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Sam Bankman-Fried could face extradition from the Bahamas to the US: Here's how, legal experts explain

Sam Bankman-Fried at DealBook Summit
When the US government brings criminal charges against overseas defendants, it could lead to extradition. Sam Bankman-Fried (inset) joined New York Times journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin apparently from the Bahamas last week.
  • FTX is reportedly facing investigations in the US and the Bahamas amid missing funds.
  • Its founder Sam Bankman-Fried has mounted a media tour apparently from the Bahamas, where he's said to still live.
  • US prosecutors have powerful tools to charge and summon defendants living overseas, experts said.

Sam Bankman-Fried, who joined last week's DealBook interview in a video call apparently from the Bahamas, sounded unsure about his travel plans. 

He told journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin that he'd thought about whether he would head to the US, and potentially even speak with members of Congress, according to a transcript of the interview published in the New York Times.

Some day, the choice might not be necessarily his. US government investigators, including prosecutors at the Department of Justice, are reportedly pursuing multiple lines of inquiries into the crash of Bankman-Fried's crypto lending company. 

If the US government ultimately succeeds in bringing criminal charges against him, prosecutors have legal tools to extradite him to the US, legal experts told Insider. No charges have been brought so far against Bankman-Fried. 

"How common is extradition? It's incredibly common, it happens every day," said Jordi de Llano, a former federal prosecutor in Boston investigating financial crimes, who is now a partner at Troutman Pepper Hamilton Sanders LLP. 

The US government's power to investigate and extradite overseas defendants is governed by various international agreements, and honed through decades of prosecutions in drug cases involving defendants living outside the US, and in other types of cases involving white collar crimes. 

It's how the US government, for instance, in 2016 secured the extradition of drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman from Mexico, and pursued the extradition of soccer officials in a wide-ranging corruption prosecution involving the FIFA organization.  

When it is investigating targets living overseas, the DOJ relies on its international affairs office, which works with the US State Department to look into the specifics of treaties with the countries involved. Such agreements are often known as "mutual legal assistance treaties," or "MLats," in white collar prosecution parlance. 

But prosecutors have several more steps to clear before they seek an extradition. They must bring charges against the defendant in question in the first place, a fairly rigorous process that can often involve a grand jury. 

A federal grand jury, which can comprise close to a couple dozen members, may consider whether the evidence prosecutors have presented meets the legal standard of "probable cause" — that is, if it is enough to show the likelihood that potential criminal actions took place — to justify bringing criminal charges. If the grand jury agrees that there are grounds to pursue charges, it leads to an official indictment. Prosecutors can then ask the court to issue an arrest warrant. 

In cases involving defendants living abroad, that warrant can be passed along to enforcement authorities overseas, where it can help detain the target defendant while the US makes a formal extradition request, de Llano said. 

Extradition processes are governed by treaties with foreign governments, including the Bahamas. They're designed to facilitate international investigations, and can require that the charges at issue be a crime in both jurisdictions. Charges like securities fraud and money laundering can typically meet those types of standards, experts said. 

The US government's extradition treaty with the Bahamas allows the US to extradite defendants for charges involving offenses that would be considered crimes in both countries, and which could result in a jail sentence of longer than a year.  

Extradition can be a lengthy process that takes place through diplomatic channels. The US would file its extradition application through the Justice Department's Office of International Affairs, which oversees those requests. The US would have to compile materials, like an explanation of the charges and legal provisions involved, sending it through the US State Department to the Bahamian government. 

"You'd have to do a fair bit of work to get it done, but if you're right on the law, the proceeding doesn't really involve a trial on the facts," said Harry Sandick, a partner at Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP, and a former federal prosecutor in Manhattan. "It's no defense to extradition to say, 'I'm innocent.'"  

In more extreme cases involving serious sentences like the death penalty, countries can also negotiate to hand over the defendant only if such a sentence is off the table. 

"A nation can then go ahead and put conditions on it," said Fredric Lederer, a law professor at William & Mary Law School. 

In this case, it's not likely that a potential securities fraud case would allow another nation to put terms on its extradition.

Insider contacted Bankman-Fried's last known attorneys for comment on this story; they didn't respond. Bankman-Fried also didn't respond.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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