Donald Trump’s old press secretary, Anthony Scaramucci, played a fascinating role in the downfall of crypto exchange FTX. But he’s still a believer.
About 18 hours before his old boss Donald Trump announced a fresh tilt at the US presidency, former White House press secretary – for 11 days – Anthony Scaramucci revealed his role in the unravelling of crypto exchange FTX and the downfall of its founder, Sam Bankman-Fried.
It’s all The Mooch’s fault – sort of.
In September this year, Scaramucci sold 30 per cent of his firm Skybridge to FTX; Bankman-Fried wanted to buy the lot but Scaramucci was hesitant. “I am 58 years old [and] it’s been my life’s work,” he told a Bloomberg event on Tuesday night.
Happily, Scaramucci got cash. Unhappily, Bankman-Fried requested The Mooch whack $US10 million ($14.8 million) into FTX s underlying crypto token, FTT, which Scaramucci did in the spirit of the deal.
Then, just a few weeks ago, Scaramucci took Bankman-Fried on a fundraising tour to the Middle East – “I’ve been doing this longer than Sam has been alive, so I have a lot of relationships over there” – which was designed to raise $US2 billion at a valuation of $US32 billion. Scaramucci says Bankman-Fried’s key message, which he now knows was “unfortunately made up”, was that the money would be used to buttress FTX’s balance sheet and allow it to buy distressed crypto assets to stabilise the sector.
But it was in some of those meetings, Scaramucci says, that Bankman-Fried started trash-talking Changpeng “CZ” Zhao, the founder and boss of rival crypto exchange Binance. This got back to Zhao, who then dumped his holdings of the FTT token, sparking a run that exposed the leverage inside FTX and Bankman-Fried’s other business, Alameda Research.
Scaramucci says that fateful Middle East trip, and Bankman-Fried’s trash talk, “tipped the first domino [of the FTX collapse] a lot earlier than that domino would have been tipped otherwise”.
Compared to his appearance at The Australian Financial Review Cryptocurrency Summit in April, Scaramucci looked decidedly downbeat. While he hopes to buy the 30 per cent stake in Skybridge back from FTX’s liquidators, that’s likely to involve a long fight. He insists his due diligence was thorough, but knows it clearly wasn’t good enough.
“I think it’s very hard to protect yourself from that misrepresentation. If just one person can avoid the calamity that I’m living with right now….it’s worth it for me to share the story.”
Still, Scaramucci hasn’t completely lost his crypto-convert zeal. He continues to hold the view that crypto products and blockchain technology will ultimately foster better products than those currently used by the financial sector.
Big technological shifts always bring frauds and doubters, Scaramucci says, but eventually “better products typically get adopted”.
“I think that probably slowed the forward progress and slowed the future. But I still think the future is coming.”
What the industry needs now, Scaramucci says, is collaboration between crypto founders and regulators to build trust in the sector.
“The crypto industry has learned why we have banking regulation. We need regulation. You can set things up without guardrails and do a lot of damage.”
Indeed. But what crypto surely also needs now is less of the sort of hyperbole that advocates such as Scaramucci have indulged in.
At the Financial Review crypto Summit, Scaramucci happily predicted bitcoin would go to $US500,000. On Tuesday night, he lumped bitcoin doubters in with those who dismissed the motor car or the internet.
Surely we’re beyond this cartoonish stuff now. Regulation will help rebuild confidence in the crypto sector, but its leaders need to start remaking the case that the technology has a utility beyond speculation and financial engineering.