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American Binance Official Detained in Nigeria Amid Allegations

An American official from the company Binance is being detained in Nigeria. This happens as his company faces allegations of a hefty $150 million crypto bribe.

Officer Tigran Gambaryan, who ensures the company follows laws and regulations, has been held in the country for over 70 days on charges of not paying enough taxes and washing money illegally.

His co-worker, Nadeem Anjarwalla, was also brought up on charges with the company. However, he avoided jail by fleeing the country with a secret passport.

Finance official’s Nigerian detention saga

Gambaryan, a past finance official, is now in a prison called Kuje. This place is just an hour from where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle started their three-day visit to Nigeria. He was taken into custody in February when he came to the country to discuss following the rules with Nigeria’s Securities and Exchange Commission.

The Naira, Nigeria’s currency, is in trouble, and officials are blaming Binance, the trading platform. They have asked Binance to explain users’ activities on their platform to the Nigerian House of Representatives.

On January 8, Gambaryan met with Nigerian authorities. However, the meeting quickly turned sour, with Binance facing accusations of tax violation. On the meeting’s completion, unknown individuals proposed a covert payment in cryptocurrency within the next 48 hours to resolve the allegations.

According to The New York Times, the alleged bribe amount was around $150 million. Binance, however, dismissed the demand, stating they didn’t see it as a fair settlement offer. They also shed some light on the meeting in February when Gambaryan, making his second visit to Nigeria, tried to understand the charges against him thoroughly.

The meeting started well. However, when some officials requested private information about Binance’s Nigerian clients, Binance resisted. This led to a challenging 24-hour period, with officials displaying aggressive behavior towards two Binance executives, Tigran Gambaryan and Nadeem Anjarwalla.

Officials are blaming these executives for the economic problems and the condition of the naira. They’ve also been accused of funding terrorism and laundering money. Binance’s CEO, Richard Teng, has shared his views on this challenging situation.

The Binance officials expected safety upon their arrival in Nigeria, but the reality turned out to be far from their expectations. After the high-level meetings with the Nigerian officials, both Gambaryan and Anjarwalla were relocated to a high-security compound, where they were stripped of their passports.

Teng, in response, expressed his concerns over this incident. He pointed out how inviting mid-level employees under the guise of policy collaboration, only to subsequently detain them, signifies a new risky standard for global companies.

While Tigran Gambaryan remains in detention, Nigerian officials reassured the US Embassy about his status. They sent a note that suggested his confinement was not involuntary. The officials stressed the importance of understanding that Mr. Tigran was engaged in a discussion with their team.

They added that his stay was aimed purely at fostering constructive dialogue. As said by The New York Times, the note’s key aspect was Gambaryan’s insistence on participating willingly in these conversations.

Gambaryan was moved to Kuje prison, one of Nigeria’s biggest jails, where he is still waiting for his court date, which is May 17. This prison was once the site of a violent jailbreak by Boko Haram terrorists in 2022. At the same time, just 28 miles away, Harry and Meghan started their tour of Nigeria at the Wuse Lightway Academy, a school supported by their Archewell Foundation.

Binance’s legal battle with Nigeria

In a detailed blog post, Teng outlined how Binance has attempted to cooperate with Nigeria’s SEC for several years due to the growing popularity of cryptocurrency there. The situation worsened in 2023 when Nigerian authorities discouraged transactions with Binance, causing the company to halt all its advertisements in Nigeria. This act started the friction between the two parties.

Binance, already tackling legal obstacles, agreed to pay a massive fine of $4.3 billion last year. This was to settle U.S. government charges related to criminal activities on its platform. Adding to this, the founder of Binance, Changpeng Zhao, received a four-month prison sentence for his involvement. Nigeria’s national security advisor asserts that the accusations against the platform are justified.

Read More: Binance founder gets 4-month prison sentence

With firm confidence, Zakari Mijinyawa, a representative of the Nigerian government, acknowledged that he believes the country has a strong case against Binance. He further emphasized that their approach will be based purely on facts and evidence, fully complying with due process.

He assured that Binance would also be given every legal opportunity to present its defense in this crucial matinee and seek justice.

Mijinyawa told Al-Jazeera that those responsible for Anjarwalla’s escape have been apprehended. In his recent video, Gambaryan appealed to the U.S. government for assistance and urged Nigerian officials to set him free.