The loan was among several deals struck with Jean Chalopin, the head of Deltec and Moonstone banks — and co-creator of Inspector Gadget — who forged a lucrative relationship with FTX.
In late 2021, Deltec was well on its way to becoming one of the world’s most consequential crypto banks — but it needed money. An obscure Bahamian bank born from private wealth management, it had found a profitable, yet risky new role as the banker of choice for crypto giants. After signing on Tether, a wildly popular “asset-backed” stablecoin that had been dropped by traditional financiers, Deltec amassed a roster of white hot clients, among them the $32 billion crypto exchange FTX, then one of the largest.
Before FTX collapsed in November, it appeared flush with cash, spending lavishly across the Bahamas, while its founder Sam Bankman-Fried was lauded as a “future trillionaire.” Amid the dollar signs surrounding his new client, Deltec chairman Jean Chalopin saw an answer to his funding woes. In October 2021, he secured a $50 million loan from an entity connected to FTX through one of its executives; the entity’s ties to FTX and its loan to Deltec have not been previously reported.
Now, as investigators sort through the rubble of the biggest financial catastrophe in recent memory, Deltec is emerging as a central figure in the scrum of lawyers, banks and unwitting associates FTX pulled into its orbit. And its fate, once hitched to the exchange’s heady ascent, is now caught in its cataclysmic downward spiral. Further complicating matters are a handful of transactions between FTX, its sister trading arm Alameda Research and Chalopin’s companies that make their interests hard to disentangle.
In addition to the loan to Deltec in late 2021, Alameda invested $11.5 million into Moonstone Bank, a tiny Washington state bank owned by Chalopin through a holding company. In a December court filing, Bahamas liquidators revealed that Moonstone held nearly $50 million in FTX funds across two accounts, appearing to make the exchange its largest customer, and Alameda its largest investor. After the deal was announced, Chalopin boasted that it “signifies the recognition, by one of the world’s most innovative financial leaders, of the value of what we are aiming to achieve.”
The deal also illustrated Chalopin’s ties to FTX leaders. Dan Friedberg, a top FTX lawyer, was approached by Chalopin about the Moonstone deal because the two had forged a close personal bond. During business trips to the Bahamas, Friedberg dined with Chalopin, and FTX and Deltec employees recalled to Forbes that both men spoke highly of one another. “Starting in or around August 2021, Jean began discussions with Dan Friedberg about a potential investment,” Chalopin’s spokesperson Eric Hersey told Forbes.
The Moonstone deal is among several being scrutinized by U.S. lawmakers. As authorities investigate FTX and its executives in search of evidence of securities fraud, it emerged this month that Friedberg, FTX’s chief regulatory officer, met with prosecutors, sharing details in late November about Bankman-Fried’s alleged misuse of customer funds, and how money was spent by Alameda. (Bankman-Fried has pleaded not guilty to eight criminal charges.) Reuters reported that Friedberg has not been told he is under criminal investigation, and had written to FBI agents in an email: “I want to cooperate in all respects.”
Chalopin declined to speak with Forbes when reached for comment, and instead provided answers to a detailed list of questions through his spokesperson, including confirming the $50 million loan and its ties to FTX.
Friedberg declined to comment.
“There’s a lot more questions than answers. It’s certainly highly irregular and has got our attention.”
Deltec ultimately became a proud ally of FTX in private and in public. In April, the bank sponsored FTX’s extravagant Crypto Bahamas conference, which featured Chalopin as a speaker alongside Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and other notable figures. “Deltec has been a long-time friend of FTX, and it is our pleasure to support them,” Chalopin said at the time.
In recent weeks, non-traditional banks have been the focus of investigators hoping to track the exchange’s flow of money as an estimated one million creditors seek to reclaim their assets. In an SEC complaint filed against Alameda CEO Caroline Ellison and FTX co-founder Gary Wang last month, it accused FTX of funneling customer funds to Alameda through another crypto bank, Silvergate Capital. The SEC did not respond to questions about whether it is investigating Moonstone or Deltec.
Testifying before Congress last month, FTX’s new CEO John J. Ray, who is overseeing the company’s bankruptcy, affirmed plans to review ties between the exchange and its banking partners, including Moonstone. “We’re looking at what the dollars were that went from the FTX group to [Moonstone Bank] and looking at the connections of that bank to the Bahamas,” he told lawmakers. “There’s a lot more questions than answers. It’s certainly highly irregular and has got our attention.”
Lawyers for FTX did not respond to a request for comment.
To hear Chalopin tell it, transforming the Bahamas into a crypto financial haven was like clearing a jungle in which “you have to use your machete and cut the branches,” the 72-year-old said of Deltec’s role during a June podcast. “It would be nothing in the Bahamas if it weren’t for us in the beginning.”
Chalopin, a bespectacled Frenchman with a flop of red hair, was one of the minds behind Inspector Gadget, the popular cartoon about a buffoonish but lovable cyborg detective. Chalopin’s own tale has been larger than life: After co-creating Inspector Gadget in the 1980s, he oversaw a colorful resume of ventures, including a failed theme park in Paris, a pharmaceutical company and a chain of Beijing restaurants, before pivoting to a career as a banker. In 2010, he took over Deltec in the Bahamas as executive chairman.
In 2018, Chalopin had been looking at ways to diversify his bank’s clientele, and broadened Deltec’s services to crypto clients, both individuals and companies. That year, he put Deltec on the map by securing Tether as a customer, which had been searching the globe for a banking partner. Deltec, which had only a few billion dollars under management, announced in November 2018 that it was holding $1.8 billion for the stablecoin.
Realizing that crypto presented a massive opportunity for his backwater bank, Chalopin and his team then assisted the Bahamian government on its own crypto ambitions, helping regulators draft legislation that would transform the country into a sandbox for digital assets startups. “They were one of the first regulators to put together something,” Chalopin told Forbes in a previously unpublished interview from October. “And that attracted FTX.”
With new legislation introduced in 2020, a hospitable government and a local crypto bank willing to do business, the Bahamas was an attractive new home for FTX and its sister company, Alameda. After a global search, FTX opened its Nassau headquarters in September 2021.
Deltec’s newfound proximity to such a large client came with lucrative opportunities. At the time, Chalopin was overseeing a crypto push by Deltec’s parent company, which had begun offering services like reinsurance, token listings and other financial solutions, and was planning a potential U.S. public offering. But the pre-IPO effort was in need of funding, and Deltec had been trying to raise debt capital in New York, without success, according to two people familiar with the matter.
Chalopin turned to FTX for an alternative funding route. In October 2021, Deltec’s parent company, Cayman Islands-based Deltec International Group, received a $50 million loan from Norton Hall Ltd., an entity controlled by Ryan Salame, CEO of FTX’s Bahamas business, according to multiple people familiar with the deal and confirmed by Chalopin to Forbes. (Norton Hall was not included in a list of FTX debtors.)
It was one of multiple agreements Chalopin oversaw between the companies. During private conversations and meetings at FTX headquarters, Chalopin pitched FTX and Alameda staff, including Friedberg, on an investment into Moonstone, a community bank he owned in Washington state, which they hoped to transform into a U.S.-based crypto fiat provider, akin to Deltec.
Prior to Chalopin acquiring Moonstone in 2020, the bank largely issued loans to farmers and was known as Farmington State Bank; it had a net worth of $5.7 million, three employees and a single branch, making it one of the smallest in the nation. Alameda’s $11.5 million investment, which occurred in January 2022 and was announced by Chalopin in March, was more than double the bank’s value at the time. “We pitched [Alameda Research] the whole roadmap,” Janvier Chalopin, Moonstone’s chief digital officer and Jean’s son, said during a Twitter Space in November. “This is the massive gap in banking in the U.S. for digital assets businesses, and this is what we think we can solve.”
FTX ultimately opened two accounts with Moonstone containing nearly $50 million, according to Bahamas liquidators. (Moonstone did not feature on a list of FTX and Alameda accounts that surfaced in November as part of the bankruptcy proceedings. In December, Senator Elizabeth Warren requested information from the Federal Reserve about Alameda’s investment in the bank.) Moonstone did not respond to Forbes’ inquiry about the status of these funds. When separately contacted, Janvier Chalopin did not respond to a detailed list of questions after declining to speak with Forbes in December.
The public pinnacle of Deltec’s partnership with FTX culminated at the Crypto Bahamas summit, co-hosted by FTX at the Baha Mar resort. Chalopin and several people connected to him through Deltec and its network featured in speeches and panels. Among them was Ryan Pinder, the attorney general of the Bahamas and Deltec’s former chief legal officer. (Pinder is currently steering the government’s FTX investigation.)
”Deltec has probably 20 people on the ground here at the conference today,” Jean said during a fireside chat about his bank’s embrace of crypto at the FTX-led conference. “We are here because we embraced that vision of the future.”
A week after FTX filed for bankruptcy in November, the company revealed in filings that Alameda had issued massive loans to multiple executives, including $1 billion sent to Bankman-Fried. In another case, $55 million was sent to an entity controlled by the company’s Bahamas CEO, Salame, which people familiar with the matter told Forbes was the same entity used to send the loan to Deltec International Group. Salame’s lawyer Jason Linder did not respond to questions from Forbes about the transaction.
The following month Salame discussed the terms of repaying the $50 million loan during a meeting with Deltec executives, including Chalopin. In a statement to Forbes, Chalopin through his spokesperson said he is still awaiting a response from Salame and FTX’s counsel on how, exactly, to do that.
Nina Bambysheva and Steven Ehrlich contributed reporting.
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