Nigeria detains US and British Binance staff as authorities probe market manipulation

Nigeria detains US and British Binance staff as authorities probe market manipulation
Binance CEO Richard Teng is facing a crisis in Nigeria. Credit: Rita Fortunato/DL News
  • Detained Binance executives include an American and British citizen.
  • Nigerian officials block exchanges including Coinbase and Kraken.
  • Allegations of market manipulation have made headlines in Africa's most populous nation.

Nigeria’s Department of State Security detained at least two Binance employees on Monday night in Abuja in connection with investigations into the crypto exchange’s operations in the African nation, according to an official close to the probe.

Authorities have confiscated the passports of two Binance executives, an American and a British citizen, according to people familiar with the situation.

Officials did not provide details on why the Binance employees are being detained, and it remains unclear on whether they have been charged with any violations of Nigerian law.

Rume Ophi, executive secretary of the Stakeholders in Blockchain Technology Association of Nigeria, told DL News that he learned about the DSS’ raid on Binance from his own contacts at the company.

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Binance did not immediately respond to DL News’ requests for comment.

The incident comes as the Nigerian Communications Commission, the country’s telecoms regulator, ordered internet service providers to block access to Binance, Kraken, Coinbase and other crypto exchange websites.

That action came after Binance and other crypto exchanges were accused of aiding and abetting currency speculation and forex market manipulation from several segments of Nigeria’s government.

Nigeria’s central bank governor Olayemi Cardoso on Tuesday said there were indications of illicit flow of funds through platforms like Binance.

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“In the case of Binance, in the last one year alone, $26 billion has passed through ‘Binance Nigeria’ from sources and users who we cannot adequately identify,” Cardoso said at a press conference.

Loopholes

Ophi said Binance’s activities in Nigeria have made it a target for the Nigerian government, which is blaming a devaluation of its currency, the naira, on the crypto exchange.

“Binance exploited loopholes when coming into Nigeria,” Ophi told DL News.

Nigeria’s Security and Exchange Commission last year said Binance Nigeria was operating illegally in Nigeria.

As it does in many nations, Binance does not run a traditional operating unit in Nigeria. Instead it counts on independent brokers and agents to drive customers to the online exchange. Often this means Binance is not licenced in the markets where it operates.

The exchange may be blocked from the Philippines as soon as this week for failing to register with regulators there.

The two senior executives detained by Nigerian authorities had flown into the nation recently to manage the increasingly critical situation there, sources said.

2021 ban

Cardoso said the central bank was part of an interagency task force investigating the activities of crypto exchanges in the country.

“We are determined to do everything it takes to ensure that we do not allow others to manipulate our market,” Cardoso said.

In December, the central bank under Cardoso reverted a 2021 ban that prevented Nigerian banks from servicing crypto exchanges.

Osato Avan-Nomayo is our Nigeria-based DeFi correspondent. He covers DeFi and tech. To share tips or information about stories, please contact him at osato@dlnews.com.

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