FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried in court for jury selection

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The search for 12 jurors who will decide the fate of FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried began in New York on Tuesday, as dozens of candidates were quizzed over their attitudes to cryptocurrencies and their abilities to remain fair and impartial in the blockbuster criminal case.

The process marked the start of what is expected to be a six-week trial, in which the 31-year-old faces charges of fraud and money laundering related to the multibillion-dollar collapse of his exchange last year. If convicted, Bankman-Fried could spend the rest of his life in prison.

A visibly thinner Bankman-Fried was transported from the notorious Brooklyn detention centre in which he is being held to appear in court. He has claimed he has not been getting regular access to vegan food or necessary medication.

His trademark unruly hair had been trimmed back, and a grey suit hung off his shoulders. Bankman-Fried sat in front of a laptop for most of the proceedings, turning occasionally to survey members of the jury pool.

He spoke just one word before jury selection began, answering “yes” to a question from the judge on whether he understood that he could choose to testify in his own defence at any point, even if his lawyers suggested otherwise.

Over more than five hours, Judge Lewis Kaplan questioned several jurors over whether they had lost money — or had close friends or relatives lose money — by trading crypto, and whether they had strong views about Bankman-Fried based on what they had read or seen in the news.

One potential juror who told the court he had lost “a lot” of money investing in crypto while a family member was “financially ruined” was later dismissed. A pool of just under 50 jurors remained and will be whittled down to 18 — 12 jurors and six alternates — on Wednesday.

Bankman-Fried’s lawyers had asked the judge to question jurors on their attitudes to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, from which the defendant suffers, saying the condition “might affect things like his physical behaviour, body language, or eye contact”. However, Kaplan declined to broach the topic with the jury pool.

Both sides in the Bankman-Fried case have a number of so-called peremptory strikes, which they can use to disqualify jurors.

The start of jury selection coincides with the publication of a long-awaited book about Bankman-Fried by Michael Lewis, the author of works about Wall Street and finance including Liar’s Poker, Flash Boys and The Big Short. In the book, Lewis characterises Bankman-Fried as a genius whose ambition to change the world went tragically wrong.

Lewis told CBS News the book was intended to be a “kind of letter to the jury”.

“I mean there’s going to be this trial, and the lawyers are going to tell two stories,” Lewis told the 60 Minutes programme on Sunday. “And so — there’s a story war going on in the courtroom. And I think neither one of those stories is as good as the story I have.”

“Did any of you watch 60 Minutes Sunday night?” Kaplan asked. Nine prospective jurors told the court they had.


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