Billionaires: Sam Bankman-Fried’s Bahamas jail luxuries included vegan food, AC and cable

In our fortnightly round-up of the world’s super wealthy, Lachlan Murdoch seeks to consolidate power at his father’s media empire and Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance is set to buy Metro’s India unit for $344m in retail push

Unlike other prisoners, Sam Bankman-Fried was held in the sick bay at Nassau's Fox Hill centre in Bahamas. Reuters
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Sam Bankman-Fried

Sam Bankman-Fried, shirtless in black sweatpants, lay in the fifth cot — the one closest to the door, by the rasping fan.

A picture has emerged of the disgraced and indicted cryptocurrency mogul’s time as the most famous prisoner at Nassau’s Fox Hill centre in the Bahamas.

His life there was about as good as it gets at Fox Hill — not quite the “Club Fed” accommodation favoured by white-collar offenders in the US, but nothing like the overcrowded cells many others must endure.

Unlike those prisoners, Mr Bankman-Fried was held in the sick bay. He had access to running water and even a toilet, among other perks.

He spent his days watching TV news and reading articles about himself, according to prison officials.

Mr Bankman-Fried’s life in the island nation has taken a surprising turn since he was arrested this month. Before FTX collapsed, the former-billionaire lived a few kilometres away from the prison in a $30 million penthouse.

At Fox Hill, which is more formally called the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services centre, Mr Bankman-Fried shared the one-room sick bay with four other men.

All of them have cots — a luxury in the complex, where prisoners have complained about being forced to sleep on the bare ground or on makeshift cardboard beds in rat-infested cells.

Individual guards were assigned to watch over Mr Bankman-Fried during the 2pm to 10pm and 10pm to 6am shifts, in a nod to his notoriety.

A prison doctor examined Mr Bankman-Fried twice a day. A barn-like door provided a modicum of privacy for the shared shower and toilet.

Prison officials have said that Mr Bankman-Fried was being fed vegan food.

More standard breakfast options in the sick bay include steamed sausage, sardines, along with Lipton tea. Lunch offerings include turkey curry, corned beef and fried chicken wings, all served over white rice.

What is Bitcoin and how did it start?

What is Bitcoin and how did it start?

Air conditioning from the nearby inspector’s office made Mr Bankman-Fried’s nights more comfortable.

He was allowed to play crossword puzzles, watch cable TV and read local newspapers. He took calls from his lawyer over a special line connected to the visitor centre a floor below.

Before leaving Fox Hill for court to formally accept extradition to the US, Mr Bankman-Fried ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on wheat toast and wished the prison’s staff a Merry Christmas.

Last week, a US judge ordered Mr Bankman-Fried to be released from custody after paying a $250 million bond.

He will leave under house arrest with his parents in California, while he awaits trial on eight criminal charges.

Lachlan Murdoch

Lachlan Murdoch summoned the business leaders of Fox Corp and News Corp to Chartwell, his $150 million Los Angeles estate, for a rare meeting in February.

While his father Rupert Murdoch, 91, the billionaire co-chairman of both businesses, preferred to let his executives compete against each other, his eldest son had a different plan.

The companies needed an empire-wide initiative to tackle Web3, a more decentralised internet that could have a big impact on Murdoch outlets such as Fox News and The Wall Street Journal.

But the biggest takeaway for those attending the meeting wasn’t the future of media, according to Australian journalist Paddy Manning. It was more simple: “Lachlan’s in charge.”

The anecdote is the last chapter in Mr Manning’s new book, The Successor, an unauthorised biography of Lachlan.

Mr Manning’s timing couldn’t have been better. Last month, the Murdochs said that the boards of Fox and News Corp had formed special committees to examine joining the two businesses again after close to a decade as separate companies.

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Many observers see the move as an effort by Lachlan, who serves as executive chairman and chief executive at Fox and co-chairman at News Corp, to further consolidate his power.

Lachlan, 51, was born in London but raised in New York, along with his younger brother James, 49, and sister Elisabeth, 54. He attended prep schools and studied philosophy at Princeton University.

After graduation, he worked for the family's newspapers in the UK and Australia.

Disagreements with his father prompted Lachlan to leave News Corp in 2005 and start his own investment company in Australia. A series of deals followed, some successful, such as Nova Entertainment, a radio station group he still owns.

Others were not, most notably Australia’s Network 10, a TV station which Lachlan tried to turn around but failed.

He returned to the family business in 2014 after a nearly decade-long absence and has been the heir apparent since his brother James left following the sale of most of Fox’s entertainment assets to Walt Disney in 2019. The following year, James quit the News Corp board as well.

Lachlan leads a luxurious life, with several estates, custom-built Porsches and a $30 million yacht he acquired this year. Another $175 million ship is on the way.

As is the case with his father, he hobnobs with prime ministers and fellow titans of industry but does not love the limelight.

Lachlan doesn’t weigh in on editorial decisions the way his father historically has.

Much in the same way as he runs his private investment company, he makes smaller bets at Fox than his father. In the past few years, the company has acquired businesses as disparate as Tubi, an advertisement-supported streaming service, and Credible Labs, an online loan broker.

The largest shareholder of both companies is a family trust, over which Rupert has the biggest say.

On his death, his votes will pass to his four oldest children, including Prudence, from his first marriage. Two younger children are beneficiaries but don’t have a vote.

Whether Lachlan has the support of the three elder siblings to stay on as chief executive remains to be seen.

Mukesh Ambani

Reliance Industries has agreed to buy Metro’s Indian unit for 28.5 billion rupees ($344 million) as the nation’s biggest retailer run by billionaire Mukesh Ambani further expands its footprint.

Metro will record a transaction gain of about €150 million ($159.2 million) at closing, and higher earnings per share are expected, the company said.

The transaction with Reliance Retail Ventures is expected to close by March 2023.

With India’s trade industry undergoing consolidation and experiencing disproportionate growth, a sizeable investment would have been needed to further grow the business, Steffen Greubel, Metro’s chief executive, said.

The transaction brings to an end a months-long sale process that had once drawn interest from e-commerce companies Amazon and Thailand’s Charoen Pokphand Group.

Adding Metro’s “cash-and-carry” business will bolster Reliance, which is already India’s largest brick-and-mortar retailer.

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A bigger wholesale network will allow it to push deeper into rural India, where the bulk of its 1.4 billion people live.

Metro entered the Indian market in 2003 and currently operates 31 wholesale distribution centres across the country, serving business customers. Core clients include hotels, restaurants and different types of businesses such as small retailers.

The Ambani-led group’s B2B “cash-and-carry” business, Reliance Market, was set up in 2011 and has since then rapidly grown into a network of 52 shops with more than four million members.

Vincent Bollore

French billionaire Vincent Bollore’s holding company has finalised the sale of its African ports and logistics business to the MSC shipping group for €5.7 billion ($6.05 billion).

Bollore Africa Logistics is present in 47 African countries and runs port operations in countries from the Ivory Coast to Cameroon and Nigeria, according to its website.

With competition increasing from Chinese operators and costly investments required at many ports and centres, the Bollore group moved to sell the business, the mainstay of the tycoon’s estimated €8 billion fortune.

Italian-French shipping giant MSC, which runs a fleet of 560 vessels worldwide, is buying the assets.

Mr Bollore officially retired as head of Bollore group in February before naming his son Cyrille, 33, as chairman and chief executive. However, he remained the controlling shareholder.

In recent years, Mr Bollore has focused on building a French media empire.

Mr Bollore built his family’s small printing business into a global logistics giant thanks to a blitz of acquisitions, earning him a reputation as a hard-nosed negotiator and corporate raider.

Updated: December 26, 2022, 6:26 AM