FTX claims Bybit, one of world’s largest crypto exchanges, used VIP status to pull hundreds of millions of dollars during collapse

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The bankruptcy estate of FTX filed its latest lawsuit on Friday as part of its attempt to make customers whole, suing the crypto exchange Bybit for nearly $1 billion.

After FTX collapsed in November 2022 under Sam Bankman-Fried, the new leadership stewarded by John J. Ray III has sought to claw back funds from insiders, customers, and recipients of FTX’s investments. Friday’s lawsuit represents one of the largest claims as part of the bankruptcy proceedings.

VIP status

Before its bankruptcy, FTX was one of the largest crypto exchanges in the world, with a number of major traders counted among the company’s clients, including Alameda—the trading arm of FTX led by Bankman-Fried’s one-time girlfriend, Caroline Ellison.

Another active trader on FTX was Mirana, the investment arm of Bybit, currently the sixth-largest cryptocurrency spot exchange by volume.

According to the lawsuit, Mirana’s large account balance on FTX—which hovered around $850 million in November 2022—afforded it special privileges on the platform relative to average FTX customers, including concierge support and increased access to employees.

FTX’s treatment of preferred traders was at the heart of fraud charges brought by the Department of Justice against Bankman-Fried and his inner circle, with prosecutors arguing that Alameda was able to use other customers’ funds for its own purposes, including venture investments and real estate purchases. A jury in a New York federal court found Bankman-Fried guilty of all counts earlier this month.

While Mirana did not have access to other customers’ funds, it did receive VIP treatment. According to the lawsuit filed in a Delaware bankruptcy court, Mirana—along with its affiliated entities and senior employees—rushed to withdraw assets from its FTX accounts in November 2022 as questions around the exchange’s solvency intensified.

Because of Mirana’s preferred status, Bybit’s investment arm was able to prioritize its withdrawal requests, reducing the funds available to other customers. The lawsuit also alleges that FTX held assets on Bybit, allowing Bybit to seize those funds and use them as leverage to force FTX to prioritize its withdrawals.

Through this process, Mirana was able to withdraw nearly $500 million of its digital assets from FTX in the final days before FTX disabled withdrawals. The bankruptcy estate further alleges that Bybit has refused to allow FTX to reclaim the $125 million still held in Bybit accounts and has used an “ostensibly independent entity” called BitDAO to devalue tens of millions of dollars of cryptocurrency tokens held by FTX.

Bybit and Alameda had agreed to a token swap in October 2021, where Alameda received 100 million tokens native to the BitDAO project in exchange for around 3.4 million of FTX’s native token, FTT. FTX alleges that in May 2023, Bybit sought to reverse the trade. After FTX refused, BitDAO announced it would rebrand the project and change the structure of the tokens, including restricting FTX’s ability to redeem its BitDAO tokens.

The FTX bankruptcy estate is seeking to claw back assets it values at $953 million from Bybit, according to pricing as of Nov. 1, 2023.

Representatives from Bybit did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Fortune.

‘A complete failure’

Ray, the steward of the Enron bankruptcy, took over FTX in November 2022. Appearing before Congress in December, he declared that he had never seen such a “complete failure” of corporate control.

The FTX bankruptcy estate has launched a number of lawsuits to recover billions in customer funds, including against the parents of Bankman-Fried, alleging that they were “siphoning” millions of dollars for their “own personal benefit.”

In another lawsuit from July, FTX sought to claw back hundreds of millions of dollars from former insiders, including Bankman-Fried, former FTX CTO Gary Wang, former FTX head of engineering Nishad Singh, and Ellison.

The bankruptcy proceedings are among the most complex in U.S. financial history, as Ray seeks to unwind a knotted mess from Bankman-Fried’s crypto empire that was entangled with many of the major exchanges and lenders in the space, including Binance, Bybit, and Digital Currency Group.

Ray is also seeking to find a buyer to relaunch the failed exchange, with the bidding process reportedly down to three finalists, including a company run by the former president of the New York Stock Exchange.

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