Binance’s woes in Nigeria spiral as detained exec’s family appeal for US intervention

It’s been the worst possible start to the year for Binance in Nigeria. It started with accusations of manipulating the naira exchange rates before quickly escalating to allegations of operating an unlicensed platform and tax evasion.

The Nigerian government then arrested two of its executives. While one mysteriously escaped from custody, the other is still in detention as his family implores the U.S. government to intervene.

Nigeria shuts down Binance, arrests two officials

Binance’s woes in Nigeria started this year when some government officials blamed it for its currency woes. Under President Bola Tinubu’s leadership, which began in May 2023, the naira lost 75% of its value against the U.S. dollar.

Fingers started pointing at Binance earlier this year, with the country’s Bureau de Change operators among the first to blame the exchange. Government officials were next, accusing the exchange of orchestrating a “sophisticated heist” against the economy.

Then came allegations of tax evasion, with Binance accused of failing to register with the Federal Inland Service. Shortly after, the country’s anti-corruption agency charged Binance with laundering over $35 million.

The government’s summon to Richard Teng, who took over as CEO after Changpeng Zhao’s resignation, was ignored. In his place, two top officials landed in Nigeria for talks with the government: Tigran Gambaryan and Nadeem Anjarwalla. The former, an American, is an ex-IRS official who heads financial crime compliance, while the latter, a U.K. national based in Kenya, is the company’s regional manager in Africa.

After the talks broke down, the government detained the two for two weeks and then obtained a court order to extend the detention. However, in a daring Hollywood-esque twist, Anjarwalla escaped detention, slipping from his guards while visiting a local mosque for his Ramadan prayers. He’s still at large, and Nigerian authorities are working with Interpol on their pursuit.

Binance official’s wife calls for US intervention

While his colleague managed to escape—reportedly using a second passport he had concealed during detention—Gambaryan is still in custody. Attempts by his legal team to secure his release have been futile.

This has forced his wife to appeal to the U.S. government to intervene to secure his release.

In a recent statement, Yuki Gambaryan blasted the Nigerian government for holding her husband for a month “without charging him of any crime.” She claims her husband is being used as a pawn between the exchange and the West African government. In similar situations, authorities pursue the company and not an individual who isn’t in the top leadership echelon, she added.

“Simply put, my husband is being held as blackmail,” she said.

Yuki’s pleas were directed at a U.S. congregation that visited Nigeria last week. Led by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sara Jacobs (D-CA), the congregation was full of praise for President Tinubu and applauded him for promoting democracy in the country. No mention of the Binance saga was made.

Binance is the first to fall in Nigeria for allegedly operating without registering with the tax agency, lax KYC measures, illegal forex activities and money laundering. However, it may just be the first of many.

The government banned access to other global exchanges like Kraken and Coinbase (NASDAQ: COIN) alongside Binance, and while it hasn’t gone after the others, they were all offering similar services to Binance; it may just be a matter of time before it turns its attention to them.

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