CityNews.ca
Canada’s restaurant industry is bracing for the biggest jump in the country’s alcohol excise duty in more than 40 years, spurring warnings the tax hike could force some bars and restaurants out of business.
“Any increase at this very vulnerable time for our industry is just another blow while we’re down,” said Brenda O’Reilly, the owner of multiple restaurants and a brewery in St. John’s, N.L.
“It’s like death by a thousand cuts.”
Bar and eatery operators across Canada have endured lockdowns, labour shortages, supply chain mayhem and soaring costs for everything from payroll to cooking oil. Rising inflation has also softened demand as some consumers stay home to save money.
“Many of us haven’t recovered from the pandemic and now they want to raise this tax,” she said. “It’s hard to get blood out of a turnip. We’ll see more restaurant closures if this goes ahead.”
The federal beverage alcohol duty is set to increase 6.3 per cent on April 1.
Alcohol excise duties are imposed at the manufacturing level and adjusted annually based on inflation.
While the duty is separate from provincial liquor board fees and sales taxes, it ultimately filters down to higher prices for consumers, said CJ Hélie, the president of Beer Canada.
“It’s imposed at the point of production and paid by the manufacturer, which means it’s built into the price of the product and magnified as it goes through the supply chain from the distributor to the retailer,” he said.
The automatic annual tax increase is a long-standing irritant for the beverage industry, but was “digestible” when inflation was around two per cent, Hélie said.
But this year’s adjustment is more than triple the usual increase and should be reconsidered given the state of the industry, he said.
“When inflation is through the roof, we need to rethink this automatic formula,” Hélie said. “The industry is already in dire straits. Using a rigid formula in a time like this is unacceptable.”
Some brewers may try to absorb the higher cost by delaying investment plans like new hiring but he said there’s only so much they can do before passing the tax hike along.
“They’ll try to recoup what they can through the wholesale price but it could impact demand and end up costing them in lower sales volumes anyway,” Hélie said.
Alcohol excise duty rates are adjusted by law on an annual basis to account for inflation, Adrienne Vaupshas, press secretary of Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, said in an email.
The increase next month works out to less than a penny on a can of beer, she added.
On a litre of wine, the excise duty rate is increasing to $0.731 from $0.688, or a little over four cents, according to figures provided by the Canada Revenue Agency. For a 750 ml bottle of wine, the increase would be closer to three cents.
But industry group Restaurants Canada said it will cost Canada’s food-service industry about $750 million a year, with the average casual dining restaurant expected to pay an extra $30,000 towards alcohol.
At the retail level, the impact may be more subtle. Though added on top of other price increases, consumers may notice higher prices.
The Liquor Control Board of Ontario said customers may experience a price increase on select products by the end of April if manufacturers pass along the federal excise tax increase.
For example, a 750ml bottle of wine or an imported six-pack of beer may increase by five to 10 cents, while a 750ml spirit of 40 per cent alcohol may increase by 70 cents, the LCBO said in an email.
A spokeswoman for the Nova Scotia Liquor Corp. said beverage alcohol prices are increasing by just over three per cent overall next month.
But these increases are due to a number of factors, including higher excise taxes and the rising cost of raw goods such as bottles, cans, barley, and labels, NSLC spokeswoman Allison Himmelman said in an email.
In British Columbia, a spokesperson for the BC Liquor Distribution Branch said it’s not possible to confirm what level of price increase consumers may or may not see.
“Each liquor supplier will decide whether or not to increase its wholesale price to account for the increase it must pay in excise duty,” Robin Fraser said in an email.
“Then retailers will make the decision on whether to adjust the prices for consumers for those products,” Fraser said. “It is up to each retailer to determine if, and by how much, to raise its prices.”
Alcohol beverage prices rose 5.7 per cent in February compared with a year before, according to Statistics Canada.
While that’s only slightly higher than the overall inflation rate of 5.2 per cent last month, the tax hike in April along with other increases could see the alcohol inflation rate rise faster than general inflation later this spring.
“Our industry is struggling and we can’t absorb more increases,” said Olivier Bourbeau, vice-president of federal affairs with Restaurants Canada. “Restaurant margins are always thin but right now they’re around two to three per cent.”
A recent Restaurants Canada survey found about half of Canadian licensed restaurants are operating just at or below profitability levels.
This is in part because restaurants are absorbing some of the higher costs due to inflation, Bourbeau said.
Indeed, while grocery prices recorded a 10.6 per cent year-over-year increase in February, restaurant food prices only rose 7.7 per cent, Statistics Canada figures show.
Also, alcohol beverages purchased from stores rose 6.0 per cent in February, while alcoholic beverages served in licensed establishments increased only 4.3 per cent, the agency said.
“Restaurants can’t absorb any more price increases,” Bourbeau said. “But if they pass those costs to customers it could hurt their business.”
“At the end of the day, consumers will only pay so much before they start to cut back.”
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