It’s hard to imagine cryptocurrency’s reputation sinking much further. Every day seems to bring a new reputational low.
In much-anticipated news, the trial of Sam Bankman-Fried, founder of onetime second largest crypto exchange FTX, starts today. Not coincidentally, that is also the date on which the new Michael Lewis book, “Going Infinite,” comes out. We’ve been promised “Going Infinite” will explain the precipitous rise and perhaps even steeper fall of this characteristically slovenly tech founder.
The trial is going to be another whole matter.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys are expected to robustly exchange evidence well in advance of any major trial: There shouldn’t be any real surprises for litigators when it comes to tangible evidence (although sometimes what comes out of a given witness’s mouth on the stand can be a shock compared to what they’ve said previously).
The members of the public do not have such advance warning, however, and for us the trial is sure to be full of new revelations. (I understand Michael Lewis is also doing a podcast to supplement his book as the latest comes out during the trial.)
Many of these revelations will be entertaining, many of them will be deliciously salacious, but many of them will also substantively further batter the already ragged reputation of the cryptocurrency industry. It just doesn’t seem there are very many people who are equipped to immediately notice or meaningfully disrupt it when a powerful person in this industry decides to start playing loose with vast sums of money.
Now word is breaking that onetime FTX rival Binance might also be in serious trouble. Binance is an even bigger crypto exchange than FTX was before it crumbled into bankruptcy. Last week, The Wall Street Journal published an article claiming that Binance was “melting down,” detailing reports of severe turmoil within the organization.
Among the major concerns at Binance are legal risks related to Russian sanctions and entanglements with financial regulators, according to the Journal. The company has been bleeding top executives and conducting large-scale layoffs, but one of the potentially insurmountable issues is what is to become of the most powerful Binance executive of them all.
Changpeng Zhao, or “CZ” to industry insiders, is the co-founder and CEO of Binance. He has often been described as “bombastic.” Binance and Zhao have been sued by the Securities and Exchange Commission and Commodity Futures Trading Commission for alleged wrongdoing that runs the gamut from lying to investors to ignoring financial regulations.
Calls have been arising from within Binance for CZ to step down, according to the Journal. (The company told the publication that customer money is safe and it is committed to compliance.)
Even if Binance can weather this latest storm, the chaos enveloping its CEO has shaken the entire cryptocurrency industry (again). Very similar things happened when FTX entered its final days as a going concern.
At this moment, the global cryptocurrency market cap is $1.12 trillion. That means there is way too much value (or perceived value) sitting around out there in the form of cryptocurrency for the idea of blockchain-based currencies to simply fade away overnight, irrespective of the scale of any single cryptocurrency catastrophe.
Yet, these latest problems are far from new in the crypto industry — more like the continuation (or escalation) of a trend. Only time will tell how long investors will continue to put up with repeated thefts and problematic concentrations of power within the world of cryptocurrency. Apparently the well of cryptocurrency investor tolerance runs deep.
For now, I suppose we have a courtroom drama, and a different kind of drama over at Binance, to hold our attention for at least one more news cycle. Those who regularly follow the cryptocurrency industry will even have the rare privilege of seeing the notoriously rumpled Sam Bankman-Fried in a suit and tie, despite the fact that he will still be spending his evenings in jail during the trial.
My advice, though, would be to keep any serious money out of the market volcano that is these swirling cryptocurrency scandals. Instead, go ahead, indulge yourself, and enjoy the entertainment value of the drama for free.
Jonathan Wolf is a civil litigator and author of Your Debt-Free JD (affiliate link). He has taught legal writing, written for a wide variety of publications, and made it both his business and his pleasure to be financially and scientifically literate. Any views he expresses are probably pure gold, but are nonetheless solely his own and should not be attributed to any organization with which he is affiliated. He wouldn’t want to share the credit anyway. He can be reached at [email protected].