FTX seeks creditor votes on bankruptcy wind-down payments

FILE PHOTO: FTX logo is seen in this illustration taken March 31, 2023. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

NEW YORK (Reuters) -Bankrupt crypto exchange FTX received court approval on Tuesday to solicit creditor votes on a liquidation plan that would pay FTX customers back in cash, over the objections of some customers who have demanded higher repayments reflecting recent rises in cryptocurrency values.

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 had been 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.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge John Dorsey approved FTX's documents describing its proposal and opened voting on the wind-down plan during the hearing, overruling objections raised by some FTX customers who challenged the company's proposed liquidation.

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, with interest.

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, but many FTX customers feel short-changed. Customers who 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 had urged the court not to allow votes to go forward on the bankruptcy plan they said was fatally flawed. Some of those customers have separately filed lawsuits outside of bankruptcy court seeking rulings that FTX never owned customer deposits and must repay their full, current value.

Objecting creditors argued 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 the bankruptcy filing, told Reuters 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.

FTX creditors will have until Aug. 16 to cast their ballots, and FTX intends to seek final approval of its wind-down plan on Oct. 7.

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

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