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FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried is talking about his crypto company's final days

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Imagine you're at the center of a massive corporate collapse. The first thing your lawyer might tell you is to zip it. But just weeks after FTX filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, it's now former CEO, Sam Bankman-Fried, is doing the opposite. He's been trying to shape the public's understanding of how his crypto empire imploded so quickly. NPR's David Gura reports.

DAVID GURA, BYLINE: Sam Bankman-Fried's lawyers have told him to keep quiet. But Bankman-Fried is ignoring their advice. Instead, the disgraced founder of FTX is tweeting and doing interviews. And on Wednesday, he appeared at The New York Times DealBook Summit.

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SAM BANKMAN-FRIED: I think I have a duty to explain what happened, and I think I have a duty to do everything I can to try and do what's right.

GURA: From his home base in the Bahamas, still sporting that signature T-shirt and unkempt coif, the most notorious figure in crypto is mounting an unorthodox one-man PR campaign. A white-collar criminal defense attorney would say speaking out like this is risky, potentially self-destructive. It's also irritating to FTX's new CEO, who has accused Bankman-Fried of making, quote, "erratic and misleading public statements." But Bankman-Fried is sharing his version of the events that led to the spectacular collapse of the company with anyone who will listen, hoping he can rehabilitate his image, claiming all the while this is not about him.

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BANKMAN-FRIED: I mean, look, I've had a bad month. This has not been...

(LAUGHTER)

BANKMAN-FRIED: ...A fun month for me. But that's not what matters here. Like, what matters here is the millions of customers.

GURA: Who are furious, by the way, desperate to get back money many of them fear is gone for good. An attorney for FTX told a bankruptcy judge a substantial amount of assets have either been stolen or are missing. Bankman-Fried is presenting himself as newly poor. He says, in a matter of weeks, he's gone from being worth $20 billion to having just one working credit card. But he said he hasn't spent much time worrying about potential criminal charges or jail time. As Bankman-Fried tells it, he wasn't the engineer of a massive, complex fraud. He's just a guy who got distracted.

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BANKMAN-FRIED: I obviously wish that I'd spent more time dwelling on the downsides and less time thinking about the upsides.

GURA: It's a theme Bankman-Fried returned to in another interview, this one with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News. Bankman-Fried is targeting different demographics with each appearance. He spoke to a boardroom crowd at that high-dollar business conference on Wednesday and to a broader breakfast table audience today on "Good Morning America."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GOOD MORNING AMERICA")

BANKMAN-FRIED: If I look back on myself, I think I got a little cocky - maybe more than a little bit. And I think part of me, like, you know, felt like we'd made it.

GURA: FTX's valuation soared to more than $30 billion, and there was the Super Bowl ad, the sponsorship deals. And as cryptocurrency values tanked, Bankman-Fried was bailing out and buying out rival companies right and left. So in Bankman-Fried's explanation of what happened, distraction eventually gave way to disregard.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GOOD MORNING AMERICA")

BANKMAN-FRIED: I wasn't even trying. Like, I wasn't spending any time or effort trying to manage risk on FTX - trying like - and that obviously...

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: That's a stunning admission.

BANKMAN-FRIED: What?

STEPHANOPOULOS: That's a pretty stunning admission.

BANKMAN-FRIED: Yeah. I mean, I don't know what to say. Like, what happened happened.

GURA: Bankman-Fried's voice carries right now because of how fresh the implosion is and also because investigations by regulators and law enforcement are taking place behind closed doors. And FTX's new CEO is still conducting his own post-mortem. It'll take months to get a fuller picture that will give us a better understanding of why what happened happened and how what happened happened. David Gura, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Gura
Based in New York, David Gura is a correspondent on NPR's business desk. His stories are broadcast on NPR's newsmagazines, All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and he regularly guest hosts 1A, a co-production of NPR and WAMU.