Nigeria arraigns detained Binance executive for money laundry of over $35m, family pleads for release

The charges include non-payment of value-added tax (VAT), company income tax, failure to file tax returns, and complicity in helping customers evade taxes through the Binance platform…
Detained executive: CEO says Binance is working with Nigeria government to resolve issues
Tigran Gambaryan

The Government of Nigeria has, today, arraigned Tigran Gambaryan, an executive of the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, Binance at an Abuja court on four count charges that include tax evasion and money laundering.

Tigran Gambaryan, a U.S. citizen and Binance’s head of financial crime compliance was detained alongside Nadeem Anjarwalla, a British-Kenyan who is a regional manager for Africa were charged to court, last week by Nigeria’s tax agency, the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) on the charges of tax evasion.

The charges include non-payment of value-added tax (VAT), company income tax, failure to file tax returns, and complicity in helping customers evade taxes through the Binance platform. The Federal Government also accused Binance of failure to register with FIRS for tax purposes and contravening existing tax regulations within the country.

A notable item in the suit references Binance’s alleged failure to collect and remit various categories of taxes to the federation as stipulated by Section 40 of the FIRS Establishment Act 2007 (amended). Section 40 of the Act explicitly addresses the non-deduction and non-remittance of taxes, prescribing penalties and potential imprisonment for defaulting entities.

Read full: Nigeria files tax evasion charges against Binance

Specifically, the document detailed instances where Binance violated tax laws, such as failing to issue invoices for VAT purposes, thus obstructing the determination and payment of taxes by subscribers.

Nigeria arraigns detained Binance executive for tax evasion, laundry of $35m
Tigran Gambaryan sits as he waits to face prosecution for tax evasion and money laundering at the federal high court in Abuja, Nigeria April 4, 2024. Source: REUTERS/ Abraham Achirga

According to Reuters, Gambaryan was served with the charges of money laundry of over $35 million, for the first time since his detention during his court appearance and did not take a plea. He will be formally arraigned for the money laundering and tax charges on April 8 and 19, respectively, when his plea will be taken.

It is important to note that Binance has not been charged by Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) or the FIRS. The implication is that Gambaryan could face the charges on the exchange’s behalf.

Gambaryan’s lawyer Chukwuka Ikuazom objected, saying he was “neither a director, partner nor company secretary” and had no written instructions from Binance to face the charges on its behalf. Ikuazom also argued that since Binance and Gambaryan were jointly charged, he could not take a plea until the exchange, the first defendant in the case, had been served, according to Nigerian law.

Binance responds

In a separate shared with Technext, Binance, which was not represented in court requested on Wednesday that the Nigerian Government release Gambaryan since he had no decision-making authority in the company and cannot be held responsible.

According to the statement, Tigran is well known as the world’s preeminent cyber crimes investigator with a book, Tracer’s in the Dark, written about his efforts to bring down some of history’s most notorious cyber criminals.

“Given this background, Tigran was hired in 2021 to help Binance fix past compliance issues. As the head of Binance’s Financial Crime Compliance (FCC) team, he has been a strong advocate for Binance to develop policies and build compliance capabilities that set new industry standards”, the statement said.

“In 2022 and 2023, Tigran’s Financial Crime Compliance team assisted global law enforcement in freezing and seizing more than $2.2B worth of assets, including more than $285M in cooperation with United States Agencies like the FBI, DOJ, DEA, and others”, it adds.

Naira free fall: Nigerian authorities finally ban access to crypto exchanges

The company also intimated that discussions are ongoing with the Nigerian government. “Binance respectfully requests that Tigran Gambaryan, who has no decision-making power in the company, is not held responsible while current discussions are ongoing between Binance and Nigerian government officials”, it concludes.

A statement from a spokesperson for Tigran’s family also indicates that the wife of detained American, Mrs Yuki Gambaryan, is pleading with Nigerian leaders that her husband be released and allowed to come home to her and their children.

I understand and respect your decision to scrutinize his employer, Binance. I realize that this whole situation has arisen from your commitment to your country and its citizens. However, Tigran is merely an employee.  He does not have authority over Binance’s corporate decisions or policies that might have impacted Nigeria. He spends his workday investigating and pursuing criminal activity on the platform. His very job is to help governments, like yours, prosecute and prevent illicit activity. Sadly, any influence he might have had at Binance to help the company leaders understand your position in this disagreement is trapped in that cell with him“, it reads.

2 Binance executives were detained but one escaped

Recall that we reported last week that one of two executives detained in Nigeria, Nadeem Anjarwalla has reportedly escaped from EFCC custody.

The circumstances surrounding Mr Anjarwalla’s escape from the country remain unclear seeing as he managed to get on an international commercial flight even though the British passport with which he entered Nigeria, was seized by Nigerian authorities upon his arrest.

Binance: Nigerian Government continues to detain 2 employees despite court ruling

However, an immigration official told Premium Times that the Binance executive fled Nigeria on a Kenyan passport.

Read full: Detained Binance executive Nadeem Anjarwalla allegedly escapes from custody in Nigeria

According to the report,  Mr Anjarwalla, a 38-year-old Brit who also has Kenyan citizenship, escaped two weeks ago from the Abuja guest house where he and his colleagues were detained.

The incident took place after guards on duty led him to a nearby mosque for prayers in the spirit of the ongoing Ramadan fast. After prayers, it was discovered that Mr Anjarwalla had escaped.  He is believed to have flown out of the country using a Middle East airliner.

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