Binance exec Tigran Gambaryan cannot enter plea in error-filled Nigerian court hearing

Binance exec Tigran Gambaryan cannot enter plea in error-filled Nigerian court hearing
Detained Binance executive Tigran Gambaryan (right) appeared in court today. Photocredit: Daily Post Nigeria
  • Binance and two execs have been charged with money laundering and tax violations in Nigeria.
  • Gambaryan, a US citizen, cannot enter a plea for another two weeks.
  • Nigerian officials concede they erred as proceedings get off to bumpy start.

Binance’s compliance chief Tigran Gambaryan looked despondent and thin as he entered the Federal High Court in Nigeria’s capital city on Thursday to face tax evasion and $35 million money laundering charges.

With his head bowed, lips pursed, and responding to his lawyers with slight nods, Gambaryan sat in silence as he hoped for some form of resolution to the predicament he’s found himself in since arriving in Nigeria five weeks ago.

He waited in vain, and now he’s going to have wait some more.

Gambarayan, Binance’s US-based head of financial crime compliance, was supposed to be arraigned and enter a plea of not guilty, or, perhaps, even be released.

Instead, tax and anti-corruption officials said they were unprepared to move forward with the proceedings.

Official error

The problem? They had failed to serve Gambaryan and his lawyers with the proper papers detailing the cases against him.

As a result, the court postponed his arraignment until April 19.

Moses Ideho, the lawyer representing the Federal Inland Revenue Service, acknowledged the mistake and said the agency has been unable to reach Gambaryan.

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But he has been in the custody of the state since the end of February.

Both the FIRS and Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission have filed criminal complaints against Gambaryan, his colleague Nadeem Anjarwalla, and Binance itself.

Anjarwalla, a British lawyer, is being prosecuted in absentia after he managed to escape Nigerian custody in late March.

Binance did not have a lawyer present at the hearing. The company’s spokespersons did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday.

On Wednesday, it released a statement to DL News calling for Gambaryan, a former senior agent with the US Internal Revenue Service, to be freed because he is not responsible for decision-making at the company.

Criminal Complaints

The two charges were supposed to be separate legal proceedings but last week, the Chief Judge of the High Court ordered an accelerated hearing that combined both criminal complaints against Binance.

Given the chaotic nature of the proceedings, Ideho asked the court to stop the plea proceedings and allow Gambaryan to confer with his lawyers.

The developments marked the latest turn in a crisis that has exposed Binance’s freewheeling business model to regulatory action.

The exchange, which has a penchant for not getting licenced in markets where it operates, drew the ire of Nigerian central bank and economic officials when the nation’s fiat currency, the naira, nosedived earlier this year.

Nigeria’s government blamed Binance for the downturn and for facilitating illicit transactions on its platform.

Last month, the EFCC secured a court order to gain access to details of Binance’s estimated 13 million Nigerian users.

Osato Avan-Nomayo is our Nigeria-based DeFi correspondent. To share tips or information about stories, please contact him at