Jailed Binance exec denied bail in Nigeria as $35m money laundering trial opens

Jailed Binance exec denied bail in Nigeria as $35m money laundering trial opens
RegulationPeople & culture
Binance executive Tigran Gambaryan takes his place in the dock on the first day of his trial in Abuja. Photocredit: DL News
  • A Nigerian court found Tigran Gambaryan to be a flight risk.
  • The Binance exec has been in custody in Nigeria since late February.
  • Gambaryan and Binance are facing money laundering and tax violation charges in Nigeria.

Tigran Gambaryan marked his 40th birthday in a Nigerian court on Friday with an expected but dismaying development — a judge declined to release him on bail.

Gambaryan, Binance’s head of financial crime compliance, has been incarcerated since he landed in Nigeria in late February to participate in talks with the government about the crypto exchange’s operations.

On Friday, his trial on a $35 million money laundering indictment commenced.

Delivering the ruling, Justice Emeka Nwite of the Federal High Court in Abuja, sided with the prosecution’s argument that Gambaryan was a flight risk.

No face

The presiding judge also noted that Binance “doesn’t have a face” in Nigeria, referring to the company not having a presence in the country, according to proceedings monitored by DL News.

Reacting to the news, Gambaryan’s wife Yuki decried her husband’s prolonged incarceration.

“I truly cannot believe that my innocent husband is now — on his 40th birthday — having to face a trial for charges that he has nothing to do with,” she said in an emailed statement to DL News.

“The whole world is watching what he is being put through and I just pray that common sense and justice will prevail and that Tigran will be allowed to come home to us.”

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Friday’s bail denial came at a final preliminary hearing held before the Friday commencement of a joint money laundering and tax evasion trial by Nigeria’s government against both Binance and Gambaryan.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is prosecuting the money laundering suit while Nigeria’s tax body, the Federal Inland Revenue Service, is handling the tax violation charge.

Gambaryan, a former agent for the US Internal Revenue Service, pleaded not guilty to the money laundering charge on April 8. But several procedural mixups scuppered the bail process.

Gambaryan’s lawyers in the tax violation charge previously tried to block their client from being served on Binance’s behalf.

Justice Nwite ruled in favour of the prosecution, thus allowing both cases to be heard together.

“We are deeply disappointed that Tigran Gambaryan, who has no decision-making power in the company, continues to be detained,” a Binance spokesperson told DL News.

“Tigran has been dedicated to public service and fighting crime for most of his life. These charges against him are completely meritless. He should be freed while discussions continue between Binance and Nigerian government officials.”

Updated on May 17 to report Binance’s statement.

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.