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FTX Customers Poised to Recover All Funds Lost in Collapse

BusinessFTX Customers Poised to Recover All Funds Lost in Collapse

Customers of the failed cryptocurrency exchange FTX are poised to recover all of the money they lost when the firm collapsed in 2022 and receive interest on top of it, the company’s bankruptcy lawyers said on Tuesday.

The announcement was a landmark in the attempt to track down the $8 billion in customer assets that disappeared when FTX imploded virtually overnight, setting off a crisis in the crypto industry. Under a plan filed in federal bankruptcy court in Delaware, virtually all FTX’s creditors, including hundreds of thousands of ordinary investors who used the exchange to buy and sell cryptocurrencies, would receive cash payments equivalent to 118 percent of the assets they had stored on FTX, the lawyers said.

Those payments would flow from a pool of assets that FTX’s lawyers have pulled together in the 17 months since the exchange collapsed, the lawyers said. They tapped a wide range of sources, including digital currencies that FTX still owned when it filed for bankruptcy and company assets like shares in start-ups, which could be sold to bidders.

The amount that FTX recovered is “in general pretty unheard of,” said Yesha Yadav, a law professor at Vanderbilt University. “That’s something that is really quite astonishing for a major bankruptcy.”

The plan comes with a caveat. The amount owed to customers was based on the value of their holdings at the time of FTX’s bankruptcy in November 2022. That means customers won’t reap the benefits of a recent surge in the crypto market that sent the price of Bitcoin to a record high. A customer who lost one Bitcoin when FTX imploded, for example, would be entitled to less than $20,000, even though a Bitcoin is now worth more than $60,000.

It will take months for the payouts to begin. The plan requires approval by the federal judge overseeing FTX’s bankruptcy, John T. Dorsey. If creditors raise any objections to the plan, that could extend the timeline.

“The timing of recovery is still a big question mark,” said Matthew Sedigh, the chief executive of Xclaim, a platform for creditors to trade bankruptcy claims. “Even if the recovery amount is better than expected, collecting these amounts two years from now is kind of a slap in the face.”

Still, it seemed unlikely that customers would get their money back when FTX collapsed. Before its implosion, customers used the exchange as a marketplace to buy and sell digital currencies and stored billions of dollars in crypto on the platform.

After FTX failed, its founder and chief executive, Sam Bankman-Fried, stepped down, handing control to John J. Ray III, a veteran of corporate turnarounds who oversaw the unwinding of Enron, the energy company that collapsed in 2001.

Mr. Bankman-Fried was later convicted of a sweeping fraud in which he siphoned billions of dollars in FTX customer savings to finance venture investments, political donations and other spending. He was sentenced in March to 25 years in prison.

After he took over, Mr. Ray described the cryptocurrency exchange as the biggest mess he had ever seen. Over the next few months, he and his team began the painstaking process of tracking down the missing assets.

Some of the recoveries stemmed from successful investments that Mr. Bankman-Fried made during his FTX tenure. In 2021, the company had put $500 million into the artificial intelligence company Anthropic. A boom in the A.I. industry made those shares much more valuable. This year, Mr. Ray’s team sold about two-thirds of FTX’s stake in Anthropic for $884 million.

FTX also reached a deal to recoup more than $400 million from Modulo Capital, a hedge fund that Mr. Bankman-Fried had financed. And lawyers for FTX filed lawsuits to claw back funds from former company executives and others, including Mr. Bankman-Fried’s parents.

Crypto experts have for months expected significant recoveries in the FTX bankruptcy. Some opportunistic investors have bought bankruptcy claims from the exchange’s customers for pennies on the dollar, hoping to profit when the payouts begin. And when he was sentenced, Mr. Bankman-Fried’s lawyers said he should receive a lighter punishment because FTX’s customers were likely to get their deposits back. A judge rejected that argument.

The speed of the recoveries in the FTX case is unusual for a bankruptcy. In the Enron case, for example, it took about three years for a bankruptcy plan to be approved, and many more years for funds to be distributed to creditors, the FTX lawyers wrote in the court filing on Tuesday.

The FTX bankruptcy has “proceeded with remarkable alacrity given the challenges faced,” the filing said.

The bankruptcy has also been highly profitable for the lawyers working on it. As of last fall, the law firm Sullivan & Cromwell and other experts overseeing the FTX case had charged more than $320 million in fees.

“The lawyers have made an absolute killing on this,” Ms. Yadav said. “This is a huge bonanza for the crypto lawyers.”

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