Binance financial crime head held in a ‘guest house’ in Nigeria for two weeks

Binance financial crime head held in a ‘guest house’ in Nigeria for two weeks
Tigran Gambaryan, Binance's head of financial crime compliance, was trying to solve a dispute in Nigeria. Credit: Andrés Tapia
  • Tigran Gambaryan and his colleague Nadeem Anjarwalla were detained amid dispute with crypto exchange.
  • Binance says it is working 'collaboratively' with Nigerian officials to free them.
  • Executives were trying to resolve dispute in African nation when they were placed in custody.

Binance’s head of financial crime compliance is one of the two executives detained by Nigerian authorities since late February.

Tigran Gambaryan, a former special agent in the US Internal Revenue Service and a top financial crimes executive at Binance since 2021, is being held at a “guest house” owned by the state, according to a senior security official familiar with the case.

The other Binance executive is Nadeem Anjarwalla, a British lawyer and Kenya-based manager for the global crypto exchange, the official told DL News.

Both executives flew into the country to meet with finance and law enforcement officials in connection with a dispute over Binance’s impact on the African nation’s currency, the naira.

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The two men were detained after talks broke down and they were escorted to their hotel and directed to surrender their passports and move to a residence under guard, sources told DL News.

DL News first reported the news of the two executives’ detainment on February 28. Wired magazine reported their identities on Tuesday.

Without a licence

Authorities have blamed Binance, which operates in the nation without a licence, for contributing to the steep devaluation of the naira in the last year, and for facilitating the inflow of $26 billion in illicit funding.

In an email to DL News, Binance confirmed the identities of its two executives.

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“While it is inappropriate for us to comment on the substance of the claims at this time we can say that we are working collaboratively with Nigerian authorities to bring Nadeem and Tigran back home safely to their families,” Binance said.

“They are professionals with the highest integrity and we will provide them with all the support we can. We trust there will be a swift resolution to this matter.”

Gambaryan and Anjarwalla have not been charged with a crime even though about two weeks have passed since they were taken into custody by the Department of State Security under the orders of the Office of the National Security Adviser.

Gambaryan and Anjarwalla have also not been summoned for a public court hearing, and the Nigerian government has not officially identified them or issued a detailed statement on the matter.

Spearheading the investigation

The two Binance executives are being held in a facility run by the country’s Office of the National Security Adviser. Meanwhile, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission — Nigeria’s anti-graft agency — is spearheading the investigation.

The commission secured an order from an Abuja High Court to keep the Binance executives in custody.

Tensions have been building between Binance and the Central Bank of Nigeria and other state departments for months.

As it does in many markets, Binance operates without a licence in Nigeria and depends on brokers, agents, and other salespeople to attract local investors to its online crypto exchange.

In nations with volatile currencies such as Nigeria and Lebanon, households and businesses have flocked to Binance to preserve their wealth by converting fiat into stablecoins such as Tether’s USDT.

Now this unorthodox model is backfiring as regulators demand the exchange comply with the same types of registration and licencing requirements governing other financial firms. The Philippines is asking Binance to get registered or be blocked from operating in the nation.

In Nigeria, the picture has become even more complicated as officials race to defend the falling naira from further devaluation by alleged currency speculators.

Binance has been caught in the middle of this campaign when authorities accused it of enabling currency speculation and foreign exchange manipulation.

No more deposits

A legislative committee has been investigating Binance’s activities in Nigeria over the last three years. These proceedings only became public recently.

Binance, meanwhile, has removed trading of Nigeria’s naira from its platform. Users cannot deposit naira to buy other cryptocurrencies or withdraw naira from the exchange.

The platform is also not accessible to Nigerians unless they use a VPN service. That’s because Nigerian authorities ordered internet service providers to block access to the Binance website.

With reporting assistance by Liam Kelly

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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