Crypto

Kevin O’Leary and Anthony Scaramucci discuss SBF, FTX and what’s next for crypto

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Image of investors Kevin O'Leary and Anthony Scaramucci on the street in New York in 2019.
Image Credits: MediaPunch/Bauer-Griffin (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

In a dimly purple-lit room with floor-to-ceiling windows (and a yacht outside) at the Benzinga Future of Crypto event, Kevin O’Leary, investor and founder of O’Leary Ventures, and Anthony Scaramucci, founder and managing partner of SkyBridge Capital, took to the stage for the “Opportunities and Threats Facing Crypto” panel to discuss what crypto’s future may hold after the downfall of FTX.

The road ahead for FTX and CEO and founder Sam Bankman-Fried will be long, both panelists agreed. But Bankman-Fried is presumed innocent unless proven guilty in the court system, they said.

“If you’re asking me if it’s right or wrong what he did, based on the information I have, it was very wrong what he did,” Scaramucci said. “But I’ll leave it up to regulators and prosecutors to decide.”

Scaramucci shared that he went to see Bankman-Fried in the Bahamas on November 8, three days before the exchange filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

“I knew there was a serious problem, more serious than what was appearing to the outside world,” Scaramucci said.

“It was very obvious that they had moved money from FTX to Alameda. [ … ] The compliance people told me what happened and they were actually seeking my advice. That was a direct violation of the terms of service.

“You have to think long term about this stuff,” Scaramucci said. “Unfortunately, when you get new product innovation and new ideas, you get charlatans and fraudsters, and this happened in the rail industry, steel industry, phone system industry, and it happens all the time. You can get scared out of it and leave it, but I think that’d be a mistake.”

“I was 6’5” when I went to work for Donald Trump, I was 6’1” when I met SBF but I’m still here,” Scaramucci, who stands 5 feet, 9 inches tall, joked.

Both O’Leary and Scaramucci were big believers in FTX and SBF. FTX has a 30% stake in SkyBridge, which Scaramucci said his firm has been trying to buy back since the collapse. O’Leary was a spokesperson for the exchange.

“For the young people in the room, you have to take risks and break ground,” Scaramucci said in response to the situation. He also said he had “billions invested in crypto,” but that’s “less than billions now.” SkyBridge had no assets in FTX custody because it took an investment from Bankman-Fried and domiciled those assets away from the exchange, “so we had a Chinese wall of separation.”

When O’Leary was asked about his time working with FTX, he said he feels “fortunate.”

“That may seem like a strange comment but because I was a paid spokesperson — I never put my LPs into any of it,” O’Leary said, “There isn’t a single cent of their money in FTX. It’s all my personal money, so I’m not happy about that, but the challenge for anyone involved as a fiduciary is to explain what happened [ … ] but it’s all on me.”

“I am just one shareholder and I’m just one pissed-off cowboy and I have a lot of lawyers and I’m going to get to the bottom of this for me,” O’Leary said.

In recent weeks, O’Leary defended Bankman-Fried, but during the panel on Wednesday, he slightly changed his stance. “I have made more money investing in people who have gone through catastrophic failures, but not criminals. I don’t invest in criminals.”

If Bankman-Fried “turns up to be a fraudster and ends up in jail, I can’t invest in him,” O’Leary added. But he said he would invest in someone who experienced a catastrophic failure. “I’d say absolutely because that’s experience and how they learn to be better and it’s highly motivational toward the next challenge.

“So I don’t know what’s going to happen to him and I’m not an advocate for any type of financial fraud [ … ] but do I believe in entrepreneurs that break the bounds, are disruptive, and fail over and over again and need investors a third or fourth time? Yes. I’d do that for anybody, not just Sam Bankman-Fried,” O’Leary said.

At the end of the day, those involved in FTX “look like idiots,” O’Leary said.

“Let’s call it what it is. We all have egg on our faces, but this is not the end of the story,” O’Leary added. “What needs to happen now is transparency: Get the data and follow the path of the money. I’m going to find out where every cent of mine went. I may not get it back [ … ] but I’m not the only institution that’s going to do that.”

“But we got to go forward as an industry and grow the industry and innovate and be incredibly transparent with people,” Scaramucci said. “I’ve been doing this a long time and this has been a really tough year. I’m so looking forward to 2023. It can’t be much worse than this; this has been a shitty year.”

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