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FTX users appear to be cashing out of bankrupt crypto exchange through a Bahamas loophole

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Sam Bankman-Fried, CEO of cryptocurrency exchange FTX, at the Bitcoin 2021 conference in Miami, Florida, on June 5, 2021.

Eva Marie Uzcategui | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Some FTX users appear to have found a way to move money off of the exchange through a back door in the Bahamas.

Analysis by data firm Argus found unusual trading patterns over the past five days as FTX was gating customer withdrawals. Most irregularities had to do with digital collectibles, known as NFTs. The patterns suggest “desperate” customers were turning to FTX users in the Bahamas for help, according to Argus.

The now-bankrupt global cryptocurrency exchange is only allowing withdrawals in the Bahamas after halting FTX liquidations everywhere else in the world. The once $32 billion firm, partially based in Nassau, said in a tweet said it had to facilitate Bahamian withdrawals to comply with local regulations.

High-net-worth users are paying astronomical prices for NFTs on FTX at a time when the broader crypto and digital collectible market has nosedived. In one case, a collectible that traded near $9 three weeks ago sold for $10 million on Friday. Another NFT that was similarly priced a month ago, sold for $888,888.88 this week.

“This NFT activity is highly irregular at a macro level when the NFT market overall is declining, both in value and in volume, and in this specific case when there is limited trading on other FTX markets,” said Owen Rapaport, cofounder and CEO of Argus, a blockchain analytics company that specializes in insider trading.

Argus said this type of trading is likely an attempt by FTX users to access money in any way they can. One likely possibility, according to Rapaport, is that traders have an agreement with the Bahamian users to pay some percentage of the assets, and in return receive them once they’ve been successfully withdrawn from FTX.

Elsewhere, trading volumes for nonfungible tokens have dropped 97% from their record high, according to data from Dune Analytics. The price of bitcoin is down 75% from its all-time high a year ago.

These trades are visible on the blockchain, which acts as a public ledger for tracking the movement of money. While anyone can see where the money moves, identities are still anonymous. Argus could not say for certain who these customers were and that FTX appeared to have shut down the irregular trading on Friday. There are still “bids” or offers to buy these now pricey collectibles, but no buy orders have been executed since.

FTX and its founder Sam Bankman-Fried did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

Some Twitter users have called out similar irregularities this week. A popular crypto podcast host, who goes by Cobie, was among the first to suggest users were purchasing NFTs that are put up for sale by Bahamian users. He pointed to one wallet withdrawing $21 million worth of the cryptocurrency Tether from FTX, and sending it to an address that appeared to be based in the Bahamas.

FTX has reportedly seen mysterious outflows after filing for bankruptcy protection. Reuters reported early Saturday that between $1 billion and $2 billion in customer funds had “vanished” from the exchange, citing two people familiar with the matter. Meanwhile, data firm Elliptic estimates that $473 million has been moved off of FTX in a suspected hack.

The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Friday after a week of turmoil. The exchange, run by 30-year-old Sam Bankman-Fried, has been accused of misusing customer funds and was close to being bought by its biggest rival after a liquidity crisis.

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