FTX investor and former paid spokesperson Kevin O’Leary refused to condemn Sam Bankman-Fried or classify the doomed company’s meltdown as fraud during a tense television appearance on Friday.
O’Leary, one of the sharks on the hit show “Shark Tank,” provided a toothless response when pressed to point a finger at who’s to blame.
“I don’t have all the facts,” he told the hosts of CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”
Bankman-Fried faces up to 115 years in prison on eight federal charges for his alleged crypto con job and has drawn comparisons to the late Ponzi Scheme mastermind Bernie Madoff.
Prosecutors say Bankman-Fried is responsible for “one of the biggest financial frauds in US history.” He is locked in a Bahamian prison while he fights extradition.
But O’Leary isn’t ready to convict his former benefactor.
“This is America. The justice system provides the presumption of innocence unless proven otherwise,” said the TV celebrity, who has the nickname “Mr. Wonderful.”
CNBC’s Andrew Ross Sorkin asked O’Leary point-blank if he viewed FTX as a fraud.
“Kevin, you are an actor in this drama, and you had a front-row seat to Bankman-Fried up until the very end,” Sorkin said. “What do you think happened? Do you think this was a fraud?”
“I don’t have the facts. [FTX CEO] John Ray doesn’t have them yet. He’s going to get them,” O’Leary replied. “I’m looking through my records. I’m willing to fund a forensic account of our accounts.”
“There are a lot of bad things that have been alleged here, and a lot of them are going to be true, likely,” he added.
O’Leary, a CNBC contributor, has admitted to receiving $15 million to serve as a brand ambassador for FTX. He also held an equity stake valued at more than $1 million. O’Leary said he has lost the entirety of his proceeds from FTX since the company declared bankruptcy.
Earlier this week, O’Leary was called to testify before the Senate Banking Committee about FTX’s meltdown.
O’Leary was one of several celebrities, including NFL legend Tom Brady and comedian Larry David, who were named as defendants in an ongoing class-action lawsuit on behalf of scorned FTX investors. They have faced intense criticism for hawking FTX to the public prior to its downfall.
At one point in the interview, the CNBC hosts pointed out that O’Leary was an outspoken critic of cryptocurrencies prior to joining up with FTX. Despite his public remarks, O’Leary claimed that he began investing in cryptocurrency before he became a spokesperson for FTX in 2018.
But Sorkin noted that In 2019, O’Leary had referred to bitcoin as “garbage.”
“Then I’m wrong about that,” O’Leary said. “The point is, it was long before I became a paid spokesperson. Long before.”
When asked about ongoing efforts to reimburse those impacted by FTX’s bankruptcy, O’Leary said the platform’s customers should be made whole before any investors.
“The shareholders, of which I’m included, I don’t think we should get anything back. We’re venture investors, we’re big boys, we lost our money, we understand it,” O’Leary said. “I don’t want anything back there until the people who had money in their accounts get theirs back.”
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