Wife of Binance exec ‘expected a lot more’ from US as husband languishes in Nigerian prison

Wife of Binance exec ‘expected a lot more’ from US as husband languishes in Nigerian prison
RegulationPeople & culture
Yuki Gambaryan (left) with husband Tigran Gambaryan and their daughter on a skiing trip at Lake Tahoe. Credit: Yuki Gambaryan
  • Yuki Gambaryan shares details of her husband Tigran's ordeal with DL News.
  • She has only spoken with Tigran twice since he was imprisoned in April.
  • Members of Congress urge the White House to intervene in money-laundering case for Binance executive.

On the eve of an early morning flight to Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, Binance executive Tigran Gambaryan had a choice to make.

A small carry-on or a large suitcase?

“He was like, ‘I don’t need a bigger suitcase, right?” Yuki Gambaryan, his wife, recalled in an interview Thursday. “‘Because I’m gonna be there only for two days.’”

That was in February. Now, more than three months later, Gambaryan is still in Nigeria and enduring an ordeal neither he, his family, friends, or colleagues could ever have imagined.

As he languishes in prison on what his lawyer says are bogus money-laundering charges, Yuki is frustrated Washington hasn’t done more to help her husband. A former investigative agent for the Internal Revenue Service, Tigran is Binance’s head of financial crime compliance.

“I am shocked at how long it took for us to get to this point,” she told DL News in an exclusive video interview. “It feels like the US government just got to the starting line now, which should have happened a long time ago.”

Tigran Gambaryan with his family

On Tigran’s second day in Nigeria, officials seized his passport and installed him in a “guest house” where he was kept under guard. On his fourth day, they obtained a court’s permission to keep him there for two weeks.

About four weeks later, officials took Tigran’s phone, and the government’s anti-corruption ministry and tax agency charged him with facilitating money laundering and tax evasion.

Join the community to get our latest stories and updates

‘I didn’t get up to say goodbye or wish him a safe trip. And I regret it. Every single day.’

—  Yuki Gambaryan

They moved him to a detention facility in the basement of a government building.

After six weeks in Nigeria, Tigran was transferred to a medium-security prison that incarcerated Boko Haram and Islamic State terrorists.

Hostage taking

In the ensuing weeks, he would be denied bail and, potentially suffering from malaria, faint on the first day of his trial in May.

Tigran’s Nigerian attorney has called his arrest “state-sanctioned hostage taking.”

Even though a judge ordered prison officials to transfer Tigran to a hospital, Yuki told DL News he has been denied care. His trial was postponed until June 20.

Tigran Gambaryan with his family

In the meantime, Tigran has missed his son’s fifth birthday and pre-kindergarten graduation. He turned 40 in prison. On Saturday, he and Yuki, a 37-year-old translator of Japanese, would have celebrated their 15th wedding anniversary.

“All he did was go into a meeting — that’s all he did,” she said in disbelief. “And now he’s sitting in prison. … That just cannot be happening.”

An urgent trip

The ordeal began in February when Tigran and his colleague Nadeem Anjarwalla, Binance’s Kenya-based regional manager, flew to Abuja to meet with Nigerian officials.

After Nigeria’s currency, the naira, collapsed at the beginning of the year, the government was pointing the finger at Binance.

They said the crypto exchange, which was operating without a licence in Africa’s most populous nation, was facilitating manipulation of the currency as well as illicit financial transactions. Binance denies the allegations.

It fell to Gambaryan and Anjarwalla to assuage the Nigerians’ anger. And the situation was urgent.

“Usually when he travels internationally, it starts to get organised maybe two weeks, three weeks prior, but that was not the case,” Yuki said. “It just came up out of nowhere.”

She expressed her concerns. But Tigran was calm. In any case, he had no choice but to go, he told Yuki.

Around 4 am on the day of his flight, she heard him walking around their Atlanta-area home making last minute preparations.

“I didn’t get up to say goodbye or wish him a safe trip, which I usually do,” she said, her voice breaking. “But I just didn’t do it, because it was just so early in the morning. And I regret it. Every single day.”

‘That’s the sacrifice he made for the country, for the government. So I expected a lot more.’

—  Yuki Gambaryan

When he arrived in Abuja on February 25, he texted Yuki to let her know he’d checked into his hotel.

She wouldn’t hear from or about him for another 30 hours. When she got a call from a family friend who also works at Binance, she was calm. He told her Tigran had been detained.

“When I actually heard it, I basically felt, like, ‘OK, I saw that coming,” she said.

She kept her composure until February 27. Then she received a call from the US embassy in Nigeria and an official there confirmed his arrest.

“That’s when I started freaking out in earnest,” she said.

‘Coercion tactic’

Yuki began reaching out to her state and congressional representatives and government officials.

Her efforts have borne fruit: On Wednesday, Rich McCormick, the Republican who represents the Gambaryans’ Georgia House district, and 15 of his colleagues implored the White House to help get Tigran released.

“Mr. Gambaryan’s detainment has been marked by excessive and harsh treatment,” they wrote in a letter to President Joe Biden and other officials.

“It is crucial to emphasise that the charges against Mr. Gambaryan are baseless and constitute a coercion tactic by the Nigerian government to extort his employer, Binance.”

US lawmakers want the Biden Administration to send a special envoy to Nigeria to negotiate his release. More than a hundred former federal prosecutors and agents echoed that demand in their own letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Tigran Gambaryan trial

Yuki said she was very grateful for the lawmakers’ letter, but added that she expected a swifter response from the US government, especially given Tigran’s tenure at the IRS.

During his 10-year employment at the agency, Tigran was involved in some of the government’s most high-profile investigations and often worked well past midnight, Yuki said.

He would spend as much as half the year travelling for work, leaving Yuki to raise their two kids.

“That’s the sacrifice he made for the country, for the government,” she said. “So I expected a lot more.”

Working around-the-clock

As for Binance, the company insists he had no decision-making authority at the company and has urged the Nigerian government to understand holding him is unfair.

Binance has told Yuki it’s working around-the-clock to bring him home.

“They keep telling me there is this huge group of people within the company who have been working on this case day and night,” she said. “If that’s true, how is it possible that he’s not home yet? It’s been three months.”


In the days immediately after his arrest, Tigran was detained in a government-owned residence where he was provided freshly made smoothies each morning and allowed to use his phone, DL News previously reported.

Two weeks after Anjarwalla’s stunning, Hollywood-esque escape from Nigerian custody on March 22, however, Tigran was transferred to the notorious Kuje Prison.

Since then, Yuki has received updates from Binance and Tigran’s attorneys in Nigeria, but she has only spoken to him twice: last week and the week prior. Each call lasted about two minutes, and was monitored by a prison guard.

“We just basically asked each other how are you doing, how are you, physically? I miss you, I love you, stay strong,” she said.

“He sounded fine. He always sounds fine. That’s what he does for the sake of me, so I don’t have to worry about him.”

But his tenor masked the fact he’d fallen gravely ill. In addition to a chest infection, a spokesperson for Yuki told DL News he appears to have contracted malaria, a potentially deadly, mosquito-borne infection common in West Africa.

“We have yet to see a single test result, however he had all the symptoms,” the spokesperson said. Normally fit, Tigran has looked gaunt and stressed in his court appearances.

Tigran’s mother, who ‘basically raised him all by herself,’ is ‘inconsolable,’ Yuki said.

After his courtroom collapse on May 23, a judge ordered that officials take him to a hospital to receive treatment.

It doesn’t appear they have complied — after about three hours and “some tests,” he was sent back to Kuje, according to Yuki. Nigerian officials have not shared the results of those tests with her.

Tigran’s mother, who “basically raised him all by herself,” is “inconsolable,” Yuki said. “I don’t even know how to describe her state.”

Something’s wrong

She has yet to tell their children that Tigran has been arrested.

Accustomed to their father’s frequent travelling, their five-year-old son is none the wiser, she said. But their 10-year-old daughter is more circumspect.

“She can tell something’s wrong,” Yuki said.

When her daughter first asked why Tigran had been gone so long, Yuki said, vaguely, that he was dealing with “things.” A few days later, her daughter asked, “what exactly are those things that he has to deal with?”

“I told her the company he works for is having an issue with another country,” Yuki said. “And it’s taking a long time to resolve it.”

With reporting by Osato Avan-Nomayo in Lagos.

Aleks Gilbert is a DeFi Correspondent at DL News. Got a tip? Email him at aleks@dlnews.com.