Former FTX spokesman Kevin O’Leary defends endorsement of Bankman-Fried’s crypto firm

Finance

Shark Tank” star Kevin O’Leary defended his position as a spokesperson for bankrupt crypto firm FTX on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Friday.

“This is America. The justice system provides the presumption of innocence unless proven otherwise,” O’Leary responded when asked why he didn’t more stridently condemn Bankman-Fried. The former FTX CEO was arrested by Bahamian authorities earlier this week, pending extradition and trial to face charges in U.S. federal court.

O’Leary was pressed on his paid FTX ambassadorship, venture capital career and his defense of Sam Bankman-Fried days before his arrest, by CNBC’s Andrew Ross Sorkin, Joe Kernen and Becky Quick.

Kernen minced no words with the Canadian businessman. “Are you still calling yourself a venture investor?” the Squawk Box host asked O’Leary. “Your venture investing was your name being able to used as a spokesperson?”

“Joe, bad news. I have a very large advisory business,” O’Leary retorted. Kernen continued to press O’Leary. “Are you still conflating money you got paid by FTX that you lost, or did you actually invest some of your own funds?”

“Money is fungible,” O’Leary replied.

“So you didn’t. Once again, you’re a venture investor who ventured your name,” Kernan said. “You didn’t even pay your own money on the taxes.”

O’Leary continued to return to his lost $10 million investment in FTX, which was given to him as part of his compensation for appearing as a paid spokesperson. Traditional venture investing typically involves a fund or individual investing their own funds in a business.

“They had to open that round for me,” O’Leary said. “I have 54 companies in my portfolio right now.”

“Kevin, you are an actor in this drama, and you had a front-row seat to Bankman-Fried up until the very end,” Sorkin said. “What do you think happened? Do you think this was a fraud?”

“I don’t have the facts. [New FTX CEO] John Ray doesn’t have them yet. He’s going to get them,” O’Leary responded. “I’m looking through my records. I’m willing to fund a forensic account of our accounts.”

“There are a lot of bad things that have been alleged here, and a lot of them are going to be true, likely,” he added.

But at the same time, O’Leary said he wasn’t inclined to indulge outraged investors on Twitter.

“I understand that the herd is angry,” the businessman, who is also a CNBC contributor, said.

Sorkin also observed that, as opposed to Tom Brady or Larry David, investors might expect that O’Leary knew better than most how to understand if FTX was problematic or not.

“Companies advertise, and they do it this way,” O’Leary said.

Kernen also pressed O’Leary on his rapid about-face on bitcoin.

“Did that conversion coincide with the $15 million you got from FTX?” Kernen asked. “No,” O’Leary said, stating that his bitcoin investing began years before his ambassadorship for FTX, in 2018.

But Sorkin pointed to a 2019 television appearance and noted that O’Leary called bitcoin “garbage.”

“Then I’m wrong about that,” O’Leary said. “The point is, it was long before I became a paid spokesperson. Long before.”

“I love getting sandpapered by you guys every day. It’s fantastic,” O’Leary concluded.

Disclosure: CNBC owns the exclusive off-network cable rights to “Shark Tank.”

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