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As SBF prepares to testify, his fixer keeps being mentioned in court — who is Ramnik Arora?

As SBF prepares to testify, his fixer keeps being mentioned in court — who is Ramnik Arora?
Ramnik Arora was instrumental in helping legitimise Sam Bankman-Fried in the eyes of the rest of the world. Credit: Rita Fortunato/DL News
  • Ramnik Arora was Bankman-Fried’s “handyman,” according to author Michael Lewis.
  • He helped Bankman-Fried forge a reputable persona and became a sounding board for his investment ideas.
  • The US government has not levelled any charges against Arora, and it’s unclear whether he’ll be called upon to testify as a witness.

As Sam Bankman-Fried surprisingly prepares to take the stand in his own high-stakes trial, one name — Ramnik Arora — has repeatedly been mentioned by witnesses testifying against him.

While Arora officially held the title of head of product at FTX, Arora could better be described as Bankman-Fried’s former “handyman,” writes Michael Lewis in his new book, “Going Infinite: The Rise and Fall of a New Tycoon.”

“Ramnik had some grown-­up-­like traits,” a rare quality in Bankman-Fried’s operation, says Lewis. “His knee didn’t bounce up and down when he spoke… He wore long pants… He had the ability to imagine what grown-­ups might think if, say, they found you in bed with the wrong person.”

It’s unknown, however, whether Arora will be testifying himself in the trial. According to the latest filings and discussions, the prosecution is not planning to call him as a witness, but it’s unclear whether Bankman-Fried’s defence might.

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The Department of Justice has not levelled any charges against Arora.

FTX co-founder Gary Wang, former Alameda Research CEO Caroline Ellison, and former FTX head of engineering Nishad Singh have all pleaded guilty to various fraud and conspiracy charges.

“We allowed Alameda to withdraw unlimited funds,” Wang told prosecutors on October 5. Bankman-Fried “directed me to commit these crimes,” said Ellison five days later.

Bankman-Fried has pleaded not guilty to the eight charges brought against him, including fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy.

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Who is Ramnik Arora?

Arora grew up in India, according to Lewis. He studied at New York University and eventually graduated from Stanford with a master’s degree in computer science, his LinkedIn page indicates.

Prior to FTX, Arora worked at Goldman Sachs and then Facebook (now Meta), where he was part of the team working on launching Libra, the social media giant’s failed bid to create its own cryptocurrency.

Arora was hired by Bankman-Fried as FTX’s head of product in October 2020, a little over a year after FTX’s launch. However, Lewis writes that Arora never actually worked on FTX products, and instead became the exchange’s de facto fixer.

“I quickly became the person Sam relied on for random things,” Lewis quotes Arora as saying. “It was, ‘Lots of stuff comes up, and you’re going to handle what comes up.’”

Almost immediately, Arora worked towards putting Bankman-Fried on the map. “The first thing we asked was can we get Sam on TV,” he told Lewis.

Per Lewis, as the company grew, Arora’s role became to help the broader world start trusting Bankman-Fried — and, by association, FTX.

Establishing credibility

Arora quickly rose to become one of Bankman-Fried’s trusted lieutenants.

According to Lewis, Arora’s strategy to give credibility to Bankman-Fried was for FTX to create relationships with reputable venture capitalists. The pair set out to raise capital from firms based in the US — not because the exchange needed money, but simply to “ease [FTX’s] way into the minds of others outside of crypto.”

“The argument was, ‘Look how fast we’re growing, the [crypto] market is huge—­and we’re going to be the credible party,’” Arora told Lewis.

Over time Arora became, along with Singh, a sounding board for Bankman-Fried’s investment ideas, according to Lewis. “When there was something new to buy, Sam often found it useful to talk it over with Ramnik and Nishad,” Lewis writes.

In one episode, Lewis recounts how Arora and Singh tried to talk Bankman-Fried out of giving Elon Musk $1 billion to help him with his acquisition of Twitter.

When FTX’s in-house psychiatrist George Lerner made an organisational chart mapping out the roles of all employees, he put Arora “on top of a small pile of people in charge of both raising and investing vast sums of money,” writes Lewis.

Arora was notably the executive in charge of evaluating which insolvent crypto lending companies to try to save in the summer of 2022, after the market collapse sparked by crypto hedge fund Three Arrows Capital’s wipeout. Lewis credits him for putting together FTX’s potential acquisition deals for BlockFi and Voyager Digital.

Witness testimonies at Bankman-Fried’s trial corroborate Lewis’ account. After the collapse of Terra in May 2022, Bankman-Fried, Arora, Singh, Ellison, and Wang held meetings in Singh’s bedroom about needing more capital, according to Singh.

Arora and Bankman-Fried “discussed the idea of acquiring large lending — large sources of capital that may or may not have been lending to customers of the business, groups like Celsius, Voyager, BlockFi, in part to bail out the space and in part to make Alameda have access to more funds to borrow,” said Singh.

Aftermath

When Singh learned in September 2022 that FTX was short several billion dollars, he asked Bankman-Fried whether he would finally, seriously consider cutting costs. Bankman-Fried said he was “working on that with Ramnik,” testified Singh.

Bankman-Fried went to the Middle East with Arora and Anthony Scaramucci to try and raise money, according to Singh. Ellison said during her own testimony that Bankman-Fried solicited emergency funding from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Nevertheless, it appears that Arora was kept in the dark with regard to Alameda’s habit of using FTX customer money to pay for expenses and loans.

According to Lewis, Arora couldn’t understand why Bankman-Fried felt like he needed to “urgently” raise funds when, in November 2022, FTX customers began pulling hundreds of millions out of the exchange.

“Ramnik could see that money was leaving FTX, but he didn’t view it as a big deal,” writes Lewis. “The customers might panic and pull out all their money. But once they realised that there was nothing to panic about, they’d return, and their money would too.”

Per Lewis, the reason Arora was never told about the use of customer funds was because Bankman-Fried’s inner circle believed he would tell his wife. “The effective altruists might have expanded their circle of trust by one, [Arora] thought, but not two” Lewis writes.

Arora did not return requests for comment for this story.

Got a tip about the SBF trial? Send an email to tcarreras@dlnews.com or aleks@dlnews.com

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