SVB fallout unlikely to affect fundraising for Southeast Asia startups, venture capitalists say
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The bank served many venture capital firms and venture capital-backed startups. But last week, depositors rushed to withdraw their funds as panic over the bank’s financial situation spread, causing it to collapse.
“I think [the impact on fundraising is] a watch out, but I don’t think that contagion spreads,” said David Gowdey, managing partner at Southeast Asian venture capital firm Jungle Ventures, on CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” on Tuesday.
“I think Secretary Yellen and the government did a fantastic job of stepping in and taking away a lot of that risk, creating a lot of stability in the markets,” he said. On Sunday, U.S. officials including Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen announced plans to backstop depositors of the bank.
Gowdey said SVB was the firm’s primary bank, but added, “We pull a lot of that money into Southeast Asia, into Singapore banks. And so for us, the exposure to SVB was not large.”
Golden Gate Ventures, which also invests in Southeast Asian startups, said the SVB fallout is an opportunity for the region.
“This has actually been helpful to Southeast Asia. It now looks like a golden child to U.S. investors. Investors are starting to say: I want to diversify to different bank accounts, different geographies, different currencies,” Vinnie Lauria, managing partner at Golden Gate Ventures, told CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia” on Tuesday.
“And this is where Southeast Asia has the time to shine, in light of the situation,” added Lauria.
When asked if the situation makes fundraising more difficult, Gowdey said funds in Southeast Asia are well capitalized.
“I think it’s being selective because of the macro environment. [Accessing] the capital will get harder, but the capital is there and it’s getting deployed,” said Gowdey.
VC firms previously told CNBC that economic uncertainties have made them pickier with investments in 2023.
“[In terms of] access to capital to tech entrepreneurs, the VCs will still be able to fund them,” Ray Wang, founder and chairman of Silicon Valley-based Constellation Research, told CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia” on Tuesday.
“But it’s the question about taking bank loans, having operating capital, being able to actually run operations and having a bank that understands how a technology company works or biotech company works. That’s really what’s being lost here,” added Wang.
Lyft CEO and president to step down, former Amazon exec David Risher named as replacement
David Risher, a former retail executive at Amazon, will be CEO of the ridesharing company beginning April 17, when Green will step aside to serve as chair of the board. Zimmer will transition out of his role on June 30 to serve as vice chair of the Lyft board. Lyft’s current chairman Sean Aggarwal will step down from his post but will remain on the board, the company said
Lyft shares rose around 5% after hours on the news.
Green and Zimmer founded Lyft in 2012 and took the company public in 2019. Lyft shares have fallen more than 70% in the last year.
“I am honored to step into the CEO role at such an important moment in the company’s history, and am prepared to take this business to new levels of success,” Risher said in a statement.
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Risher joined Amazon in 1997 as its first vice president of product and store development. He was a top lieutenant of Amazon founder and executive chairman Jeff Bezos, and went on to serve as senior vice president of marketing and merchandising before exiting the company in 2002. Risher has been on Lyft’s board since 2021.
— CNBC’s Annie Palmer, Laura Batchelor and Deirdre Bosa contributed to this report.
Amazon seller consultant admits to bribing employees to help clients; will plead guilty
Ephraim “Ed” Rosenberg wrote in a LinkedIn post that he will plead guilty in federal court to a criminal charge, stemming from a 2020 indictment that charged six people with conspiring to give sellers an unfair competitive advantage on Amazon’s third-party marketplace. Four of the defendants have already pleaded guilty, including one former Amazon employee who was sentenced last year to 10 months in prison.
Rosenberg, who’s based in Brooklyn, is a well-known figure in the world of Amazon third-party sellers. He runs a consultancy business that advises entrepreneurs on how to sell products on the online marketplace, and navigate unforeseen issues with their Amazon account. Rosenberg’s Facebook group for sellers, ASGTG, has over 68,000 members, and he hosts a popular conference for sellers each year.
“For a time, some years ago, I began to obtain and use Amazon’s internal annotations — Amazon’s private property — to learn the reasons for sellers’ suspensions, in order to assist them in getting reinstated, if possible,” wrote Rosenberg, who is due to appear in U.S. District Court in Seattle on March 30, for a change of plea hearing, according to court records. “On some occasions, I paid bribes, directly and indirectly, to Amazon employees to obtain annotations and reinstate suspended accounts. These actions were against the law.”
As recently as last month, in LinkedIn messages to CNBC, Rosenberg denied prosecutors’ allegations, calling the case a “conspiracy” and claiming he was framed. On Monday, Rosenberg said he “regrets” his involvement in the bribery scheme.
“In the course of this case, I have made some public statements about this prosecution and the indictment,” Rosenberg said. “Those statements are not accurate and I disavow those statements. This statement I am making now is accurate and truthful and I will continue to stand by it.”
Since at least 2017, prosecutors allege Rosenberg and other consultants allegedly bribed Amazon employees to leak information about the company’s search and ranking algorithms and to share confidential data on their competition in the marketplace. In all, the individuals allegedly paid $100,000 worth of bribes to employees and reaped more than $100 million in competitive benefits, the DOJ said.
In 2018, Amazon fired four employees in India who were allegedly connected to the bribery scheme.
Previously unsealed court documents said Rosenberg allegedly sent a “veiled threat” to an Amazon employee at the company’s Seattle headquarters as part of the bribery scheme, Bloomberg reported. The documents also detailed defendants’ elaborate efforts to dodge detection by authorities, including allegedly stuffing a llama-shaped ottoman with cash believed to be bribes, according to Bloomberg.
Rosenberg is part of what’s become a sizable industry in helping sellers navigate the complexities and chaos of the Amazon marketplace, where some 2 million sellers are responsible for more than half of the goods sold on the site. Amazon launched its online marketplace in 2000, allowing everyone from established brands to mom-and-pop shops to sell products.
While the marketplace has helped Amazon haul in tens of billions of dollars in sales, it’s also become a notorious host to counterfeit, unsafe and expired goods. Behind the scenes, scammers have for years resorted to illicit tactics to squash competitors, artificially boost their listings or bypass Amazon’s marketplace rules.
Amazon has said it invests hundreds of millions of dollars per year to ensure products are safe and compliant. The providing of internal data to sellers by employees violates Amazon’s seller policies and code of conduct.
Rosenberg said attempts to bribe Amazon employees are “wrong and criminal.”
“No one should pay bribes to Amazon employees to provide private Amazon information,” Rosenberg wrote on Monday. “If it is apparent that internal information has been illegally leaked, no one should use it. Nor should anyone pay any Amazon employees for any other special favors regarding a seller’s account.”
An attorney for Rosenberg declined to comment.
An Amazon spokesperson told CNBC in a statement that it has systems in place to detect suspicious behavior and teams that work to stop prohibited activity on the marketplace.
“Amazon is grateful to have worked with federal authorities in their thorough pursuit of this case,” the spokesperson said. “There is no place for fraud at Amazon, and we will continue to hold bad actors accountable.”
Binance and founder Changpeng Zhao violated compliance rules to attract U.S. users, CFTC alleges
The filing has the potential to upend the exchange’s operations and is potentially just the first salvo in a regulatory crackdown on the world’s largest crypto exchange. Beyond disgorgement and any monetary costs, the CFTC filing asked the court to impose further relief, including trading and registration bans.
The regulator alleged that Binance, Zhao, and Lim violated eight core provisions of the Commodity Exchange Act, including laws that require controls “designed to prevent and detect money laundering and terrorism financing.”
Just days prior to the CFTC filing, CNBC reported on how Binance employees worked to subvert the exchange’s compliance controls in China, using some of the same techniques that the CFTC alleges Binance to solicit U.S. users.
Zhao and Lim allegedly “actively cultivated lucrative and commercially important ‘VIP’ customers, including institutional customers, located in the United States,” the complaint said.
“Today’s enforcement action demonstrates that there is no location, or claimed lack of location, that will prevent the CFTC from protecting American investors. I have been clear that the CFTC will continue to use all of its authority to find and stop misconduct in the volatile and risky digital asset market,” CFTC chair Rostin Benham said in a statement.
Binance and Zhao took steps to purposefully obscure where the exchange’s subsidiaries were located, the regulator said. This was part of a larger strategy that Zhao said was an effort to “keep countries clean,” the regulator alleged in the filing.
A key part of Binance’s alleged effort to generate fees and solicit U.S. users was the exchange’s VIP program, for high net worth individuals, the CFTC filing said.
“Binance is aware of its VIPs’ identities and geographic locations because Binance monitors its sources of transaction volume and fee-based revenue as a matter of course in conducting its operations,” the CFTC complaint alleges.
Binance’s VIPs were offered special privileges when law enforcement agencies pursued them or froze their assets, the CFTC alleged, claiming Binance gave VIPs a heads up or suggested they take their assets off the platform.
“Do not directly tell the user to run,” Binance instructed its VIP team, the filing alleged. “If the user is a big trader, or a smart one, he/she will get the hint.”
CNBC previously reported on how Binance’s customer service and VIP representatives counseled users in mainland China on how to evade Binance’s compliance systems. The use of virtual private networks and alternative non-state documents was advised by some volunteers and employees to mainland Chinese traders. The CFTC filing alleges that Binance engaged in similar activity for its U.S. users.
“But as best we can we try to ask our users to use VPN or ask them to provide (if there are an entity) non-US documents. On the surface we cannot be seen to have US users but in reality we should get them through other creative means,” Lim told a Binance employee in 2020 according to the filing.
Lim allegedly advised against outright fraud but encouraged “creative means” to sidestep regulations. Binance “can encourage them to be a non kyc account,” Lim. KYC stands for know-your-customer, a set of principles that guide anti-money laundering programs for financial institutions and are a key part of fighting terrorist and illicit financing.
“We have made significant investments over the past two years to ensure we do not have US users active on our platform,” a Binance spokesperson said in a statement, calling the complaint “unexpected and disappointing.”
Zhao’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment. But, Zhao posted a tweet that said “4” in an apparent response to the CFTC filing.
The number four is a call to Binance’s devoted international userbase to dismiss negative publicity about the exchange as “fake news.”
“The best path forward is to protect our users and to collaborate with regulators to develop a clear, thoughtful regulatory regime,” the Binance statement continued.
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