Binance CEO Demands Release of Executive Detained in Nigeria

•Says holding staff on policy discussions dangerous precedent for all firms 

•Alleges bribe demanded by ‘unknown persons’

Emmanuel Addeh in Abuja

The Chief Executive Officer of Binance, Richard Teng, yesterday demanded the release of the cryptocurrency exchange’s executive, Tigran Gambaryan, who has been detained in Nigeria since late February.

In a blog post, Teng argued that holding Binance’s employees who were in Nigeria for policy negotiations, portended a new dangerous precedent for companies operating globally.

“To invite a company’s mid-level employees for collaborative policy meetings, only to detain them, has set a dangerous new precedent for all companies worldwide,”  Teng maintained.

Gambaryan alongside Binance’s African Head, Nadeem Anjarwalla, were detained on February 26, following accusations of the company’s involvement in illegal financial activities. However, days later Anjarwalla was said to have escaped from the secured facility where he was being held.

Gambaryan, who was later charged to court is set to stand trial on May 17 on sundry allegations, including tax evasion, currency speculation, and money laundering.

“It is important to note that Tigran did not go to Nigeria as a decision-maker, nor a negotiator. He was merely acting as a functional expert in financial crime and capacity building in policy discussions,” Teng pointed out.

He noted that the company had written the Nigerian authorities on the fee structure for licensing, and the impact of the registration on the facilitation of bank accounts in the region without response.

In early December 2023, Binance, he said, received a letter from the Chairman of the House Committee on Financial Crimes (HCFC) requesting that it appeared at a public investigative hearing in less than two weeks.

“On January 8, Binance employees had a face-to-face meeting with three members of the HCFC and a clerk in Abuja at the House of Representatives building for a scheduled pre-hearing engagement in private. The meeting was chaired by the Honourable Peter Akpanke, the Honourable Philip Agbese, and the Honourable Peter Aniekwe, as well as a clerk.

“During the conversation, the committee highlighted the important nature of the issues at hand and the lengths to which they were prepared to go to summon Binance, including issuing arrest warrants against our team and CEO and preventing our team from leaving the country.

“While concerning, it was understood that the HCFC does not in fact have the power to issue arrest warrants.

“The committee confirmed that the public hearing would proceed on the 10th of January and that Binance would be afforded an opportunity to respond to any allegations publicly in the presence of the petitioners, press, and over 30 agencies.

“Despite multiple requests, Binance had still not received details of the allegations, and our employees, therefore, inquired if there was an opportunity to submit our responses in writing and in the absence of a public hearing.

“ There were a number of reasons for that, including the sensitivity of the information and getting the opportunity to see the allegations in full and prepare a thorough substantive response. The meeting ended with the Chair confirming they would consider the matter and revert through Binance’s local counsel.

“However, as our employees were leaving the venue, they were approached by unknown persons who suggested to them to make a payment in settlement of the allegations. Later that day, our local counsel — representing us at that time — was summoned by the Committee through someone purporting to be their agent, who relayed the Committee’s terms and instructed our local counsel to advise us.

“ Counsel reported back that he had been presented with a demand for a significant payment in cryptocurrency to be paid in secret within 48 hours to make these issues go away and that our decision was expected by the morning. Our team grew increasingly concerned about their safety in Nigeria and immediately departed.

“We, of course, declined the payment demand via our counsel, not viewing it to be a legitimate settlement offer,” he added.

Despite the two executives travelling to Nigeria and receiving multiple assurances for their safety, he said that they were later told that the issues involving Binance were of national security.

According to Teng, the Nigerian authorities demanded them to delist naira from the Binance platform, provide granular-level detail on all Nigerian users and provide financial/tax compliance information.

“Let Tigran go home to his family, and then Binance will work through the same process that we have done with Nigeria’s law enforcement community voluntarily more than 600 times in the past. We will always work to protect innocent users, and bad actors are not welcome on our platform.

“We will work tirelessly with public and private partners to remove them. Furthermore, we will continue engagement with Nigeria’s Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) on resolving potential historic tax liabilities,” he stated.

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