FTX seeks creditor votes on bankruptcy wind-down payments

By Dietrich Knauth

NEW YORK (Reuters) -FTX on Tuesday is asking a judge to allow customers of the bankrupt crypto exchange to vote on a liquidation plan that would pay them back in cash, over the objections of some customers who have demanded higher repayments.

Getting to this point has been “a huge team effort” for FTX, which has reached settlements with several U.S. government agencies and sold off assets that FTX purchased with misappropriated customer funds, including investments in crypto and other tech companies, venture funds, and real estate, FTX attorney Andy Dietderich said at a court hearing in Wilmington, Delaware.

“Everybody was an involuntary investor in this crazy pool of assets, and our job was to turn it into cash,” Dietderich said.

Dietderich told U.S. Bankruptcy Judge John Dorsey that he should approve FTX’s court documents describing its proposal and open voting on the wind-down plan.

Since filing for bankruptcy, FTX has recovered up to $16 billion to repay customers, including about $12 billion in cash, and it says it will repay all customer claims in full.

But some FTX customers dispute the bankrupt exchange’s promise of a “full recovery,” because FTX will repay customer claims based on much lower cryptocurrency prices from November 2022, when the exchange filed for bankruptcy.

Dorsey has already signed off on that approach to valuing claims, but many FTX customers feel short-changed by the fact that they are not benefiting from a recent rise in crypto prices. Customers that had one bitcoin deposited on FTX when it went bankrupt will receive about $16,800 in cash, instead of the roughly $60,000 that a bitcoin is worth today.

Aggrieved FTX customers have urged the court not to allow votes to go forward on a bankruptcy plan that they say is fatally flawed, and they have separately filed lawsuits outside of bankruptcy court seeking rulings that FTX never owned customer deposits and must repay their full, current value.

The objecting creditors argue that FTX’s proposed voting forms are meant to mislead customers by “breathlessly touting what they claim to be a full recovery with interest.”

“Customers must be made aware that the plan’s ‘full recovery’ is nothing of the sort,” the creditors said in their objection.

FTX, once among the world’s top crypto exchanges, shook the sector with its collapse, leaving an estimated 9 million customers and investors facing billions of dollars in losses.

FTX CEO John Ray, a turnaround specialist who took over after FTX filed for bankruptcy, told Reuters that FTX could not simply return the cryptocurrency that customers deposited. Those funds are long gone, stolen by former CEO and founder Sam Bankman-Fried, who has since been sentenced to 25 years in prison.

“FTX.com had a massive shortfall at the time of the chapter 11 filing in November 2022 – holding only 0.1% of bitcoin and only 1.2% of the ethereum customers believed the exchange held,” Ray said in a statement. “We cannot give tokens back that we never had.”

Cash payments are the only fair way to distribute value to a wide variety of customers, who had different types of cryptocurrency assets whose values have fluctuated greatly since the company went bankrupt, Ray said.

“We cannot pay one creditor more without taking it from another creditor,” Ray said. “Those arguing for appreciation of ‘their’ tokens would be taking money away from fellow customers who held cash, stablecoin or other crypto.”

FTX said in recent court filings that 98% of its customers will be able to receive full repayment within 60 days of a bankruptcy court approval of its wind-down plan. The faster payment option will cover all customers who are owed up to $50,000.

If Dorsey approves FTX’s disclosure statement, creditors will have until Aug. 16 to cast their ballots.

(Reporting by Dietrich Knauth in New York; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi, Matthew Lewis and Daniel Wallis)