Marc-Antoine Julliard typically trades cocoa beans. But in the spring of 2021, the London-based commodities broker decided to diversify into cryptocurrency trading. His platform of choice was FTX.
Two years later, Julliard stood as the prosecution’s first witness in the criminal fraud trial against FTX co-founder Sam Bankman-Fried, who’s accused of misusing billions of dollars in client money.
In testimony that lasted around 50 minutes on Wednesday, Julliard recounted his experience with FTX, including the “extremely anxious” feeling he had the day he unsuccessfully attempted to withdraw part of the $100,000 worth of crypto and cash he had stored on the site. He and thousands of other FTX customers were practically wiped out when the exchange went belly up late last year.
Like many others, Julliard said he he was under the impression that there were “strong financials behind the company.”
Julliard is the poster child for the case the prosecution laid out in its opening statement as it tries to prove to a jury that clients were led to believe the money they stored with FTX was safe. Prospective customers, Julliard said, were drawn in through savvy marketing, with no reason to believe that FTX would be repurposing their crypto funds.
In a trial that’s set to last six weeks, Bankman-Fried, a man once revered as the “white knight” of crypto, faces seven federal charges, including wire fraud, securities fraud and money laundering, that could put him in prison for the rest of his life.
A jury was seated shortly after 11:30 a.m. (though four of the 12 jurors were already looking to be dismissed). Opening statements began about an hour later. Julliard took the stand just before 2 p.m. to a packed courthouse in Manhattan.
As the lead witness, Julliard helped lay out the government’s narrative. Much of his decision to buy into FTX had to do with the celebrities and venture funds attached to the brand. He referenced an ad with supermodel Gisele Bündchen and Formula 1 marketing. He also pointed to prolific media coverage, which bolstered his trust in the company.
Julliard wasn’t an aggressive crypto trader. He said he never participated in margin trading, or borrowing money to make purchases, nor did he engage in a lending program offered by the company that allowed users to earn interest on idle crypto.
Defense wants customers to shoulder blame
The defense is trying to make clients accountable for what it says were their choices to buy and trade crypto.
“Sam didn’t defraud anyone,” said Mark Cohen, Bankman-Fried’s attorney, in his opening statement. Cohen called it a “hindsight c….